Should conference speakers get paid?

Yes. End of.

I came across a tweet this morning from Jen Simmons along the lines of this post title.

As a professional speaker, I continue to be amazed at how many conferences ask their speakers to cover the event’s airfare and accommodation costs out of their own pockets. Be humble. It’s a privilege to have speakers — so pay for your own expenses and check your ego at the door.

— Jen Simmons (@jensimmons) September 5, 2019

Having been fortuante enough to be asked to speak before I’m pleased to say that every one of those conference organisers paid for flights and accommodation, and only one of them didn’t offer an additional stippened payment as well (which they were up front about from the outset).

In one situation I had to take leave without pay from work which would have left me out of pocket and unable to speak, but on that occasion the conference organisers asked me to invoice them the difference and they would cover it.

Let’s take that “Yes, absolutely you have to pay” statement and look at some of the replies in that twitter thread.

But wait, it’s more nuanced than that…

Okay, fair enough. If your company is sponsoring the event, or in other words your are speaking on behalf of a vendor that you work for, then no… in that case the conference organiser is probably able to not pay you directly. On the other hand your employer, the vendor sponsoring the event, will most certainly be paying you a wage and will have also covered your airfare and accommodation in the process too.

Is that more clear now?

But you only speak for 40-60 minutes, what am I paying you for?

So we’re going there are we? Fine.

Yes, I’m only on stage speaking for 40-60 minutes. If you only want to pay me for those specific minutes and ignore the days of preparation that went into creating the presentation, plus the time I spent honing the talk to make it the best it could be, plus the time it took me to travel to the accommodation, and let’s forget the cost of the flights/trains and the accommodation, and I’ll even forget about the time I wasn’t being paid as a freelancer while doing all this, or the time off I had to take through work.

Working on that premise my hourly speaking fee is thousands of pounds/dollars.

But this is great for exposure, you’ll get lots of work off the back of it and other opportunities to speak

Great exposure doth butter no parsnips.

Also, if I take these other opportunities to speak will they also be for free? At what point does the work actually become profitable?

Look, I think you should check your ego at the door. Being asked to speak is an honour.

Yes, being asked to speak is an honour. It means out of the billions of people in the world that you have decided upon me as the person who you think will provide the hundreds/thousands of people that are paying you to see me and other speakers the best experience at your conference.

Conference organisers pick speakers because they have something to say. Becuse they are knowledgable in their field. Because they will be interesting. Because they will provide the attendee’s with a memorable experice. Because they will help sell tickets to all the empty seats at the venue.

Dear Conference Oganisers.

Pay your speakers. Cover their travel and accommodation.

They are what makes your conference a success.



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