Some conferences cover expenses of their speakers, other conferences don’t. Travel and accommodation can be extremely expensive and some speakers wonder why a conference would choose to put that burden on the speakers.
There are many ways to run a conference. I believe that all conference models are valid.
The price of a ticket directly affects what portion of the expenses organizers can afford to cover. Of course, organizing a conference can be very expensive, so even a high ticket price does not mean that there’s a big travel budget. These things can be very expensive. Coffee alone can cost in the five figures depending on the venue.
The higher the quality of the event, the higher the expenses. Where organizers choose to spend their money is entirely up to them. There is room for $5 conferences in universities that make you buy your own meal like there is room for $1000 conferences in 5-star hotels that serve warm lunch at your table. Every experience is unique and defines the event.
For-profit conferences would obviously like to make some money from it and there’s nothing immoral about this model. Some speakers may disagree and are welcome to leave their spot for those who are okay with that idea. I personally speak at such events now and then because I get tangible business opportunities from them.
Different communities have different values. I wanted to invite a speaker once that asked $20,000 + business class flight for a keynote. That’s common practice in his industry and I respect that, although I can’t afford it.
Some communities strongly believe in the fact that everyone has to give back, which is why their speakers even pay their own conference ticket to come speak. As long as there will be speakers who would be okay with that, they will submit to these events and we can’t really judge them for that. If one day too many speakers decide that this model no longer suits them, they will submit elsewhere and the community will have to adapt.
Some event organizers spend a lot of money to create a strong brand and attract a valuable audience. They believe that to speak for them is rewarding enough. I can respect that too. Speaking at events with a high reputation can be good for one’s career. Some people are advanced enough in their careers that they no longer care for visibility. Remember: each event is organized differently and for a different purpose. It’s up to the speaker to decide whether they want to be a part of it.
What can speakers do?
If you’re a speaker and cannot afford to pay your own travel, I suggest that you inquire about speaker packages upfront. How much is the conference covering? Are there any prerequisites for that, such as giving multiple talks? Is the hotel also included? How many nights?
Some events will cover a percentage of the flight. Some events will propose financial aid for travel only if you ask. Some events will cover more expenses in exchange for more talks. Watch out: more than two talks can be a huge burden for the inexperienced. It is possible for events to get cancelled, so watch out for refund policies if you’re buying your own plane ticket.
What can organizers do?
Be clear about the rules. Don’t wait for people to ask for financial aid and just make clear rules that apply to everyone. I’d rather see everyone get a little less than a few people get everything. Asking for favours varies by culture and you may penalizing some people that way.
Sponsors can go a long way towards increasing your travel budget. It’s easier to find a single sponsor than finding multiple international speakers who are willing to pay their own flight.
Evangelists often have a travel budget with their company so ask them if their company can cover the expenses. A few companies who would say yes may enable you to bring more international speakers to your event.
If you can only afford to partially cover expenses, that works too. Many speakers are okay with splitting the costs, because they might want to take a vacation right after that. You can also ask them to give more talks. Three talks can be okay for experienced speakers but don’t push it. You don’t want to fill your conference with talks by exhausted people.
That’s it for today. Add more ideas in the comments below.