Aug 072012

I coached a new book author recently who was invited to speak at a conference. After I offered congratulations, she said the conference organizers didn’t bring up money and she wasn’t sure how to ask.

I suggested she ask, “What’s your budget?” It’s polite, it puts the onus on the conference organizers, and it gives the impression that you might be flexible about the amount.

If I could only suggest one piece of advice, though, it would be something I have learned the hard way: Don’t agree to speak without a written contract. That’s because the contract spells out the details of how you will be compensated, such as whether the organizers pay for the actual airfare or give you a stipend towards it.

I know you don’t want to wait. It’s exciting, you’re flattered to be asked, and you want to do it. But sometimes you have the wrong information, or you misheard, or they left out an important detail that could crimp your travel budget. It’s best to find out what they’ll agree to before you’ve purchased plane tickets or before the website has announced you.

Here’s what to consider when you are asked to speak:

1. Is pay involved? Of course, I’m hoping the answer is yes, but you might be willing to speak for free if it is a charity, or if there are other benefits. We’ll get to those in a minute. Here are the expenses conferences might pay for speakers:

  • Round-trip airfare
  • Ground transportation to and from the location and meals
  • Hotel room and room tax
  • Conference attendance fee
  • Speaking fee or honorarium.

If they don’t offer what you want, speak up politely, without emotion. You should know that not all conference organizers treat all speakers the same. At one conference, I learned that other speakers were told the conference paid no expenses. I know that was false, because they reimbursed me. At another conference, I asked my fellow panelists about reimbursements, and discovered our amounts differed by hundreds of dollars.

2. Are there marketing opportunities? If you’re not getting paid as much as you would like, marketing opportunities might make up for it. Make sure your speaker bio and photo appears on the conference website, with links to your website or book. When the organizers promote the conference, they’ll also promote you by extension, perhaps to a whole new audience. People who read your bio might visit your site or blog, or they might purchase your book.

3. Can you sell your book? If the conference organizers don’t mention opportunities to sell your book, ask. Some conferences contract with booksellers, who bring your book and sell it. Others ask you to bring your own books and sell them yourself.

If your book isn’t out yet, you still want to get it in front of your target audience. The client I mentioned arranged to put postcards about her upcoming cookbook in the goodie bags. The conference organizers also gave her a free ad to promote her book in the published agenda.

4. Is the time and expense worth it? You’ll always have some out-of-pocket expenses, even if you’re compensated. But the perks can make going worthwhile. Perhaps you’ll visit a new city with trendy restaurants and neighborhoods. You’ll get to hobnob and network with peers and friends. You might even visit an elderly aunt you haven’t seen for years.

So those are my main tips. What about you? If you’ve spoken at conferences, did you feel you were compensated fairly? Or if you were not compensated at all, what made speaking there worthwhile? If you do speak at conferences, what tips do you have for fellow authors and bloggers?

For more on this subject, read:


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  35 Responses to “Congrats on Your Speaking Invitation. Now What?”

  1. Someday… 😉

    • It could happen! BlogHer Food tries to get half new bloggers on their panels each year. You have to submit ideas for them though.

  2. If there is a demonstration or hand-outs involved (in my case, cocktails for seminar attendees), the agreement should state that they’ll pay/reimburse for ingredients and provide staff to help with production/handing out stuff. I was nearly burned by this one last weekend!

  3. It’s always amazing how no one wants to talk about money but sometimes, we just have to. We all love blogging, writing, speaking, but there are mouths to feed and electric bills to pay and being upfront and addressing it is great – and I wish the companies did this more often. Put the onus on them as you say!

    • They wait to see if you will bring it up. Inexperienced speakers can commit and then later, ask if there’s any compensation. By then it’s too late to reconsider.

  4. I used to speak at three or four conferences a year, and the experience was different at each one. I think you’ve hit all the major points. It was the main way I promoted my consulting business, so while I rarely got paid, I could deduct all my expenses and promote my business. One point you might want to add is to find out how large the audience is, both for their website and your session. If you’re not getting paid and 35 people end up in your room, it might not be worth it. If you’re keynoting in front of 1000 people, it might. You also should include in your contract about A/V support, what you are expected to bring, what they will provide, will there be time for a run-through, etc.

    • Good point about the deductions – unless you’re blogging about food for a hobby, where deductions don’t count. And also it’s good to see if these people are your target audience and how many of them will show up. Very good list, Stephanie. Thank you.

