Should Speakers Pay?

Steph Locke was invited to a conference as a speaker…and asked to pay full price.  My experience with speaking is in the worlds of SQL Server, .NET, and security.  I’ve only been a speaker at free conferences, but I’ve talked to enough speakers at mid-level and major conferences to get a pretty solid idea here, and the answer is uniform:  speakers should not need to pay for admission.

Here’s my general breakdown:

  1. If you are charging a steep fee for admission, the least you can do for speakers is let them in free.  They’re giving their time and, as Steph notes, they are the reason people attend the conferences anyhow.  At larger conferences, paying speakers helps draw higher-quality talent.
  2. If admission is cheap (like $20-100), you probably can’t afford to pay speakers, so don’t.  But don’t charge the speakers; give them free entry.  Also, speaker gifts are nice—I appreciate them even if they’re small, and I try to make sure that SQL Saturday Raleigh has good speaker gifts every year.
  3. If admission is free, you obviously aren’t charging speakers.  In that case, there’s no controversy.

There’s a common theme here:  don’t charge speakers.