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To Speak Or Not To Speak

The speaking dilemma of conferences is discussed

Conferences, in general, are a great place to network, learn and, for a lucky few – speak. However, these conferences are not cheap to attend. There are many ways conferences attract attendees. Some say that it is the location, others the networking and even more are now saying to learn from industry experts speaking at the sessions. My opinion, for the most part, people go to learn.

So what does this have to do with a speaking dilemma?

Recently I had a conversation with a speaker who has global credentials and I asked the following questions:

Tell me about the time you spend creating your presentation and interviewing with event selection committee?

I put a lot of hours into preparing my slides, rehearsing the presentation and generally making sure I am ready for the event. Some conferences demand more time than others for their selection process – there are some who completely ignore you once they have selected for the event and others who are constantly wanting to talk about the presentation, and tend to micromanage you. Seldom do you get the right balance.

I would think that, when you put it all together – writing, preparing the deck, liaising with the conference organisers – you are probably spending no less than 40-60 hours.

Have you ever quantified the total cost of speaking at the events?

If I have to take time out of paid work, then the preparation time would cost me around the $6-10k mark depending on your billable rate. If you add in the travel costs, accommodation, and all the other things that go with being away from home and being in a social environment, then I doubt I would get away under a $12K investment in lost time and out of pocket expenses for most events.

What are your biggest challenges you face if you are selected?

As an independent consultant, it is often a challenge to take the time out from an engagement to travel to events, I either have to take unpaid time away, turn down work, or juggle the work that needs to be done while I am away, often working late nights in hotel rooms to keep projects on track. Finding the money to get to events is also a factor that I need to consider.

Has an event ever suggested some sort of travel reimbursement?

Only two events I have spoken at have covered my travel and other related expenses, requests to other events have been declined or ignored.

What is your submission criteria when you choose to submit to a conference?

I look for events that I would like to attend myself. Conferences with a programme that I can see value in. If I am not going to be paid to be there, then I need to extract value from the experience in other ways. So I look for good networking and learning opportunities.

Have you tracked the business generated from events?

It is hard to fully attribute new business to speaking engagements, I have certainly had paid opportunities as a result of being at conferences, but they are generally as a result of the networking opportunities rather than because of the speaking engagement. I admit that speaking at conferences can raise my personal brand awareness, but there are other more effective ways of doing this, such as blogging and other social media activities. I sometimes wonder if I spent the same amount of time on LinkedIn contributions in groups and articles, and then used my travel spend for LinkedIn ads, what the outcome would be.

If an event selection committee was offering some sort of travel credit, would you submit a presentation for consideration more often?

It would certainly be a factor, I have to weigh up the costs against the benefit when I look at which events to go to. I am not so worried about actually being paid to speak, but it would be nice if it did not cost me to be there – after all, conferences could not happen without the speakers, vendors and attendees.

Are there any ITSM conferences that really value their speakers? What makes them different?

There are some ITSM conferences that go the extra mile for their speakers. The Scandinavian and some European events seem to put a far greater value on their speakers’ time than other events. Not only because they cover some costs, but because of how they actually make you feel like you are an important part of their event, and they treat you as such.

What professional or personal benefit do you get from speaking at conferences and other events?

One of the greatest values to extract from conferences is always going to be in the networking side of the event. I definitely get professional development as well from attending sessions and speaking with the experts of our industry in a social setting. It also helps with your personal brand recognition and reputation.

If an event was not offering speakers free registration and social events, would you still be interested in presenting? Are there any other perks that conferences give you?

I have been surprised to see recently that some events are not giving their speakers free conference attendance, or if they are, they are excluding things like gala dinners and other social events from the speaker registration package. I really think that, if a speaker is willing to put their time and effort into preparing for your event, and pays out of their own pocket to be there, the least event organisers can do is to make sure they feel welcome when they get there.

If I am not valued enough to be allowed to attend other conference sessions and networking opportunities, I have to wonder about whether or not it is really worth my time being there.

Can you speak to the selection process at events?

Speaker selection sometimes feels like you are in a competition where the cost of the prize comes out of your own pocket! Some events make you feel like you should be eternally grateful if you are selected to speak there, they seem to forget that they would not have an event if speakers were not prepared to be there, usually at their own expense.

What does all this mean?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. While writing this article, I bounced it by a few other speakers and there seems to be a tipping point we are heading towards. Some speakers I spoke with during this process stated, “some events do not even respond to requests for travel support”. In my opinion, events have to walk the fine line of value delivery, profitability and positive industry perception. To me, they are not disconnected and events have to make sure they achieve them all. However, they cannot forget that speakers can be and are, a contributing factor to all three.

Is there a better way?

Stay tuned!
Your experience and feedback is welcomed?

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