#askForPay instead of #payToSpeak

#askForPay instead of #payToSpeak

June 5, 2018 Conferences Corporate Life Personal Women In Agile 0

There’s been a movement around #payToSpeak conferences on Twitter and elsewhere, that is conferences where the speaker essentially ends up paying to speak there (travel expenses, time put into the talk, time not working when being at the conference etc.). I think that speakers should be paid, or they at least shouldn’t be going negative in budget to speak at a conference. Here’s my experience:

When I first started speaking 5-6 years ago, I paid out of pocket to speak if my company (I was a FTE at the time) wouldn’t fund it. This is a tough go because it was flight, hotel, and PTO then. I was able to do it though, because I did have a full time job, I was getting paid in my time off (or sometimes it was counted as personal development) and I had a large enough disposable income to be able to do that. Many people don’t have that flexibility. When we add consultants or contractors on top of this, they also have the opportunity cost of not making a paycheck when they’re at a conference – ouch.

I estimate between 2013 and 2017 I spent about $10,000 to speak at various conferences where my travel was not compensated by the conference and it came out of my own pocket. This does not include the cost of not working to attend said conferences to speak. Yes, I can hope to turn around a new client at a conference, but that certainly isn’t guaranteed. And yes, it is rewarding to help others and share my experiences, but it doesn’t compare to $10k in my pocket.

This is hurting our industry. We’re losing great ideas and participation because it’s expensive for people to speak. The first things to get cut when companies do budget cuts are the conference and training expenses. And let’s face it, a lot of people are not in my situation where I could fund it for myself. Going back into the archives, my thesis’ primary research pointed out that in the agile community, only 60% of companies provided financial support for this type of involvement. By comparing that data with self-reported levels of involvement, those people whose companies provided financial support were statistically significantly more likely to be involved (at a 95% confidence interval as seen below). We’re missing out on these participants and our community isn’t improving at the rate it could be because of it.

Involvement Level and Company Support (Men and Women) T-Test
Involvement with Financial Support Involvement without Financial Support
Mean (0-10) 5.31 4.12
Observations 52 33
P(T<=t) one-tail 0.0378


And don’t even get me started on the gender gap in pay here as well as the lack of diversity with keynote speakers and speakers in general (that’s another post).

So what do we do? Just like my transparency in salary post, we have to talk about it! We have to ask each other if we’re getting compensated and how much. We have to ask conferences to pay us. And sometimes we have to walk away. I will tell you a few stories about this.

One conference I was asked to submit to by a friend who had also submitted. I was accepted and then realized I hadn’t looked to see if there was compensation so I asked my friend. They said they could talk to the organizers and see. I ended up getting two nights of hotel covered as well as my flight and admission to the conference. No, I didn’t get paid but I got something; if I hadn’t asked I likely wouldn’t have gotten anything. It’s not equal.

In discussing the above at a conference with said friend and others, we talked about a different conference that had happened recently. It was a smaller conference but I knew they had sponsors and likely had a budget to pay people. It turned out that a few of the people in my group had spoken there and they hadn’t all gotten paid. In fact, some had asked and were told that no one was getting paid – apparently not the case (all regular speakers here, not keynotes). This is no only unfair but also unethical in my opinion.

My final story that happened recently was being asked to speak at a conference I had never heard of in a place I didn’t really want to go. I replied with a counter-offer to the travel stipend and said I also charged a $1000 fee. I didn’t hear back for a few weeks, but they ended up accepting it (shoot I should have asked for more!). I was prepared to walk away from that one though and I have before (even to cool international stuff) because it’s not prudent.

Sharing ideas is wonderful and I’m fully aware that not all conferences have the budget to pay. However, many do and choose to only pay keynotes, and others do and choose to pay no one. If that’s the case, I’m not really in a place anymore to fund $10k worth of conference speaking – I can share my ideas for free on this blog. This is one of the things Women in Agile is trying to help with. Making the barrier to entry lower to start speaking and sharing ideas because if everyone has to #paytospeak we’re our own limit.

, and Katrina Clokie, fellow Women in Agile, have a similar takes on this


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