  5. This is an extremely difficult topic to discuss. I have been handsomely compensated for speaking at one event and was given something towards airfare as well as free housing for another yet nothing for a couple of other food blogging events, although, naturally, conference fees were waived. I have spoken to others about this and most claim not to have been paid for speaking at blogging conferences. But what does one do when the organizers claim that there is no budget for speakers….yet you suspect that certain “big name” professionals don’t ever do this sort of thing without being paid. Impossible to ask. I spoke at one conference last year and was asked to speak at a second run by the same organization. I could afford to pay my costs (airfare & hotel) for one but not both and did ask for financial help to allow me to speak at both and they made it clear there was no budget for it so I ended up only speaking at the one.

    I do think that it depends upon what we are offering and what the situation is. Are we the only speaker? Are we only one in a line of speakers all being asked to speak for 20 minutes or an hour? Are we being asked to offer more, for example a longer workshop within the conference? I do think that when we are speaking in order to sell a book or increase our visibility or something similar, it is okay to do it for less. Again, I think it all depends on the situation.

    • I agree, but it has to be done. I have not been paid to speak at blogging conferences, but the organizers have given me funds towards expenses. Those funds vary. And I have been on a panel with “big name professionals” who were also not paid, so it does happen. The two times it happened, one came to hang with friends, and the other came with her husband for a getaway in a romantic town. Apparently they saw benefits outside the conference.

      Excellent questions to ponder in the second paragraph.

  6. As usual – brilliant stuff here Dianne.
    I have a ‘everything in writing’ rules ever since my days of being a wedding planner.
    It is hard to ask for remuneration, especially starting out, but I find that when we bring up the topic of budgets and speakers fees there usually is some form of remuneration and plenty of opportunities to promote our book and website. One event we have signed up to speak at later this year has even offered a hotel room for the kids! I hope you are enjoying your summer! Ours is a bit wet but very green :0)

    • Good advice. I have had to learn it over the years, and I am still doing things on good faith when the contract is not signed.

      I hope your wet weather dries up by the time I get there in September, Mona. Looking forward to it.

  7. Great tips to consider. I just hope I get to get my book out so I can have the “option” to be asked to speak somewhere :-)

    • Research which conferences are best for you to attend, based on your target audience, and then find out when they take suggestions for speaker topics. I wouldn’t wait to be asked.

  8. Thanks for bringing this up, Dianne. It’s an important topic that’s not talked about often enough.

    A couple of months ago, I was asked (and I found out later, several other close food-blogging friends were asked) to speak at a conference in New York. They were specifically inviting West coast bloggers, because they wanted our “perspective” in the East coast-based conference. So they knew we were going to have high travel expenses. They weren’t paying anything at all — and, most offensive of all, they offered us a conference pass ONLY for the day that we were speaking (and the sessions they wanted us to speak on were fully half of that day).

    We all turned them down, and I made it crystal clear in my email as to why. Not sure who they ended up getting to speak, but I sure hope they were offered a better deal than we were!

    • Hi Andrew. Good for you for saying no, and the same to everyone else who did! That is just ridiculous. Stories like that make me mad.

      There’s that saying I like: “No one takes advantage of you without your permission.” I hope they did not find someone who was willing.

  9. I’ve only spoken a few times where it would be appropriate to be compensated, and I’m so glad you offer some vocabulary to use for next time.
    The first time, I sought out a cooking supply store in the area that offered free demos to their customers. I was contemplating auditioning for the Food Network and wanted some experience in front of a crowd. The store reimbursed me for the food, and I advertised my fledgling blog.
    Now, I speak mostly as a book editor at conferences at my church. Thankfully, they really want to invest in a writing community in our congregation and that enables me to gain more experience speaking. I am friends with the church conference organizer and she explained that the speakers budgets vary from event to event. If we fly in a famous keynote speaker that uses the entire budget, the workshop speakers are usually locals that volunteer. If I teach a class at our Bible school, the school budget doesn’t have much to send my way, but they try to do something. On the other hand, if I charge for auditors, I can make more. Ministry environments are even tougher, because budgets are usually small, and many can’t afford to pay for classes. And then there’s the fact that many people volunteer in ministry, and if you want to be compensated you risk looking less noble for wanting to be paid.
    I would love to learn more about the tier system for speakers at conferences. Keynotes make more than workshop speakers, and I’m guessing more famous workshop speakers make more than novices. Is there a way to know how much leverage you have to negotiate your fee based on what your title will be? And, since you brought it up, how does one tactfully ask other speakers what their reimbursement amounts are to get a sense of whether you are being treated fairly or not?

    • I don’t think there’s an overall system everyone uses. Most conferences have limited funds and want the most from their speakers and workshop leaders. All you can do is decide whether what’s offered to you is worth it, and if not, whether there’s a middle ground that would work for both parties. One of the links at the end of the post discusses this.

