OK – it’s time for a little rant. It’s not my normal style of posting but it’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while.
The Invitation – Speak at My Conference?
Last week I received an email from a conference organizer in the US offering me the opportunity to speak at their social media conference. I’d not heard of him or the conference before but the site looked pretty good and the lineup of confirmed speakers seemed good (mainly representatives of companies, but fairly high profile companies).
The only problem is that the conference is in the USA and I live in Melbourne Australia.
I replied back to the organizer saying that they look like they’ve put together an interesting conference but asking if they had budget for speakers (there was no mention of any in the previous email). I explained that I live in Australia and that I’d need to find a way to at least cover costs.
Calculating the Cost
The reply came today – we’d be happy to give you free entry to the conference but don’t have budget for speakers.
I begin to do the calculations. The site says that a pass to the event is around $800 – that’s my ‘payment’.
Then there’s the expenses of the trip. They include airfares (around $2200 including the flight to the US and then a connecting flight to the conference (a 20 hour trip each way), hotels (4 nights – if I stayed at the conference hotel this would be another $700), taxis, meals, drinks etc. Perhaps if I went to a cheaper hotel and shopped around for flights I’d get away with $2500 for the conference.
Also in the expense column is time – there’s time to prepare for the session but then travel and the conference. All up I’d need to be away from home for 7 days, possibly 6 if I didn’t have a day to find my feet and get over the jet lag before the conference (something I try to do).
7 days away from family sucks from my end (I miss them) – but it means a pretty big sacrifice for my family who has to rearrange their schedule a fair bit as we have 2 toddlers who have a routine that I’m a fairly big part of.
7 days away also means time away from my business. I can do some of it from the road – but not everything. This means in the week before leaving there’s double the work and the week after there’s catchup work. I do have some part time admin support but I’m largely a one man business – it’s hard to take time away.
So on the plus side – I get a $800 free pass to the conference – and as most speakers know the opportunity to network, present myself as someone worth hiring or buying from.
Conferences can be lucrative if you are selling something – problem is that that’s not my business model. I build blogs that people read, my income is largely advertising based – 500 or so people at a conference don’t convert to a heap of extra income even if they all decide to become weekly readers. Yep I do sell a couple of things – but they’re fairly low end and not overly expensive products – I like to keep even my best stuff affordable.
Perhaps I could cover my financial costs by going into a hard sales pitch for my e-book during my session (although all they were offering me was to be on a panel) – but you know what? I don’t want to SELL during my presentation – that’s not my style, I want my presentations to be about delivering value to attendees not selling something to people. I do whatever I can to pack so much useful content in to my presentations that people find it hard to keep up! I don’t want to be the guy at the conference who spends half his time big noting what he can do for people or pointing out what competitors don’t do right! I want to give value, not a sales pitch (more on this below).
So it’s pretty clear that this type of ‘opportunity’ just doesn’t fit with where I’m at. Perhaps if I lived in another part of the world or perhaps if I had an expensive product or service to sell it could be worth it – but the reality is that I’m passing.
So why the rant?
Why don’t I just pass and move on? Shouldn’t I just change my business model (and introduce some expensive products to sell) and get on with it?
Perhaps this is coming off as me just complaining about not getting paid or only being in it for the money – but I should say that I do occasionally speak at conferences for free (in fact I’ve done it many times).
I did one a few weeks back because the proceeds of the conference went to charity. I’m speaking at Blog World Expo in Vegas in a couple of weeks time for free (they’re at least paying for my flight), I did one a few weeks back because I believed in the ethos that the organizer had and wanted to support them in getting it up and running. If it is something I believe in then there’s certainly been plenty of times that I’ve taken time out and even taken a hit financially to be a part of it.
However – I also have done quite a few freebie conferences over the years that I’ve later regretted being a part of – where I’ve felt used, where there was no win/win, where I’ve been given a token gift for my effort.
In the conference I’m talking about above – here are some of the reservations I have (based upon past experience):
- The conference is making money – I know, times are tough and it’s hard to be in event planning – but this conference has 10-15 gold and silver partners/sponsors plus numerous others. It has exhibitors. It is charging $800 a head (they’re saying over 450 are registered to attend already). It’s held numerous other conferences on the same topic in other parts of the world. If it were not profitable they would not be doing it.
- As a conference attendee I’m completely sick of presentations by people who have to cover their costs of being there by selling themselves or their services. Not paying your speakers means that they have to get paid for their time in some other way – some smart ones do this in a way that still manages to deliver value to attendees, but many do not. How many times have you had to sit through sponsored presentations or pseudo sales pitches at a conference you’ve paid to attend?
- I’ll bring registrations – this might sound a little ego driven but last time I spoke at a conference the organizer told me that he’d had 50 or so registrations because I was part of the line up. Now this number will vary a lot from conference to conference and I don’t promise to promote every event I go to – but I know as a conference attendee that I’ve registered for some simply because I wanted to hear a certain speaker do their thing. I’ve worked hard to build my profile over the years – I’m more than happy to lend that profile for free to help good causes or things that I believe in…. but when you’re going to directly benefit from it financially in a purely commercial sense – I think it only fair that there’s some kind of acknowledgment of that. On a side note – the conference that this post is about actually asked me in their pitch to tweet and blog about it – I found this particularly ‘cheeky’.
- The best conferences I’ve been to were where the speakers were paid generously (in fact one I went to the speakers actually were not only paid but got some very nice (and not cheap) surprise gifts at the end) and asked not to ‘pitch’ during their presentations. These are the kinds of conferences I’d pay to attend again and again, they’re the ones I ask others to come to with me – they’re all about giving value to those who attend and acknowledging it from those who contribute.
Again – I know event planning isn’t easy and the economy is tough at the moment and perhaps I’m being totally naive about the whole business….
But in the end I guess I wanted to put it out there that if you’re putting on a conference and you want a speaker that perhaps actually making it worth their while will not only help you to attract those that you want to speak – but perhaps it’d also give them more incentive to put together presentations that delivered value rather than sales pitches – something that will benefit those attending your conferences and the bottom line in the long term as people worked out if they’d attend again next year.
End of Rant – now it’s over to you. Feel free to come back at me with why I’m wrong, what you’d add or your own experiences of both being an attendee or speaker at a conference.