No consultants… Go figure

I was approached this week by a large conference organiser in Australia to speak at one of their upcoming conferences in Sydney (300km from my home town). They found me through my LinkedIn profile and sent the email to an address I have at a client site by guessing at my address there – despite the fact that my acidlabs contact details are fairly prominent in my profile.

The topic they wanted me to speak on is right up my alley – Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 tools, KM and organisational information management. However, in speaking, the following conditions come along with the gig:

  • no travel and accommodation paid (Which is usually covered for many conferences)
  • no speaker fee (Which would be nice, but not critical)
  • I cannot speak as a representative of myself or acidlabs as a consultant and only as a representative of a client and as a practitioner (What!? I can’t present using my professional persona? You’re kidding, right?)

All this for a conference that charges AU$2650 per attendee!

I’ve been backwards and forwards via email with the organisers in an attempt to understand the motivation. Here’s the answer I got:

Over recent years, it has been noted through delegate feedback that is received and collated post-event, that delegates were more and more expressing their disinterest to hear from consultants. Rather, they expressed interest in hearing case studies from practitioners and often highlighted that the sessions presented by consultants were of little benefit to them.

I expressed the view that this was perhaps the result of less than ideal choices of speaker rather than merely a practitioner-consultant thing. I also stated, that for me, there was no differentiation between me as the consultant and me as the practitioner – they are one and the same.

I informed the organiser that to not cover my expenses and not allow me to represent myself professionally would be to give the conference a free ride on my good name and expertise. I don’t expect (but would always be delighted with) a speaker fee. Matter of fact, I’m mostly delighted with just a comp, and consider travel expenses a bonus. This particular organiser tried to make me feel like I was being done a favour even getting a comp.

For example, I’m speaking at Oz-IA next week. It’s a pretty small conference and has a low attendee cost at just AU$500, yet they are more than happy to comp my place and cover my travel and hotel. It was more than I expected, as I wanted to speak at this event, so I consider the expenses coverage to be a bonus. Equally, I’ve just been to San Francisco for Office 2.0 where I spoke about knowledge workers and changing work environments. Speakers were comped, but the conference doesn’t pay speaker fees or travel (I got that handled another way) although I think they might have to given how successful the event is becoming. However, every speaker and paying participant did get an iPhone. That’s pretty amazing schwag.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve chosen not to speak at the conference that approached me this week.

For those of you that speak at conferences, what’s the usual situation? Do you get expense coverage? A speaker fee of some sort? The right to represent your professional persona? I’m keen to know.

7 Replies to “No consultants… Go figure”

  1. Prolly would have something to do with scale.

    WebDU for example I know charges a very modest fee for what it delivers – consequently I have spoken at every MXDU/WebDU since the start and have certainly never expected anything in return save a comp. ticket to the event. Daemon do know how to look after their speakers so there’s some other benefits…

  2. I sometimes get travel paid, but not always. I sometimes get hotel – but not always. If hotel is not paid for, then I will normally say no. To me that is the bare minimum (and a free conference pass of course).

    Also – I’m with you on the representation thing. I think it is fairly standard for a presenter to begin with a quick bio. I’ll spend 60 seconds saying who I am, who I work for, etc.

  3. heh heh seems to me you need to put your speaker engagement fee on your profile Stephen!
    Doesn’t the fee depend on your notoriety – or at least your self-imposed importance? The art of negotiation – always ask for more and work back from that :p
    If they really want you – they’ll come back with an offer.

  4. Jasmin, thing is, I don’t have and don’t ask for a fee. There are other folks in this industry I’m aware of that do, and do very well off their fees.

    Like most people I’ve spoken to, I appreciate a comp, think I’m doing well if I get travel costs, and am very pleased if I get some form of speaker fee. I will ask if travel costs can be covered if they aren’t offered, but often take the gig anyway if they aren’t available. Depends on the conference. I didn’t ask for them at Oz-IA for example as I was going to Sydney that weekend anyway.

    My whole issue was that this particular organiser tried to make me feel they were doing me a favour by having me speak and was not prepared for me to speak as a consultant – I had to represent an “employer” – based on some fairly unsupported criteria. When I explained that I was self-employed, I had to represent a client. I just isn’t in my interest.

  5. Hi Stephen,

    well I have to agree with you on this one, I wouldn’t have spoken either. Phh. they’re doing ME a favor? are you serious?

    I’m speaking at Web directions south this year, and they have done everything right by me, travel and what not. They have absolutely no issue with me representing as a consultant. Well that’s what I do so if they want me to speak about what I know, then that comes packaged with what I do right?

    You made the right call I reckon.

    Anyway, have a great delivery at OzIA.

  6. Doing you a favour… I know the event organisers you are talking about and the event. I can say that these second tier (from my view) conferences are usually run by people that don’t really have a good understanding of the industry and go a lot of the views of what they are told by the sponsors, attendees and a few speakers. That said they are not all like that, just a few of them.

    I’ve always wondered on this one. Knowing what the costs are for putting on a conference event, I know it can sometimes be tight to pay speaking fees on top of the travel and accommodation costs. Still the organisers owe something to the speakers, that will often take quite a bit of personal unpaid time to prepare a presentation.

    This leads me to an interesting point. If you are having to pay for your own travel and accommodation (especially to the US) you’re really going to want to start to see a ROI (sorry cold business consultant) for the speaking gig. Otherwise what real benefit is it going to bring you, besides some minor inter industry networking.

Leave a Reply