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Speak Up or Shell Out: Navigating the Pay-to-Play Dilemma in Conferences

A dilemma that frequently arises in the world of professional speaking—and one I often ponder myself—is whether it's worth paying to speak at [fill in the blank] conference.

Paying for speaking slots at conferences and events has become a prevalent trend. But the real question is: do the fees, sometimes reaching into the thousands of dollars, justify the investment?

This topic hits close to home for me. My stance on the matter is clear: if you're sharing your expertise and investing effort in crafting a presentation that enriches the organizer's audience and enhances the conference, then you should be the one receiving compensation, not the other way around.

Compensation can take various forms:

💵 Monetary payment

🎟 Complimentary event ticket

🛩 Reimbursement of travel expenses

Typically, keynote speakers are the ones who receive monetary compensation. If you're asked to lead a breakout session, monetary payment is less likely, but you may still receive other forms of compensation, such as free event admission and/or covered travel expenses.

When you're not compensated for your time and expertise, it sends the message that your contribution holds no value. (And don’t even get me started on how the pay-to-play model is undermining the caliber of speakers and content at conferences.) 

So as a general rule of thumb, I advise against paying to speak at a conference or event.

However, like any rule, there are exceptions.

If you actively seek out speaking opportunities at an event because you recognize it as an excellent chance to increase your visibility and credibility as a speaker, then it might be worth considering the investment. The same applies if you're approached to speak at an event with significant potential benefits for you. 

Let’s acknowledge the reality: speaking is a form of marketing. When you take the stage and deliver your message, you have the undivided attention of potential customers, partners, investors and more. Conference organizers are well aware of this, which is why they've started charging speakers in the first place. 

So, if the conference offers a prime platform for reaching your target audience at a price that yields a favorable return on your investment, then by all means, seize the opportunity!

The bottom line? Navigating the pay-to-play dilemma in conferences requires a careful assessment of the potential benefits against the investment required. 

As a speaker, it's crucial for you to recognize and assert the value of your expertise and contributions. You deserve compensation for the knowledge and insights you bring to the table.

It's not just about speaking; it's about delivering tangible value to audiences and event organizers. Confidently stand up for what you're worth and ensure that your voice is not just heard, but duly recognized and compensated. After all, your expertise is valuable, and you deserve to be compensated accordingly!


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