Dear conference organizer
24 Aug 2010 edit
Thank you for the invitation to speak at your conference, and your offer to pay my hotel and airfare in exchange. I notice that you are selling tickets for upwards of $1,500, in addition to hotel and travel costs. In exchange, you are hosting a three-day event, meals, a USB drive, a shirt, and a binder.
We need to talk, and not about the binder.
I hope you can appreciate the disconnect here. It's not so much that I want to get paid -- I have gladly and eagerly spoken at lower-cost conferences without even getting my hotel compensated -- as the fact that I know now that conferences just don't have to cost that much. When they do, it's hard to get on board with lending my name for free when the conference stands to have revenue of hundreds of thousands of dollars and I know I only needed revenue tens of thousands to put on an amazing event.
As a self-employed consultant, speaking at a conference has, at best, intangible benefit to me, and non-trivial costs. You and many other organizers can seem as though you assume the benefit is obvious, and the costs negligible. In fact, agreeing to a speaking engagement -- one that requires two non-working days for travel, a non-working day for speaking, and whatever prep time is required to actually put together my talk -- is a tough decision regardless of how much tickets cost, especially for someone without corporate backing or a product to promote. Call me selfish, but I need to be very clear that there's a benefit to me. A high-dollar conference likely to attract almost exclusively corporate-backed attendees with at best a peripheral relationship to my area of expertise is exactly the kind of conference where it's not clear what the benefit will be. Being away from home and work for three days, even in a nice hotel, just doesn't count.
Finally: To all of the TXJS speakers, we heart you unbelievably and stand in awe that when we asked you to present at an event that had never existed before, each and every one of you said yes without batting an eye. I hope you know that we know that even with the open bar and the parties and the shuttle and the venue and all of it, we couldn't have had a conference without you.