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How not to treat volunteers.

A while back, I had taken a two-hour speaking/teaching engagement this week for a regional conference (which will remain nameless since I don’t want to embarrass them more than they already have been). Unfortunately, because of conflicting workload and other demands, I had to back out of the engagement. I emailed the conference coordinator about seven weeks or so ago, letting them know about my inability to provide the training, and apologizing for having to back out. I received a nice note back saying essentially, “No problem, we understand, we’ll take care of it.” I was disappointed, but as it turned out there were several other classes covering essentially the same or very similar material already scheduled, so I didn’t feel I would be short-changing any students.

I got a call on Tuesday — while I was home waiting for a team to finish installing our new air conditioner, as fate would have it — from someone I knew who had showed up at the lecture. They were wondering where I was! I explained the situation as gently as possible, and found out that this was far from the first or only time this has happened at the conference. Apparently the coordinator(s) had failed to update their schedule, but not just my space on the grid. My friend told me that no less than three of the lectures he was attending had the exact same thing happen.

All (or almost all) the speakers, like myself, were volunteering time for this conference. Certainly some of the attendees would know that this was a simple mistake and that I had made a good faith effort to make sure things were taken care of — but what about the ones who left the room before my friend called me? How would my professional reputation suffer as a result?

If you’re reading this and you were scheduled to attend, please accept my humble apologies, and I hope you were not horribly inconvenienced by the scheduling problem. I may see you next year — but only if I decide to work at this particular conference again.

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