Speaking at conferences is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. When I speak at an event I like to think that I am providing something unique both in terms of content and in terms of presentation. Sometimes I get approached to speak and sometimes I submit requests to speak. The question of compensation always comes up. Most recently I submitted to speak at an international conference and was met with a lot of enthusiasm for my topic, but at the end of the email it said “you will have to pay for your own, visa, travel accommodations, and all expenses.” Huh!? My out of pocket expense to speak at this event would have been over $2,000 just for expenses, not to mention the time it would take me to put everything together, travel, and then present.
Why would a speaker pay out of pocket to speak at someone else’s event when the speaker is the one bringing in the content, the new ideas and perspectives, and educating the attendees? It’s a bit like taking your car to a mechanic and then asking the mechanic to give you money to work on your car, it just doesn’t make sense. The traditional response from conferences organizers is, “you will get exposure.” So? Exposure means eyeballs and if there’s anything we’ve learned so far with social media it’s that eyeballs don’t really matter that much. You don’t want exposure you want leads and deals closed, and no conference can usually guarantee that. I don’t tell the mechanic he should pay me to work on my car because he gets exposure and other people will see how great of a job he did on my car. So how should speakers be properly compensated?
Most speakers have a particular speaking rate that they charge depending on the event, whether it’s a public or private event, if it’s a keynote or breakout session, etc. Either way you’re usually looking at a speaking fee of somewhere around a few thousand dollars. In fact, there are plenty of people out there that charge around $10k+ to speak on social business topics. The next thing to consider are the travel accommodations and expenses. I’m pretty avid at the minimum to NEVER have to cover my own expenses, that’s silly. If a conference truly believes that you are going to be adding value to their event then at the very least they should cover all of your expenses to speak, sure there are some exceptions.
The big problem we see today is the whole notion of “pay to play,” meaning “you can speak at our conference if you pay us thousands of dollars.” Which many of the top conferences out there employ because at the end of the day they need to make a profit, but sadly the audience members are left with hearing sales pitches and product demos by the “speakers” who paid to speak! In an ideal world speakers should be selected based on what they can bring to the event not based on how much they are willing to pay.
I’m getting a bit tired and irritated with conference organizers that are not compensating their speakers or worse, that are asking the speakers to spend money out of pocket to speak. I don’t even know how some of these organizers have the nerve to even ask that? Not only that but many of the conferences are charging THOUSANDS of dollars to attend and oftentimes re-hash the same content, same ideas, and same concepts as they did the year before. A lot of conferences (at least in the social space) are starting to become a joke, and they are all starting to sound alike. How many social media conferences are there a year? Who knows, thousands!
There are so many fantastic speakers out there that spend their time researching topics and ideas and making their presentations top notch only to be left empty handed. Speaking at a conference is akin to taking on a new client and you don’t work for free so why should you speak for free? That’s a poor business model and a poor way to allocate your time.
I’ve spoken at many local conferences in San Francisco and in those situations, sure, I can walk over to the venue or take a quick cab ride; and while I’d prefer to be compensated for my time at those events that oftentimes doesn’t happen. Still, I do speak at those events because I get to practice speaking in front of a crowd, might get some good connections, and don’t spend money out of pocket. Every year I do several paid speaking gigs and a few that that I’m not paid for directly but my expenses are 100% covered. At the end of the day it’s a business decision you have to make as to which events you want to speak at and how much you should be compensated.
So if you’re a speaker please make sure you get compensated for your time and effort, at the very least your expenses should be covered 100% If not, then don’t bother with the event (unless it’s something local you can just walk to or drive to).
If you’re a conference organizer please show enough respect to the folks you are asking to speak by compensating them and covering their expenses (at the very LEAST cover all of their expenses). Don’t you think it’s fair to pay the people that are making your event come to life and are attracting the attendees? Let’s stop the bullshit.