There are many, many new speakers coming to the web community with their stories and standing up on stage and sharing. I applaud them. It's a scary thing to stand on stage and share your ideas. And there are many, many hours of work that goes in to the presentations.
I'm talking to people like me who speak for the love of sharing knowledge.
TL;DR If an event is not covering your expenses (travel & hotel) then you are paying to speak at their event.
What it costs you
- Your time working on slides when you could be working on project work
- Your flight or train or taxi costs
- Your hotel cost
- Your time on the day at the event
Yes, you might generate work during some awesome-high-fiving-network session. Really? Okay. Yes, you have a "free ticket", but most new speakers I know have their head in their presentation until it's over.
So you're out of pocket. And for what?
What costs them
Well, nothing. In fact you're providing content. And you're doing more than that. You're filling up the speaker roster with fresh and new content that's likely never been seen before. You're also auditioning for them, if you're good, they'll want you back, and their audience will have seen that you're good and buy more tickets to their event.
I know Flash on the Beach/Reason used this last "audition" technique, but in a positive way (to be very, very clear: Reasons is good, they do it right). They called it the Lift Pitch. 5 minutes (or 2 minutes this year) to get your idea across. Audience votes on the best one, and that potential speakers is invited back the next year to speak, and they're paid like every other speaker.
Then there's the video that they'll release, which is more content for them, branded and perpetuating their brand. That you gave them, at your own expense.
A free ticket?
It seems only the big events that do this kind of thing. And with big events, come big venues.
By comparison, Full Frontal has 278 seats. No more, no less. So free tickets aren't something I give away willingly (one of my policies is that all previous years speakers are given a free ticket to the following year). So it costs me, the organiser, to give away a free ticket.
Now compare to Future Of, they have anything from 800 person capacity (based on it being in The Brewery again). If they sell out in minutes (or even days) then a free ticket has a high value. But they don't. A free ticket is worth near to nothing (please also take a minute to read Lou's reply—the conference producer for Future Insights).
Wouldn't they be out of pocket with so many speakers?
That's what a budget is for - which comes from ticket sales and sponsorship agreements. It is part of their budget because without a speaker, they have no content to sell. The answer is no, they would not be out of pocket.
What do I want?
Dear event: treat your content providers with dignity. At the absolute least, pay their expenses. Indeed, they should be paid too.
Which events are doing this?
So here's where I want your help. I'm happy to list these events, and if you know (for absolute sure) that there's an event making you pay to speak, then comment (anonymously if you want), post me a tweet or email me (remy at remysharp), and I'll add it to a list here.
If you're an organiser of one of these events or work for one of these companies, please get in touch if this is wrong or you've fixed your mistake - I'll happily remove any event from this list.
- Future Insights and the Future of Web Design (et al) don't cover most of their rising stars' costs
- SxSWi don't cover the vast majority of speakers and panelists
- Webconf Riga
- Drupal conf
- The anonymous event that approached Harry Roberts
Important: there are always the odd exceptions to these, as you'll read the comments below, but it's the default policy that I believe should be changed and part of the budget for profit and non-profit.
Please also read the comments below fully as they include details of how some events have changed their policies over the years (like Velocity) and tells of personal experiences.