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Public Speaking and conferences



I speak at a few conferences. I don’t consider myself a professional public speaker – no more than I am a professional blogger, it’s an aside from my main business – but I like public speaking. It gives me an audience for high level views of my ideas, forces me capture the essence of my thoughts in 40 minutes which in turn helps me to develop the concepts into 1/2 day, 1 day or 3 day workshops. I meet people who love what I talk about and I get free coffee and bikkies. Sometimes a rather average glass of white wine at the evening meets.

Sure, public speaking gigs can lead to paid work, but mostly prospects come from word of mouth of past participants from strategy sessions, or my public University one-day courses (How to Blog, or Facebook, Blogs and Marketing or Managing your Community (forums)) or the Australian Film Television and Radio School public masterclasses ( Building Social Networks and Growing Communities) , readers of this blog, or (and most likely) from people I hang around with on Twitter.

I am usually paid for public speaking – I don’t have enough free time to do any more *free* marketing – but I am a sucker for a cause. Save the Endangered Freelance Journalists is my new project. 😛 WebDirections cos I like the conference – I get an entrapped audience of around 600 to listen to whatever my latest pet project is (this year: Monetizing social networks). But given that I’m self-underemployed -heh – and don’t have a boss who will give me a few hours/days off to prepare and fly hither and thither and indulge my Big Mouth ™, I limit my free shenanigans to three or four a year.

What I do find weird is being asked to speak and – for this great opportunity – I can pay $7,000 or $8,000. Wow, I can advertise my products and services to an audience who have paid themselves anything from $1000 to $3000 per ticket. (./sarcasm)

There is something inherently wrong with this double dipping. Like old media, where the consumer pays for a fashion magazine full of … ads! Yes, conference organisers should cover costs and make a profit. No they shouldn’t inflict advertising on us. By advertising I mean pure promotion of the speaker’s company’s own products, with little or no relevancy to the topic of the conference. Of course advertising that is meaningful and relevant is considered information. But even so, do you really want to pay a couple of grand for a ticket to be advertised to? There is nothing worse than sitting in a conference for 2 days listening to ‘the spiel’ … There should be a badge next to the speakers name saying “sponsor” so we know what’s coming.

Please don’t invite me to pay for a speaking spot. Please don’t invite me to speak “for free” and then tell me I have to pay for ‘the other day’s‘ ticket ( I sometimes attend both days to get a feel for audience level of knowledge/interest). Please don’t ask me to buy a ticket to a conference that looks like it could be interesting but turns out to be long-form live advertising. I use “live” loosely – some of the speakers look as bored with their products as we, the audience, are.

Sheesh, no wonder they think I’m good at speaking – look at the competition! Heh.

(no this is not directed at any of the conferences coming up that I am speaking at – they have been very ethical and engaged in truly educating the audience. In particular, Glen from Frocomm New Media Conference (for PR people in Melbourne). )

Laurel Papworth

Named by Forbes™ Magazine in the Top 50 Social Media Influencers globally, named Head of Industry, Social Media (Marketing Magazine™) and in the Power150 Media bloggers (AdAge™). CERT IV Training and Assessment certified trainer (Diplomas and Certificates etc) Adult Education. Laurel has manager Facebook Pages for Junior Masterchef, Idol, Big Brother etc. and have consulted on private online communities for banks Westpac, not for profits UNHCR & governments in SE Asia. Lecturer, social media, University of Sydney for 10 years and Laurel has 11,000 online students. Laurel Papworth personally connects to 6 million followers online and has taught around 100,000 people in the last 10 years how to be social media managers.

11 thoughts on “Public Speaking and conferences

  1. Laurel, you should totally name names. I want to know who this was!

    Like you, I speak fairly often – I’ve got three in the next two weeks! Unless I’m a fan of the conference or cause, I usually ask for expense coverage.

    I’ve started to be offered a speaker fee and am considering asking for one as a matter of course. Nothing extravagant, but something that approaches covering the 20-40 hours it takes to write, design and rehearse a quality presentation – the kind of thing that an audience paying good money for a conference deserves.

