The Conference Rant

I don’t remember exactly what year I wrote and posted this to a few homeschooling mailing lists–probably sometime between 1995 and 2000–but the problem still exists.

In addition to writing a couple of tolerably well-received homeschooling books, I’ve been involved with several homeschooling conferences at various levels for the past ten years. One of my informal functions for many of the organizers of conferences I’ve spoken at or helped organize was to listen to those organizers’ late night frustrations or outright panics as they struggled to pull off events with far too little money.

Frankly, I’m sick of it.

Most of the homeschool conferences I go to are shoestring operations—they’re put on by individuals or tiny organizations who believe in what they’re doing and scrimp and scrape and borrow from themselves to dig up the money to print registration and exhibitor info, from which they try to bootstrap enough to cover the rest of the conference expenses (like a venue and speakers and other such troublesome details). For a full year or more, conference organizers count and recount their pennies and their preregistrations and calculate and recalculate their income (never enough) and their expenses (always more than they expect) and try to keep themselves sane through repeated panic attacks.

And then they hear from prospective attendees who are thrilled at the idea of the conference, eager and enthusiastic and looking forward to coming. They can’t wait.

Except that they can wait. They’re not in any particular hurry to register–after all, there’s plenty of time left before the conference, so there’s no particular rush.

There’s only that conference organizer, sitting at her adding machine, trying to decide if she can afford to gamble that all those eager procrastinators will come through in the end in large enough numbers to make the conference actually happen.

Take a look around at the conferences available to choose from these days. Sure, there are quite a few gigantic conventions, mostly put on by large, religious-based support groups. But what about conferences for unschoolers, for secular homeschoolers, for those of us who aren’t especially interested in packaged curricula or phonics programs or arithmetic drill software, those of us who just want a chance to get together with a big bunch of homeschoolers to share ideas and resources? Ever wonder why there are so few of that kind of conference?

It’s attrition, pure and simple. Organizers run out of the massive amounts of energy and stamina it takes to try to keep conferences that barely cover their costs going. They can’t take the stress, the panic attacks, the financial risk, the trauma of working so hard and then waiting to see results.

Hence my rant today.

Are you one of those procrastinators? Are you eagerly planning to attend a conference you haven’t registered for yet?

Get yourself registered! Today! Now!

If you don’t, your favorite conference may not be back again next year. And it’s entirely possible it might not even be there *this* year—if too many people delay their registration, the organizer may have no choice but to cancel.

It’s annoying, but it’s a fact: good intentions and enthusiasm are not enough—it takes a certain amount of money to make even a small conference happen, and a certain percentage of that money has to come in early. If it doesn’t, the event doesn’t happen.

Now it’s entirely possible that there simply aren’t enough unschoolers and others interested in less formal, less prescriptive conferences to support them. It’s possible. But I don’t believe it.

But I do believe there are a huge number of procrastinators out there. Some will shrug off a conference cancellation with an “Oh, well, maybe next year.” Some will be mightily disappointed when their favorite conference disappears and wonder how it possibly could have happened.

I’d be able to tell them.

One comment on “The Conference Rant

  1. Hi stranger! Not sure, precisely, what date you penned this, but I can tell you what date it was published on mailing lists across the world: May, 2000. You sent it to me to post on my website when it looked like the Homeschooling for Everyone 2000 conference in Colorado was going to fail due to lack of registrants. And fail it did.

    In fact, the Wayback Machine captured your rant on August 15, 2000.

    – Cindy

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