why-i-paid-to-speak

Why I Paid to Speak at Conferences

It was a year ago at the Croke Park conference centre (beside the famous Dublin stadium). At the time, I was a one-man band. I spoke for 20 minutes in front of 500 marketers about the biggest conversion mistakes companies were making (and how to fix them).

 

Picture taken at a conference in October 2015.
Picture taken at a conference in October 2015.

I really enjoyed it.

Attendees seemed to like it as well. I received a few calls after that from companies wanted to work with me.

Did I get paid to speak? Nope.
Did I speak for free? Nope.
Did I pay to speak? Yes.

I’m even going to tell you how much: €6,000 to speak at 4 conferences in the course of one year.

Let me tell you why I did it then, and what I think now.

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About sponsorship

You probably attended a few conferences in your career. In marketing or another industry. Those conferences make money by selling tickets and by selling sponsorship packages. It’s almost impossible to find events with no sponsors, or at least relevant sponsors (“Get a chance to win a new iPad!”).

A few people I talked to were surprised when I told them that most speakers in “sponsor-heavy” conferences paid to speak.

That’s right.

The big sponsor deals usually come with the ability to speak in front of the audience. If you’re a bad speaker with money, I bet you can speak at most conferences in the World.

About bad speakers

I’ve attended a lot of conferences in the last few years and bad speakers boil my blood.

A bad speaker:

  • thinks about selling something to you,
  • reads text from his slides,
  • has his slides poorly designed with stock photos taken from Google Images,
  • presents the same slides over and over again at every conference he’s invited to (pays).
  • lacks passion and personality,
  • looks down on you and feels superior.

From my experience, most bad speakers come from:

  • companies that sponsored the event,
  • and large multinationals.

Good conferences don’t make speakers pay: they pay the speakers.

Why I paid to speak

Simply put: nobody knew me.

I’ve never managed to maintain a blog for long. I wasn’t “known” in the industry. I was only starting out. I had good traction with reaching out to my network but I wanted to try something bigger.

I knew I was comfortable with speaking. I spoke at two conferences (Retail Conference and the Online Retail Conference) in London in my previous job (both were paid for). I enjoyed the experience. I also like to work on slides as I have a solid process for it (that’s for another post).

I regret not keeping up with writing when I started blogging in French for my blog “Le Grenier du Net” (which stands for “The Attic of the Web” – yes, my last name means “attic”).

Front page of my French blog (now closed) - taken from Wayback Machine.
Front page of my French blog (now closed) – taken from Wayback Machine.

Instead, I used a shortcut. I contacted every digital marketing conference organiser in Ireland, hoping to get invited. When I realised that I wouldn’t be able to speak with my current profile, I chose the easiest option: paying for it.

Did it work?

Yes, it did. People seemed to be pleased with my talk and I had lots of fun.

I was able to build my speaker profile to get invited to other events in Ireland:

  • a few meetups,
  • the Swipe Summit,
  • the Social Media Summit,
  • Predict Conference,
  • eir Spiders Digital Workshop.

On the business side, we got nine great leads out of speaking. Most of them became our biggest clients.

I’ve been feeding the bears

Last year, I didn’t really know what I was fighting against and why Slices was Slices.

Today, I know.

I started Slices because I was sick and tired of Internet pollution, marketing BS and shareholder capitalism. My teammates Marco, Serina and Julia joined me for the same reason.

“Sponsor-heavy” conferences contribute to the marketing BS out there. People want value, not a sales pitch.

We made a decision

We won’t pay to speak again. We want to get invited to speak because we’re passionate people who want to fight the good fight. We will also get involved to turn “sponsor-heavy” conferences into more valuable events.

Oh and we might organise our own…

Slices strategy for this year is to write great content. We want to spread the word about what we believe in.

It’s time to get involved and change the World.

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Also published on Medium.

  • I never knew such a thing as paying to speak existed – I guess I’m a little naive still 🙂

    After seeing you speak several times, I have always been impressed with your presentations. I attended the full day Learn Inbound event yesterday, and none of the sponsors spoke, and many of the speakers flew in from other countries, so I assume they were all paid. Great event. Maybe you should get in touch with Mark?

    • That’s why I wanted to talk about it. Nobody seems to know that it exists except the sponsors.

      Thank you for the compliment. Yes, speakers from Learn Inbound are all paid. Mark and I have talked many times: we need to get much better at doing our own research and write more content before getting involved.

  • John Andrew Brereton

    Nice one Louis – bang on re: bad presenters – no passion! one more type of bad presenter is government and utility officials – urrghhh!

    • Thanks! I never had the “chance” to hear government officials speak but I can guess how awful they can be…

  • We cover all flights, hotels and dinner for speakers. We’ve a strict policy of no sponsors on the stage as I agree with Louis; they’re generally pretty poor. Do we make a lot of profit from our events? Nope. Yesterday’s event just about broke even. I’d pay for the costs out of my own pocket if it meant keeping the caliber of speaker high.

    • Thanks for your comment Mark. Keep fighting the good fight.