How my TechEd presentation cost me $100

This week I'm at TechEd Australia delivering some presentations. But whenever I'm not working I've been back in my hotel room watching CNN and whatever coverage I can about the terrible state of New Orleans and the neighboring areas. I am originally from the Gulf Coast of Florida, so I grew up watching hurricanes come and go. It's a way of life, just like Californians deal with earthquakes and fires, or the Pacific rim deals with tsunamis and typhoons. But nothing could have prepared me, or any of the residents of the affected areas, for what has happened.

I've been feeling incredibly saddened and helpless for the people in this area. Every day the situation seems to worsen more and more. From the initial hurricane damage to the levees failing and flooding the city to civil unrest - what's next? As I've explained to some of my Australian counterparts this week, this is the part of the United States where the term 'southern hospitality' hails from. Prior to this week anybody in that region would be proud to give you the shirts off their backs, or welcome you into their home for some home cookin'. I've taken countless trips to this area. I have great memories of going to New Orleans and pigging out on crawfish. My friends and I used to take road trips through the area on the way to football games. But the best part wasn't the football games. The best part was the road trip itself: driving through the South and visiting out of the way diners, meeting the nice people along the way, and staying at old plantation-style hotels. Just this past fall we took such a trip - I can't imagine what the areas we ate and slept at must look like now.

It's impossible for me to watch the coverage and not want to reach out and try to help. I resolved that even though I'm on the other side of the world this week, I would find a way to do something. So yesterday during my TechEd session I used my captive audience to make a plea for help on behalf of the region. But rather than just asking, I wanted to put some skin in the game and also make it fun to donate. My talk was all about Coding4Fun, so I wanted to keep a fun element. I had about 6 demonstrations relying on all sorts of hardware devices - everything from X-10 to LEGO Mindstorms. I knew the talk was going to be fun, but I also knew there was a very high risk of something crashing. <g> So I resolved that for every demo which crashed, I would donate $50 to the Red Cross. Microsoft has a donation matching policy, so that would mean $100 for the Red Cross for every demo that crashed. I then encouraged the audience members to donate $5 for every demo they liked. There were about 300 people in the room, so if everybody gave just $5 for one demo that would be $1500 for the people of New Orleans and the neighboring regions.

So how did my talk go? Well eventually I got all of the demos to work, but there were some hiccups which I'll gladly count as crashes. As a result of my talk yesterday that means $100 + Microsoft match = $200. Hopefully the audience liked my demos and chooses to donate something as well. :-)

I share this story since I think it highlights just one creative way we can make giving a fun and painless part of our daily routines. Just like any disaster of this magnitude, the people of this area are going to need a LOT of help - not just today, but in the coming months and years. Their homes, their posessions, and their means of income - from casinos to oil to tourism - is completely lost for the time being. Many of these people have nothing. Just as the world came together to help the victims of last year's tsunami, we need to come together and help these people now. I'll continue to look for ways to make giving a fun and creative part of my daily routine. If you have ideas for how to make giving a daily part of people's everyday routines, please consider posting them to my blog. Thanks for reading.