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Should you pay to speak at a conference?

January 15, 2016

I really enjoy speaking to members of our legal profession — law students, lawyers, legal marketing professionals, legal association leaders, bar executives — they are great people. But being asked to pay to speak is something that really sticks in my craw.

Being asked to pay comes in all flavors in the legal industry — and I suspect other industries.

  • Some conference coordinators ask you up front in their sponsorship offerings if you would like to buy a spot that includes giving a keynote or hosting a panel.
  • Some invite you to give a keynote which you accept and then later call and indicate that keynote speakers from companies “usually” pay to sponsor and the other keynotes are doing so — that happened to me last year.
  • Some invite you to speak and charge you to get into the conference (nuts, but true), knowing that with 30 speakers/panelists they now have 30 more paying attendees.
  • Some invite you to sit on a panel sponsored by a company so you say nice things about the company sponsor – one time I got bounced off a panel because a company paying to have its people on the panel did not trust that I would support them.

Andy Cabasso (@andycabasso) is spot on his in this piece that conferences, in addition to networking and camaraderie, are made by the speakers and presenters. I’m right with him that you ought not pay as a lawyer to speak when the conference holder benefits from registration and sponsorship monies.

The idea of paying for a speaking gig is, well, a bit offensive. Especially when the host is already profiting from attendees, which is essentially double-dipping because the speaker gets paid by the audience and the speaker. The audience gets information and CLE credits. The speaker just gets a bill.

When it comes down to it, you are doing your host a favor by helping them fill their programming and educating their audience. Preparing a speech and supplemental handouts takes considerable time and effort to put together. And the actual speaking gig itself is time that could otherwise be spent billing paying clients.

Plus, if you have any reputation at all, agreeing to speak may actually help your host sell tickets. Your knowledge and reputation are getting your host paid.

If speakers are paying to get in front of the audience, conferences ought to let the audience know and how much they are paying the speaker when the speaker is introduced. That way the audience knows what the conference and the presentation is all about. If a conference holder feels company owners are benefitting in sales by speaking and thus they should pay, thought to be very open about it and perhaps auction off spots to make even more money.

Conferences should really pay a speaker’s expenses at a minimum, and in some cases an honorarium. For me, expense reimbursemnt is fine as when I am speaking I am looking to help people, share information and give back to the profession which has given me so much. In many cases, I’ll waive expense reimbursement as a way of giving back to our profession and the organization.

Over in a Facebook discussion Attorney Marc Randazza (@marcorandazza) said he’ll donate the honorariums right back to the right association. Love that idea.

Bottom line, it’s not right for speakers to pay and it’s not for organizations and associations to ask.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Sami Hurmerinta

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