The reason why I think it is a monster is that most people pitching into the conversation have very limited experience in the problem that it is a part of.
My bias prior to experience
Before I started organizing European Testing Conference, I was a conference speaker and a local (free) conference organizer. I believed strongly that the speakers make the conference.
I discounted two things as I had no experience of then:
- Value of organizer work (in particular marketing) in bringing in the people
- Conference longevity / sustainability
- A big commercial organization, paying salary of a full team throughout the year
- Building a community for marketing purposes (and to benefit us all while at it) is core activity invested in
- Pays honorarium + travel to keynote speakers
- Pays nothing for a common speaker, but gives an entry ticket to the conference
- Is able to accept speakers without considering where they are from as all common speakers cost the same
- Significant money for a participant to get into the conference, lots of sponsors seeking contacts with the participants
- A virtual project organization within a non-profit, set up for running each year
- No activity outside the conference except planning & preparation of the conference
- Pays travel to all speakers, can't pay special honorarium to keynote speakers
- Runs on sponsors money and stops when no one sponsors
- Is not able to get big established speaker names, as they don't pay the speakers
- Requires almost zero marketing effort, straightforward to organize
- Free to attend to all participants
PayToSpeak is not about conferences trying to rip us speakers off when they ask us to cover our expenses. Conferences make different choices on the ticket price (availability to participants with amount of sponsor activities) and investment / risk allocations.
Deciding to pay the speakers is a huge financial risk if paying people don't show up.
Paying speakers travel conditionally (if people show up) does not work out.
Big name keynote speakers expect typically 5-15k of guaranteed compensation in addition to their travel expenses being covered.
Conferences decide where they put their money: participants (low ticket prices), speakers (higher ticket prices with arguably better quality content), keynote speakers (who wouldn't show up without the money) or organizers (real work that deserves to be paid or will not continue long).
#PayToSpeak speaks from a speakers perspective. We can make choices of being able to afford particular conferences due to speaker-friendly choices they make.
If we understand that there are two problems #PayToSpeak mixes up, we may find ideas of how to improve the current state:
- Commonly appearing (but not famous) speakers need not to Pay to Speak to afford speaking.
- New voices with low financial possibilities need not to Pay to Speak to afford speaking.
- Seek local speakers (build a local community that grows awesome speakers), and paying the expenses is not a blocker as the costs are small
- Commit to paying speaker expenses, but actively invite companies they work for to pay if possible to support your cause. See what that does.
- Set one track to experiment with paying expenses and compare submission to that track to others, with e.g. attendee numbers and scores.
- Say you pay travel costs on request, and collect the info of who requests it with call for proposals
- Team up with some non-profit on this cause and give them money for scholarships for some speakers.