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?

Should presenters have to pay to attend?
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11 thoughts on “Should presenters have to pay to attend?

  • 07/12/2015 at 17:09

    Hi Steph,

    I agree with your thoughts.

    I think that if your intentions are genuinely to share ideas, knowledge, information etc to the masses and it doesn’t come with any ulterior motives then the least you can expect is a free pass for the day you present on (although in all fairness there’s an argument that you should have a free pass for the whole expo rather than just one day).

    If there is an ulterior motive (off the top of my head – trying to sell a product / service / book etc) then you should indeed pay for a ticket – however I appreciate that most of these presenters would have provided some form of sponsorship so would have already paid to be there anyway.

    I’m like you, I haven’t really seen much outside of the SQL Community so perhaps we are the exception to the rule and most other expos / conferences charge speakers as standard??… But that’s bad form in my opinion.



  • 07/12/2015 at 17:21

    I’ve not ever seen this before. I HAVE seen speakers getting compensated to speak at a conference, but I think the conference ticket is compensation enough. And many a lil speaker appreciation party/dinner if you want to spoil us 🙂

    If you have to withdraw the comped speaker slots, maybe you have too many speakers and not enough attendees?

  • 07/12/2015 at 22:53

    Definitely agree. It sounds like a joke.

  • 07/04/2016 at 13:06

    Well. It depend… The best IT answer.
    I’ve been on several conferences at attendee and as a speaker (even as an organizer, helper, marshall, photographer… enough). When I’m attending as speaker – I always focus on my session, networking, talks with attendees. Before the conference, I’m focusing on session, transport and sleeping place (sometimes on food too). When the organizer of the conference force to buying a ticket to enter to the event when I’m the speaker I just simply asking ‘why you have that strange policy’ then de-submit my session. I always trying to check all circumstances around conference/event to be sure that I will not pay for that.

    But they are some exceptions:
    * I never had a talk at CeBIT. To be a speaker there you need to be the delegate of the company which pays to be exhibitor or partner at this event. This is not the perfect option for me as an individual speaker, but I understand the business path.
    * I had a session in China two years ago, where I paid for the conference. It was just simple price with nice discount for attending at conference and accommodation at five-star hotel. There was no option – even as a speaker – to stay in the different hotel without paying for the conference. I manage this and use my private money to attend, speak and stay in the hotel (with nice dinners, art-show and more attractions).
    * In Asian countries, several events have no option for free attendance for speakers. Even you will speak you will pay.

    I – as many other ‘community speakers’ – spend my private time and money to attend for several conferences. I trying to not loose to much money for single event (eg I will not fly for US just for one session on SQLSaturday), trying to connect my events together or with other projects – like last three days holiday in Caerdydd with ‘Return of the Beard’ event.

    I understand that from the perspective of the owner of the event that is always budget, but he/she should understand that speaking at the conference equals not making money (directly). so each of additional costs for speaker, decrease opportunity for invite she or he to speaker room.

    ** If you think/feel/know that speaking at the conference when organiser request to pay (and you did it) is a very good opportunity for you, your future, your potential contract, and you set this cost as ‘some kind of investment for you’ — sometimes is worth to pay.

  • 07/04/2016 at 16:09

    I was recently asked to speak at an Alteryx event. This event was free to attend and was aimed at flogging the product to potential customers, therefore as an exitsting user I was there to share me experiences. In return, the organisers covered my hotel bill.

    In September they are holding their European 2-Day conference, prices haven’t been announced yet but going on the San Diego event, they will be monstrously expensive. However, speakers get full access to the whole shebang. In fact, demand to speak is so high that we’ve had to apply to speak and a small selection will be invited.

    I don’t have the opportunity to speak much, so if I was asked to pay a reasonable amount for my ticket I’d likely do so for the experience, however I do feel that a free pass is the least that could be offered in exchange for my time.

  • 30/12/2016 at 15:08

    If a conference requires a speaker to also pay the conference fee, that sends up a few red flags for me. It might mean the conference is in a precarious financial state. This could be the result of poor or low attendance which would also be a red flag for me. While I enjoy presenting and teaching, I am still running a business myself and it there’s no benefit in doing a talk for 5 people. Especially when I still need to travel.

    I would also view this as a means for the conference to enrich itself meaning their focus is on the bottom line and not the attendees and definitely not the speakers.

    I’m not saying I would never agree to this arrangement, but it would have to be pretty special and rewarding in the long run.

    • 31/12/2016 at 10:59

      I think you’re right – that it’s a big red flag if the conference needs their presenters to pay to get in as it suggests a precarious situation financially for the organisers or a motivation that doesn’t dovetail with my own as a speaker. In the event a precarious situation, I’d rather the organisers ask for speakers to do some extra marketing above what they might usually do. Better to get more bums on seats than to limit the speakers only to those who can afford to pay not just their T&E, their missed work, but also the door fee.

  • 30/12/2016 at 15:13

    If you want me to speak, at a minimum, you need to comp my conference fee. It’s what I deem opportunity cost for the organizer. You are charging money and want to attract people by having (hopefully) good speakers. Giving away a limited number of the equivalent of free admission tickets to speakers is a small cost in the grand scheme of things. This is especially true for larger conferences. Those 10 people will not drive up your food costs, either. Using that as an excuse is lame.

    Where it gets murky with conferences is what else they do or do not cover – like T&E (i.e. airfare/rail/hotel – partial or full). I’ve had conferences foot the whole bill (or most of it up to a point – for example, up to $X for airfare), and others, like PASS Summit, only cover walking through the door. At that point, you need to make the decision as a speaker if the cost of being there (hotel/air/whatever) is worth it.

    I will disagree with Jeff – for certain events, I do think speakers should get compensation (and I’m not talking precons which are). I do not want or need a speaker gift (waste of money), nor do I want/need a dinner. I’d rather get paid in other ways – like compensation which can go towards that T&E I’m shelling out. Don’t get me that speaker’s jacket. Just give me the $100 or whatever you’ve laid out instead, or let me choose where that will go – like my charity of choice. That way it can be used in a meaningful way. Baubles are wasteful.

    I recently had a situation where T&E was promised, but then was basically taken away. I did my internal math, and it just was not feasible or practical to spend thousands and more than a week of my time to literally speak for about 3 hours. This wasn’t personal, and the one who was in charge of this event and I are still fine. They understood.

  • 31/12/2016 at 01:42

    Adding to my other answer, in the music world there’s the concept of “pay to play/pay for play”. It’s not dissimilar to what’s being proposed for no compensation and you having to pay to speak. In the music world, it’s where you have to do things like sell a minimum number of tickets, etc. Young bands get suckered in thinking it’s the only way to do things.

    • 31/12/2016 at 10:51

      Allan, these are fantastic comments.

      It is a shame about the T&E being removed – it sounds like it’s a conference with a more precarious financial situation than anticipated, like Jeff was suggesting can happen?


What do you think?