      Re finding out the fees of other speakers, it’s impossible to ask these questions if you don’t know them. I have discussed the subject when people are disgruntled about fees, but I have rarely brought it up myself.

  10. I have my first speaking appointment on a panel for Le Cordon Bleu in Wellington who are sponsoring & hosting our 2nd NZ Food Bloggers Conference. It’s a contra deal as I am one of the conference organisers, they sponsor our 2 day conference and I am giving them my time. It’s the same weekend so no additional costs. I feel it is fair and the exposure is hopefully an added bonus. I will keep your valuable tips in mind for future as I would like to do more speaking and your tips make it easy to ask.

    • Congratulations on your speaking engagement. As long as you feel it is fair, that is the main thing. I just looked it up, and it’s wonderful that the event is sold out.

      p.s. I am coming to New Zealand in November, after speaking in Australia at their food blogger conference! Small world.

  11. Fantastic, is it holiday or work? Could you be tempted to do a workshop while here if I organise one through the bloggers association? I’d also like to tempt you out to Muriwai where I live and stay at my school that has a self contained flat, let’s chat on email? Alli

  12. I can’t think of one conference that I’ve had to fly to that didn’t pay all expenses door-to-door, plus a respectable honorarium. I am aware of one prestigious sypmosium that only pays expenses and the entire conference registration at a nice resort.

    For local meetings, they still might have a small budget.

    Once you have a full understanding of the deliverables, you must ask about compensation and be ready with a number in mind. Dianne’s tip of “what’s your budget” is perfect. Start with your standard rate so they are aware and then discount only as needed (maybe for “trade”) and if you think it will be worth your time. And non-profits still have budgets because many of them have sponsors.

    Be confident!


    • That is fantastic, Michelle, about getting all expenses plus an honorarium. You must be speaking at the right conferences.

      These are useful tips about having a budget and deliverables in mind. You sound like a business person. Writers don’t always get that part.

  13. I have yet to be compensated fairly for a speaking engagement, but I’m hoping that will change one day and my career gets brighter. 😉

    • Most of my speaking gigs have been unpaid, so don’t feel bad. Like you, I have been compensated for travel and accommodation. It is only now since I started teaching privately that I can set my own rate. Off to teach for free today, in fact, at the Book Passage Travel and Photography and Food conference.

  14. Unfortunately, it’s not feasible for me to attend a conference – because I live so far. But I had a chance to meet a fellow blogger for the first time, yesterday during a demo since I’m in the US for a month, and it was sooo much fun.

    OMGosh, I can just imagine a conference hall filled with a gazillion people like her. A room full of people I can relate with or learn from?!? Heaven.

    Just ATTENDING one would be icing on the cake, for me!! SPEAKING at one, maybe not as fun.



    • Speaking is fun! Really. Okay I like it. But I have done it a lot and I am used to it.

      Yes, it is fun to be in a conference room with a gazillion food bloggers. And loud. And overwhelming.

  15. As always your posts are timed perfectly Dianne! I am speaking at my first blogging conference this Friday (via skype as I now live in Australia and it’s for the NZ food blogging conference). Until reading your post I hadn’t even given it any thought that I was not offered any form of pay to talk. I’m assuming that had I been there in person I would get to go to the rest of conference at no cost, but as it’s only the second NZ conference I know that funds are very very scarce, so to even be asked to talk was enough payment for me at this stage. Also the fact that it’s being run by a few of my fellow kiwi food bloggers (whom I’m sure make no money out of doing so) makes me not care one bit that I am not getting anything in return for my time. Although who am I kidding, it would have been amazing if they had lots of funding to fly me over to NZ 😉

    It’s always interesting to hear how things are in the States where food blogging is that much bigger than down these ways and I thank you once again for your insightful posts.

    • Congratulations, Emma! Blogging conferences typically don’t pay speakers, so you are not missing out. Most of them do pay some kind of travel or accommodation costs, though in your case there was nothing to pay for.

      I hope to see you at the Australian blogger conference in November.

      • Oh I wish Dianne! Sadly I live on the other side of Australia and getting to the conference, as with the NZ one just wasn’t going to happen. God I wish I had known earlier you were speaking there though, your advice is some of the most helpful out there for us food bloggers. xx

  16. This is such a well written article on an issue for all of us, not just as bloggers, but as experts in whatever fields we may represent. We feel so embarassed to ask for compensation, but as you said – keep emotion out of it. It is a business arrangement on both sides. To be mutually beneficial, both sides must get something they value.
    A terrific reminder with excellent how-to advice!

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