|A real quote from multiple speaker calls in various states. |
It seems like conference organizers who are looking for "polite" ways to get free labor are *lifting this* from each other's websites! Usually the quote ends with "...a purpose for which _____ was founded."
You know, maybe they are not stealing this after all. Maybe they all got this in the pdf notes from a presentation at an association meeting they all went to. I wonder if *that speaker* was paid?
Original image borrowed from here.
You have an event. You’d like a speaker or a workshop facilitator. Maybe you even need a short course for continuing education or certification credits for your members.
What Speakers Are Thinking
These are not always the things your speakers are thinking when you call them, but I talk to speakers all the time at events. I speak across the country and have interviewed them for my podcast. The complaints below are fairly ubiquitous in the speaking community. The images in this blog post are direct quotes from the kinds of speaker calls we see every day. People telling us our services are not worth what we think they are whilst simultaneously telling us that their event's experience is worth far more than we might think it is -- that is our norm.
Maybe this will help you empathize with The Speaker's Plight.
1) We have a limited budget/no budget for speakers...
I understand that your organization is a nonprofit, but, as you can imagine, I am not. You might even be volunteering your time for this organization and not be getting paid yourself. Of course, this is *your* organization and you value its mission and place in the world. I may very well have never heard of you before I got your call/email or found the call on your website, so asking me to immediately share your vision enough to provide free labor is kind of puzzling.
But I know some things. I've been to conference and trade show floors.
For example, I know that the logoed pens you are putting in the little plastic swag bags for the members are not the bottom tier of utensils like Bic pens. I know those cost more like 50 cents apiece, plus setup and shipping.
Those lanyards we are going to get with the charger cable embedded? I know it's a thousand bucks to get 300 of those with your logo. I have three of those hanging on my hook where I keep my conference lanyards. I have never once charged a device with any of them. I also have a few of the badge holders with the cheap elastic cords. 300 of those will run you $800 less. Non-electronic woven lanyards? Sensible, but not extravagant? Those split the price difference. There are choices.
And, of course, the nicer lunch options and all the prizes and gag gifts for the membership. Maybe I even know the facility rental charge at the venue you picked, and I know there were cheaper options. I know, if I could see the state of the carpets at those cheaper facilities…
People love the logoed notepads and fidget spinners but always complain about the speakers.
Maybe if you weren’t filling your events with speakers who will say yes to free they would be able to budget the time to make something new for you? (Remember, this is what the speaker on the other side of the phone is thinking. You got them excited about an opportunity and now they are disappointed. It happens).
2) Your session is just going to be an hour...
And you are not really asking for an hour. We won't talk about driving to Dallas or air travel here. Assuming you are local, there’s the 30 minutes of travel both ways, the hour early arrival for technical setup, not to mention all the time we’ve already spent on the phone, the building of the PowerPoint or the editing of it to fit your time constraints and your custom template and your desired focus and adaptations, the practice time to make sure I hit your time limits correctly, and maybe some additional industry research so that I am not blaring on with generic platitudes of the kind that make audiences say, “I wish we could bring in speakers who understand who we really are.”
But, that one time you had a speaker who obviously just threw up an ancient PowerPoint that hadn't been edited in years, so I guess you expect us all to have that same lack of care for our craft? Specifically, right now, talking to me live, you are suggesting that I have that lack of care?
3) It’s a great networking opportunity...
Here's what that looks like at events like yours:
I have four or five conversations immediately after the speech.
I am thinking, "I wonder which of these people is looking for a speaker for their event?"
They are thinking, "I wonder if he will answer very, very specific questions about my business/organization that normally I'd have to pay a consultant to provide, but which now I can grab for free while I charge my phone using my swag-tastic lanyard."
The really cynical operators know how to dangle the "Can I have your card to give to ____ who is planning our next meeting and might be looking for a speaker?" in order to increase my willingness to undertake further unpaid consulting.
Sometimes this great networking opportunity stretches for hours, maybe the whole afternoon.
Maybe this all happens over the table you provided me so that I could sell my book. This allows people to pick up my book and look at it while asking for live consulting. When I tell them what they came for, they generally put it down while saying "Thanks!" and walking away.
Some people do buy my book, though!
A good three or four sales at my conference price. That works out to, what, forty bucks? Cool!
At that rate, I almost hit minimum wage this time around.
The Takeaway Here
I get it.
There's a lot I don't understand about your organization/business/nonprofit/association. If you are a big deal, I know you have tracks where members submit breakouts because they have to (like professors) or want to (they are professionals who have to attend for continuing education credit/certification so a free conference badge is a real draw). If you are a small deal, you would have a bit more for speakers if event attendance wasn't down, etc.
And I know your resources are limited. Trust us. We know *exactly* what that feels like.
But here's what we also know: You can make a difference here, conference organizer/education director. You have a budget. It has lines on it. Some of those lines and their sizes you decided upon. Some were decided for you by a predecessor or your supervisor or the board. You can advocate to alter those lines. When they first came out with pop sockets for phones and fidget spinners you might have had to pitch those to get permission to buy some. Maybe a few years ago you had to pitch leadership on the idea of springing for a full color logo instead of just two colors on your conference folders? Maybe everyone hated the food last year and you knew you had to push for a bigger catering budget this time around.
If you can do those things, you can push to treat the people who are literally center stage at your event a tiny bit better.
I say this because I have worked with some outstanding conference organizers and education directors who were able to have conversations with me about compensation that were respectful, fair and completely human.
And sometimes, when I felt respected and empathized with their situation, I agreed to speak for free.