Should presenters have to pay to attend?

I recently did something for the first time: I declined to speak somewhere. It was never stated on the submission page, and was raised only after my session was accepted – they wanted me to buy a ticket to attend and I refused to do that.

As a speaker

I love donating my time and I really don’t mind paying my own Travel and Expenses (T&E) but to have to pay to get in the door of the place I’m speaking at feels wrong.

I’m potentially very skewed here relative to the majority of speakers in technology. In the SQL Server world, they tend to give full conference passes to speakers and only a few contribute beyond that towards T&E. We donate our time freely and happily, and in return we get an awesome learning experience as a thank you. I’m not sure whether we’re anomalous.

As an organiser

What gets people into your conference? It’s not the sponsors, it’s not the parties, it’s not the swag, it’s the speakers. The sessions are your product, everything else is great and makes thing more desirable but a conference without talks is no conference at all.

You want to attract the best speakers you can relative to your budget. Giving access to the conference is a great way to “pay” speakers as it only costs you their food bill for the day. And hey, at least they show up it’s not like there’s any wastage in allocating food to them!

As an attendee

Another good reason to give speakers tickets is to entice them to be there for the whole thing. Not only does this help your speakers become more knowledgeable making them better speakers for next year, but as an attendee it gives me more opportunities to interact with speakers. The speaker who jets in for their session, and then vanishes is one I get only limited value out of. Having them there for the whole event gives me a lot more value for money.

What do you think?

For me, the least that should be offered is free attendance on the day you’re presenting. I’m really interested in your stance on this point though – should speakers have to pay to attend a conference they’re speaking at?