I recently got a request to submit a headshot photo to go along with my conference talk abstract. I’ve declined to respond, so far. I think I declined to respond the last time I gave a talk, as well. Were I a somewhat famous speaker, perhaps it might make sense to let folks say, oh yeah, I saw that person before – they were a good speaker. I suspect there are better ways to handle even that angle, like citing previous speaking engagements or linking to a video of the person’s previous talks. For the rest of us, it seems more like a way to let folks prejudge you before coming aboard. ‘Hmmm, that person looks friendly. Looks like me / doesn’t look me. Looks like they belong / doesn’t look like they belong.’
Conferences aren’t the only places that want pictures, though. LinkedIn strongly encourages a photo to increase your profile’s score. There’s a bit more logic to that – if someone’s scanning through a list of similar names, the picture lets you recognize the ‘Tina’ that you know, as opposed to the list of Tinas that you don’t.
Small company websites seem to take the headshot even a bit further. It’s a common meme to have a list of folks at the company, indicating their name (sometimes just first, sometimes full) and role within the company. I’ve seen several sites where the headshots are taken just a bit further – rolling over the picture shows another picture of the person, typically in some pose meant to highlight their fun-loving side interacting with the logo or brand image in some way. Perhaps this is meant to highlight their staff as well-rounded or engaging. Unless my role directly requires me to be an entertainer, whether I’m fun-loving or eye-appealing have nothing to do with how well I help the company satisfy its mission.
In my day job as a software engineer, I have used gravatars to help folks identify my work in a list of GitHub commit entries or other social network feeds. The one I use there is a cartoon Monopoly Man holding a pick axe… I thought it might help articulate my willingness to dig in and do the hard work. It happens to scale reasonably well to various sizes, always an advantage in having a consistent branding image. It also happens to look nothing like me. (I’m not male, elderly, or nearly that well-dressed.)
I’d like to encourage others to refrain from the headshot pressure. Or comment on this post and help me better understand why a picture is good supporting information for a conference speaker’s session description. For now, my OSCON bio will still be missing a head shot…