I've been asked quite a few times in the past about slides, the work involved, whether or not to repeat talks, being paid, whether filming is okay and how does that all relate to workshops. So I've tried to write down my stand on things and ideally this is useful to some of you out there.


Repeating talks

I've been publicly speaking since early 2008 and I've made my fair share of mistakes over the years (learning from one or two along the way).

Firstly, don't be afraid to repeat your talk. This is important on a number of levels. Giving your talk in public on more than one occasion allows you to get a feel for how what works and real timings.

I've met many people over the last few years that have come away from a talk saying they had seen it before, but really enjoyed it again. Remember that we as humans, we generally like to know what's coming next, it helps us focus more on the detail when we know what's coming already.

Also remember that many, many, many delegates won't have travelled around to see your talk, and many won't have the time to see your talk on film (as much as films are a great resource, few of us block book out entire days to watch an event full of conference talks).

Unless it's your job to speak publicly on behalf of your company and their product, which it isn't for me, then my slide deck has been created in my own time (even if I work for myself - it's time I'm not being paid). It's taken a lot of hours to put the deck together, if it only gets to see the light of day once then I've done it an injustice.

Filming

Is filming a talk okay? For me, the answer depends on how it's published. If the film is 100% free then it's okay with me. To be clear what "free" is, that's not in exchange for your email address and that's not plastered with ads (though I understand that a film production might be funded by a sponsor, and I'd expect their logos, etc in the film).

Filming workshops

What about filming workshops? Nope, absolutely not. Workshops take a lot of time to create and prepare, and serve a small number of people. I don't allow my workshops to be videoed because it would be giving away the experience that I sell. To be fair, I've only been asked once if the workshop could be filmed. O'Reilly wanted to film two of my workshops I ran at OSCON 2011. I said "no" because they would go on to be sold (either in exchange for your email address or money) on their web site. Essentially, my workshops are my bread & butter, I'm not going to give that away unless I'm 100% in control (i.e. running it for free myself).

Slides

When I run a workshop, I make a very specific effort to ensure every delegate gets all the slides and all the code examples we use throughout the days. However, this is hands on, deep dive day where the delegates' company would have paid me directly for the session. I feel like this is something I'm providing as part of my service.

Short talks (60mins) are different. Personally I don't have any issue with sharing my slides, but in general I won't share the slide notes. This isn't because I want to hold back content, but because they're not generally structured at all. They're often random-ish cues for me during my talks.

Run throughs & slides ahead of time

Should an organiser ask for a run through or the slides (well) ahead of time? This is tricky. Personally this doesn't fly for me. Two big reasons:

  1. I've been invited as speaker. I should be trusted that I can deliver my slides on the day.
  2. Quite often I'll write my slides the day before. I construct the narrative of the talk in my head and in blog posts in the months leading up, but the final result you'll see on stage is the first time it's all been put together.

An organiser offering to help review my talk is very different. This is optional and a service they're offering. If you'd benefit from a review or a full run through, then absolutely take the opportunity, and in fact, if the organiser hasn't offered and you want help, try not to be afraid to ask.

The event should trust you. You're a professional. Do what's right for you.

Getting paid

First of all: you do not pay your own way. Absolutely not. The very minimum you should be offered is travel and hotel costs covered (if applicable, i.e. If it's a local meet up you probably can go without a hotel).

It should be your choice to turn down this expense. I've written passionately about this (link earlier), so do take a moment to read that too if you're unsure.

Should you charge and how much?

Many others have written about this too, Rachel Andrew in particular has an excellent post with additional links at the end. I can only speak from my own experience and let you take this as a basis for your own decisions.

When I started out back in 2008, I was hugely flattered to be asked to speak (as a stand in for another speaker). I didn't charge, I didn't take any travel expenses, and I didn't attend the entire conference (partly also because it was very blue collar which doesn't appeal to me). I was thanked by the track host, and that was it. In my opinion: a bit rubbish.

The next few speaking gigs covered travel (mostly because they were abroad from the UK), and as I was an independent that wasn't representing a product or business. Then the first asked me how much do I charge.

My rate fluctuated around £1,500+VAT (~$2,000) plus expenses. Looking at my peers rates that sounds about right, perhaps a little low today (this was was 2009).

If you've got a record of giving talks (even the same single talk) and it's well received, then to me, as an organiser, that's enough to show that you're a professional and that you should be paid for your time.

Of course, the speaking fee doesn't cover your time at the event, it's a measly contribution to the days and days of preparation you've put into the work alongside your months and years of experience that leads you to have something to share in the first place.

Should you be paid: yes.

For me personally, somewhere along the line, I stopped asking for a fee. I don't really remember why, but there were a few times I asked for a fee, and the organisers said they didn't have the budget (which I disagree with on a fundamental level, but again, read my other post I suggested that instead they'd paid for my partner and child to accompany me and we have a day or two extra at the hotel. Every organiser agreed. It's a lot cheaper for them, and they get to keep their speaker.

And so sometimes the event doesn't have the budget. For my event, ffconf, we budget for £500 honorarium per speaker, per day (and workshops are handled differently). If you're a first time speaker or veteran, we pay you the same amount (and obviously cover all travel, hotel, food, drinks, etc). It's budgeted for. If you ask for more from me, it'll be a hard consideration. I'm not sure, but it's important that you, the speaker, ask to be paid.

Hidden costs

The reality is that giving a presentation and preparing a slide desk is rife with hidden costs, that you, the speaker, must bear. So when you agree to speak, remember that you're putting a lot of time and experience into the project.

Those costs include:

  • Time away whilst travelling and being at the event
  • Time not working on your business creating the slide deck
  • Reading related material
  • Exchange rate costs
  • Potentially preparing and testing code for demos
  • Learning the presentation software (I dare not upgrade Keynote to avoid breaking existing decks and having to learn a new UI)
  • Technical equipment (quite seriously the event should have this), i.e. power adapters, display adapters, clickers, presentation software

I'm sure there's more. There's also an interesting post on a formula for speaking fees.

Is it worth it?

Over the years I've also had organisers tell me that presenting will increase my brand reach and lead to work. The first time I spoke on stage publicly was March 2008. There's in only one single instance in all the years I've spoken that I gained a new client as a direct result of speaking.

Of course there's the cumulative value of speaking along with blogging, publishing open source software, tweeting(!) that does help find me new clients.

I speak for the pleasure of sharing. I suspect, if you're reading this, you might be in the same boat. If the talk is costing you too much, monetary or otherwise (the otherwise being more important in my book), then to me, it's not worth it.

The flip side of course is that speaking can lead you to new places in the world, and more importantly, introduce you to new people and your future friends. It has done for me, I'm sure it will do for you.

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