I spoke at quite a few conferences over the years. Mainly WordCamps, but I also did an occasional SEO conference and made an appearance at a conference for bloggers. At WordCamps, it is always clear: speakers do not receive compensation. Their expenses (travel, overnight stays) are not covered by the WordCamp organization. Other conferences sometimes do cover expenses or even pay speakers for their talk. And another group of conferences only lets you speak if you pay them. It is a jungle out there! As an attendee, how do you know what kind of conference you’re attending?
I think there is a lot to say in favor of covering a speaker’s expenses and giving them a speaker fee. For a new talk, doing the research, preparing the slides, and practicing my talk, it’ll probably take me 30 hours of work. That is quite an investment! I think it would benefit the quality of the talks by covering (at least part of) the expenses. Perhaps people will be less inclined to slip in some “salesy” stuff in their talk. If it costs you a lot of time and money to get on stage, it makes sense that you want your talk to be a bit of a sales pitch, too. Maybe even more so: if you pay a lot of money to be on a conference stage, you are allowed to try and sell to the audience. Right?
For the attendees, however, it is usually not entirely clear. Is the speaker on stage a volunteer? Or have they paid to give that presentation? Or have they paid the organization themselves to give that presentation? And that’s my main problem with it. It is hard to value a talk or a conference without understanding the (financial) dynamics in the backend. How do we solve this?
My dear friend Jono Alderson proposed a ‘Glassdoor’ for conferences. A rating and feedback platform where speakers, sponsors, and attendees could give honest feedback and reviews about the organization, business models, sponsoring, and the quality of talks. I think that would be a great solution! We need to have a little bit more insight into these inner workings of conferences in order to value presentations more appropriately. So, who’s going to build me such a feedback platform 😉️?