Thursday, February 18, 2016

Changing the world of conferences: pay the speakers

I spent last night reading up links on speaking as part of your professional career and a few lessons I found particularly insightful:
 I set up a conference (European Testing Conference) to change the world of conferences. There's two changes in particular that I seek:
  1. Getting programmers and testers (and others) to work together on solving the testing challenge in spirit of dialogue, without fear. We need to actively mix testing as programmers know it and as testers know it, to find better mixes.
  2. Getting delivering valuable sessions in conferences to be treated as paid work instead of a favor in marketing. 
With this post, I'm focusing on the second change. The speakers should not have to pay to speak, and speakers should be paid to speak.

Reading the posts from others, I felt there's a post I need to add: one from a perspective of a conference organizer. Let's use European Testing Conference as an example. It's a bit different example in the sense that normally organizers need to also get paid, and with this one, organizers are not on salary.

The group of speakers + organizers is in total 27 people. It includes 4 organizers,4 keynotes, speakers with hands-on 1,5 hour workshops and speakers with 0,5 hour talks.

For sake of simplicity, let's assume every one of these delivers a session they've delivered before and that preparing a shorter talk session or a longer hands-on workshop would take only the same time as an hour talk . The amount to pay with Jenn's rule is 25*2000 = 50 000. If the talks were new, the sum would be 25*5000 = 125 000.

That's would be the fair way of running it, but that is a goal I quite can't reach. And worst from an organizer view, what if I had to commit to that level of payment in advance and I wouldn't get enough people?

The commitment to speakers we did with European Testing Conference is that they will not have to pay to speak - we will cover expenses, even with our own risk. And a risk it seemed to be, up until 2 weeks into the conference when we finally went from us paying to organize to being able to pay something to speakers and leaving a little for next year / other causes (*) we raise money for.

Lena's honorarium sums would end up with  3750 - 17500 to be paid as a conference, and we seem to be landing somewhere on this range this year on what we'll split to speakers. In future years, the goal is to move from this per speaker 150..700 range to 2000 ... 5000 range - sharing the financial risk and opportunity with the speakers.

We're also working on openness of accounting, so when we have numbers together, we'll share them. That should be a few more weeks into it. A change is starting, even if just with one conference.

(*) on other cause: we're going to be starting a fund over the years to pay speaker's travel expenses for other conferences and looking to partner on that with communities that support speakers. The world needs better and more diverse conference sessions. One experiment at a time.


  1. Hi Maaret

    I do love your concepts and the work you and the European Testing Conference team are doing to ensure those who speak are not out of pocket.

    I wonder if there is a group of people you may be missing within your strategy.

    I am fortunate to be given opportunities via my employer to speak at events and they are willing to fund my expenses, travel and accommodation. At the same time I am unable to accept payment for speaking at events. Others may be in a similar situation. Having a pay the speaker focus is ideal for those who are freelancing but would you be missing out on those people who cannot be paid for whatever reason.

    Personally I like to speak at events so I can share my experiences and my thoughts and give back to the community which has given so much to me. Maybe I am a little different in that way and if I was still a freelancer the offer of being paid to speak would be appealing.

    Anyway please carry on with this great concept the ethics and ideals of what you and the team are trying to achieve is why I would still like to be involved to help drive this to be bigger and better.

    1. Thanks for the comment, John. I am aware that there's a group of people who will either not be able to accept an honorarium or will be invoicing their honorarium for their company. My approach to this is that if they leave the money with us, they will enable someone else to travel to a different conference.

      I know there's a lot of work to be done still on this one. One experiment at a time I will find the way. :)

    2. Oh, needed to add. I talked to many speakers during ETC2016. Being paid is not of significant interest to them in general - they too are in it for sharing what they've learned.

  2. I can share in your complaints and desires regarding being compensated for the effort and time for speaking/presenting at a conference. But you do get compensation in the form of free admission. If you present a workshop or a Keynote Speaker then you will get additional compensation.

    But the days of speakers getting "paid" are long gone. I know, at times I wonder why I do it and have skipped some conferences because I cannot afford the out of pocket. I just look at it as something I do to get free marketing exposure for my consulting work, which leads to more work and better rates later on. That is how I justify it. But to each their own.

    Jim Hazen

    1. Hi Jim, thanks for commenting. However, I refuse to accept that the days of speakers getting paid are gone, and even if they would be gone for everyone else, I can organize a conference that plays differently - and I do now.

      I've been speaking in conferences since 2001. I've paid to speak - a lot. And it has been worth it. I've learned a lot. Made friends. But ofr me it not marketing exposure, since I am not a consultant. I do occasional trainings on the side, and that has been my way of being able to do the public speaking.

      It's not me I work for. It's people who did not have the privilege I had - a side job permission by chance that enabled it.

      Free admission is rarely enough, at least for me. And if you could choose between just free admission vs. also getting paid, would you really refuse?

      I learned this from a brilliant lady today: impossible should read as i'm possible. I believe in change - even if in my scale of things.

  3. As a speaker from ETC2016 I completely agree with Maaret. However, I can only speak at a limited amount of conferences each year if I don't get paid. My company looses money in daily rate for three days in the hopes of me promoting the company at the conference and my improvement is worth it. So me getting paid would make it easier for me to speak at more conferences.

  4. I really liked this article. It highlights the difficulties of speaking at events. With my former employer, I had to take vacation days and to cover for my own expenses when I spoke at conference. This cost me somewhere around 2000$ in cash plus some vacation days that I was not able to spend with my family. My new employer accepts that I speak to conferences on my work time and actually encourages me to do it but the conferences would be limited to local conferences (not a lot of choices) or to only one or two per year. Thanks to conference organizers like you, I can attend 6 events this year.
    I am not doing this to make money. I talk at conferences because I enjoy sharing knowledge with my peers. Not having to spend money in the process is a nice little extra.
    Another thing that you might want to take into consideration. My current employer was happy to pay for my travel expenses at a conferences when the organizers suggested to add the company to the list of sponsors with a decent amount of exposure. Sending someone to a conference for 3 days costs somewhere around 5000$ to a company in lost revenues and travel expenses. Being considered as a sponsor smooths the deal a little bit.