Paying speakers…

We recently had a great discussion over email about 360|Flex Europe, and in general how Tom and I do things. Since this topic has come up twice, I think it warrants being posted here. For many reasons, one as we’ve said, we’re into transparency so we want everyone to know why we make the decisions we do. Second, since it has come up more than once, we can point to this entry the next time it comes up.

So the topic is paying speakers to speak at conferences. The short answer is, we don’t.

Here’s the why:

We spend a lot on each event, mostly it’s on food and beverage during the event. There’s a reason for that. Yes, we could not offer lunch or throw parties each night and instead pay for speaker travel and hotel, but that goes against our whole reason for doing this. We also don’t think attendees would agree with that approach.

By not forcing attendees out into the world to buy food, we enable great hallway conversations between people who might otherwise not chat. These conversations are part of what our attendees like. Also in the “food” category is a meet-n-greet on Sunday night, as well as parties during the week. We split the costs of those parties with sponsors, but they’re very important to us because they are social activities. One of the key aspects of our show is that you can’t come and be shy. We practically make you be social and many, many attendees thank us for that. A lot of programmers are not social by nature, but would like to be. They just need a little help. Let’s be brutally honest too, anything that can be learned at any conference can be learned from a blog (albeit at a slower pace as you have to find the blog, have delayed Q&A, etc.). The key differentiator of a conference as a learning vehicle is meeting people in the community. People that you can at a later date chat with when you get in a bind or when you need to pay for some quick help.

Sure, if we didn’t provide food, people would go out (probably in groups) and eat. The trouble is those groups are usually not made up of strangers. They’re usually made up of IM buddies, friends, project-mates, etc. Being in the same room as all the other attendees gives everyone a chance to meet.

There’s also a logistical reason we don’t cover speaker travel and lodging. It’s just Tom and I. Managing the travel plans for 40 or so people for each event, would require we hire some one to manage that… We don’t even pay ourselves, paying a new person just isn’t in the cards.

We also look at speaking as a way to “give back”. We “give back” by not trying to make a mint on each event, and making them affordable. Most, if not all, of our speakers see it the same way we do, acknowledging that they got where they are on the shoulders of others and if they can be some one else’s shoulder, that helps everyone. Sharing knowledge freely is what the development community is all about. Not charging to answer questions, not charging for each piece of code created.

Of course, this could all be fixed by raising our price from $360 to $720 or $1000. That would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve though. We do this to make attending a conference possible for folks who might not otherwise have the budget for other $1,000+ events. It’s a pretty good sell to your boss (whether corporate or your spouse) to say, “It’s 3 days of learning plus all food covered for only 360!”

We’re working on ways to help defer speakers’ costs, such as selling videos of their presentations and sharing the profits of those sales. Overtime, we’ll likely find other ways that speakers can be reimbursed but we just haven’t found them out yet.

One Reply to “Paying speakers…”

  1. Hi guys…

    First off, I really enjoyed 360Flex. Meeting people, the environment, the small cozy nature.

    Here’s my thoughts for finances as I did not feel the survey allowed me to convey what I actually feel.


    I. Speaker Compensation: I do not think speakers should be paid, especially Adobe Evangelists as they’re already paid to be such. Nor would I try to cover air fare.

    What I would try to do is cover most of the hotel cost. Perhaps a $50 flat fee which would actually pay the fee for hiring a “speaker co-ordinator”, etc. And endeavor to get Adobe and a few companies to perhaps sponsor a goodie package for speakers. Similar to the one we all got in our rooms but perhaps with free software, iTunes gift cards, whatever. Just to say “thank you”.

    II. Hotel location: frankly, my two requirements for a conference is a) that the hotel not be a ghetto motel in a bad neighborhood. (Went on a church retreat once in a cheap hotel. With the guy next door blaring porno or knocking a prostitute up. Just what you want on a spiritual church retreat, eh?). My second requirement b) is that the hotel be easily reached from a major airport.

    It doesn’t have to be downtown. And if it’s in a sub-burb (say the sub-burb where the airport is) then that’s fine. As long as bus, shuttle, what not can get me from conference to airport. If that cuts hotel costs from $20,000 to $12,000. That’s fine with me.

    III. Regarding food & parties: I really appreciated there being lunch. Without it so much time would have been lost, as well as a lot of connectivity. I think there should be at least one party. That said, I think getting sponsors or even partial sponsors would be a great idea.

    All said, I really like the $360 price for the conference. I think it also increases the likelihood of a company covering the cost. (I know I can’t.)

    Another thought….perhaps a “cruise”. It’s $360 for the 360 Flex conference. I went on a 7-day cruise for about $450. And that included food (but not drinks).

    A cruise might be a great thing, in fact, I’d be inclined to bring my family. Because I could be at the conference all day (or heck, shift some of it to late evening). And but my wife and kid could be having fun on the cruise ship all day.

    Plus if you covered hotel (ie: cruise ticket but not flights) for speakers. The cruise itself becomes a perk. Just find something like a 5-7 day cruise with 2 island stop-overs. You could have 1 or 2 days on island and 3-4 days (all the sea days) in seminars.

    In this case, maybe you have to charge more than $360. But maybe not much more. I got tickets for $450 for me and wife. That’s wasn’t even group rate.

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