  2. Thanks Laurel – I enjoy reading your posts. I’ve never met ANYONE more in love with parentheses than I am. Until now. 😉

  3. 100 % with you on this Laurel!
    I’ve had a couple of instances of this lately and it’s just… well – no, it’s not OK…

    Oh – and you forgot to add the conferences that want your slides 60 days in advance… I sent a blank template once, just to get them off my back.. hehehe – I smiled, they didn’t! 😉

    And then – have you had the: “we own your IP on that presentation and we can now sell it, reformat it etc” – I had a nasty altercation with a group on that one…

    But… you know what the scariest part is?
    Someone (other speakers) must be allowing this to happen..
    Come on speakers – time to put your foot down (or feet!)

    Anne BB 😉

  4. It can be worse. I’ve been asked to teach workshops (like full day things where people pay good dollars to learn from me) and been expected to do it all for the pleasure of getting a free ticket to the main conference – no expenses covered, no profit share. It is very hard to keep a straight face answering those emails…

  5. @stephen collins I feel mean naming the conference organisers – they are not a bad company, just doing an industry standard thingy.

    @james f I have no idea… what you are… you know… talking about… 😛

    @AnneBB ah the old we-own-j00 and your-IP trick.
    maybe other speakers should blog about these issues adn we link together. Tell the conference organisers how we really feel? Or maybe I should start a conference-organiser-rank/review community – bad review anyone? 😛

    @donnaspencer there are enough newbie consultants out there who haven’t figured out what is chargeable and what isn’t, and where their IP lays, for conf organisers to get at least two workshop days for free… or paid for by the company doing the workshop as promotion. *sighs*

  6. Totally agree Laurel. If the conference is mailed out to you in a plastic bag at least 6 times a day with ‘early bird’ stickers all over it that would cover many of the ones you talk about. As well as boring the *%&^ off attendees they actually slow the industry down, nothing changes quickly and everyone is being oh so, politically correct and company tow-the-line – then there is the dreaded “OK we have 30 seconds for indepth questions!”.

    I have also noticed the ‘company dreary’ conferences pepper the sequence with the ‘court jester’ type speakers (you know who you are!). Those who are a bit edgy, but safe enough not to upset anyone, future gazer, space cadet types who provide half time entertainment for the fat cats.

    This is a global phenomenom, the organised conference virus, has been around for decades – I think naming a few names will certainly bring change but also I would suggest polarise even more – the gap between (web 1.0, push telco/entertainment), and (web 2.0 shared/participatory/mash etc:)…but that may not be a bad thing 😉

  7. Yeah I noticed there was a fair bit of disgust on Twitter about Oracle’s blatant advertising at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston yesterday. TV commercials, while annoying, are acceptable because you can always mute the channel or change to another channel while waiting for your show/film to come back on. You don’t have that option in a conference. Advertising like that definitely works AGAINST the company attempting to promote themselves.

  8. Laurel:

    I have a confession to make. I am a conference and event organizer. “Hi Jeff,” the crowd responds in AA fashion.

    I’ve hired more than 2,500 speakers in the past 10+ years. And, I’ve been on several sides of the event: as the speaker, as the attendee and as the conference organizer. So I understand the complexities and challenges each group faces.

    I agree that speakers should be treated better and paid. I often don’t pay “industry speakers” but do give them free registration to the conference and sometimes free lodging. I was stunned that you found some speakers paying the conference organizers to access the audience.

    I treat my relationship with my conference speakers as a partnership. Ultimately, if I’m paying the speaker, I’m the customer, as are my attendees. However, I know that I need to do everything in my power possible to help the speaker succeed and connect with my audience. (I even wrote about it recently http://jeffhurtblog.com/2009/12/09/6-things-to-help-your-conference-speakers-succeed/)

    I think your idea of rating and ranking conferences and conference organizers is great and needed. If more attendees would rise up, speak out and demand better quality at their conferences, organizers would be forced to change their ways.

    Keep the posts about conferences and speaking coming. Hopefully, the conference organizers are reading.

  9. Nice post, yeah it’s VERY annoying when you’re asked to speak “somewhere” and it turns out it’s a total cult-ish sales/Amway type meeting (I get some odd invites :()

    LOL @ “Please don’t invite me to pay for a speaking spot. Please don’t invite me to speak “for free” and then tell me I have to pay for ‘the other day’s‘ ticket ( I sometimes attend both days to get a feel for audience level of knowledge/interest). Please don’t ask me to buy a ticket to a conference that looks like it could be interesting but turns out to be long-form live advertising. I use “live” loosely – some of the speakers look as bored with their products as we, the audience, are.

    Sheesh, no wonder they think I’m good at speaking – look at the competition! Heh.”!

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