Episode 9

full
Published on:

13th Mar 2023

Do I really have to pay speakers?

This season we're tackling the hot questions we get asked ask conference producers. Today, the one question we have a lot of spicy takes on: Do I have to pay speakers? Get more at geteventlab.com

Timestamps

00:00 Intro

02:21 What do you really want to know?

03:16 If you're asking this, you should probably worry about your budget more.

05:42 Do you have this resource management issue?

08:34 Exploitation via "exposure" capitalism

12:08 What can you offer your speakers?

14:22 What do they need? (Some examples from our past work)

18:07 The speaker selection process and recap!

Key takeaways

The real questions underlying the question of speaker fees are budget concerns. Proper budgeting, setting compensation packages, and using the speaker selection process in a way that is aware of your goals, your audience's goals, and your budget.

If you want to explore even more, visit geteventlab.com and nab a free copy of the questionnaire our clients use to do the foundational strategy work for their conferences. Learn more at geteventlab.com

Next episode: How do I host a free conference?



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Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy
Transcript
Isaac:

How do you as a leader of a growing community, Truly make a

Isaac:

conference or event that has impact, a gathering with purpose and an attendee

Isaac:

experience that knocks their socks off.

Isaac:

An event that leaves your audience in awe and wondering where

Isaac:

you've been their whole life.

Isaac:

Make it Kickass is, the podcast that explores these questions by

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uncovering the strategies tactics and tools that we use every day to bring

Isaac:

our clients' conferences to life.

Isaac:

I'm Isaac Watson, executive producer of Kickass Conferences, and we are

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here to help you make it kick ass.

Isaac:

Hey everyone.

Isaac:

Welcome back to another episode of Make it Kickass.

Isaac:

I am the executive producer of Kickass Conferences, Isaac Watson, and with me

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in our remote studio because that's how we roll things and that's how we love

Isaac:

it, is Operations Manager Nessa Jimenez.

Isaac:

Hello Nessa.

Nessa:

Hi isaac.

Nessa:

Hi everybody.

Isaac:

All right.

Isaac:

We are spending this season talking about some of those hot questions

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that we get asked all the time from people who find out that we

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produce conferences for a living.

Isaac:

And today we are talking about one question that comes up a lot.

Isaac:

That question is, do I have to pay speakers?

Nessa:

Could this be like the number one?

Nessa:

I'm trying to think of the ones we're talking about, could this possibly

Nessa:

be the number one asked question?

Isaac:

I would say of all time I would say that this question has come

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up with new clients and perspective clients, 99.999% of the time.

Isaac:

So I think.

Isaac:

I think that this probably is, Yeah, the biggest question that we get asked.

Isaac:

So as you might guess, we have some thoughts on the subject.

Isaac:

Yes.

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Because , this is what we do.

Isaac:

Yeah.

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So let's dive into those.

Isaac:

First.

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What do people really mean when they're asking this question?

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They're saying, Do I have to pay speakers?

Isaac:

Oh, do I have to, Yeah.

Isaac:

Do I have to?

Isaac:

What do they really mean, Nessa?

Nessa:

Yeah.

Nessa:

What they're basically asking is for permission for can

Nessa:

I get speakers for free?

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Do I have to pay people?

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Can I get away with having people speak and not paying them anything?

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Or can I use, having a low speaker fee or no speaker fee to balance my budget

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because in their mind they're thinking that the speakers are what's gonna

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mess up their whole budget, right?

Nessa:

And, if so and like I know this other conference person that

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doesn't pay anybody anything.

Nessa:

If they don't have to pay their speakers, then why should I have to, why should

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people expect to pay at my conference?

Nessa:

And yeah, I wanna do what they did cuz it seems like they're doing fine.

Nessa:

And finally there's people who are just straight up I don't

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know how much to pay speakers.

Nessa:

How much do I pay?

Nessa:

Is there a magic number that is the speaker payment number?

Nessa:

And if so, please tell me what it.

Isaac:

I think that's a lot of different ways to come up with the same question.

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There's like several different mindsets coming out of that.

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And so I think that's a good opportunity to dig into kind of the underlying

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problems that feed into these questions.

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And for me, the big one that comes up first is that when you're

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asking do I have to pay speakers or especially can I get them for free

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or saving on speakers, fix my budget.

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It's that they actually have no idea what the event budget is or what the strategy

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around speaker compensation should be.

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They just don't know.

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Yeah.

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And in this case ignorance is not bliss.

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It rarely is.

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But having, I, if you really don't know what kind of budget you're

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working with for your event, then.

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This is naturally one of the questions you're gonna ask because

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oftentimes community organizers aren't getting compensated through

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their own event production.

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And so the natural next step is why should anybody else?

Nessa:

But it also of makes sense from a perspective of if you've never

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done this before, if you've never been on the organizing side of a conference

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And you've only attended conferences.

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Speakers play a big part of the presentation of a conference, right?

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A speaker is the heart and soul of many events.

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So you see that from the outside.

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And so the assumption tends to be like, Oh my God, the speaker part is gonna be

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the most expensive part of this budget.

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I already need to start worrying about that.

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How am I gonna deal with that?

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And again, That's not true, that is from a lack of experience because honestly,

Nessa:

, the reality is in most budgets, like the speakers are, that's the easy part, right?

Isaac:

If you've got budget problems, saving on speaker compensation

Isaac:

is not going to fix them.

Nessa:

Correct.

Nessa:

And even, and paying speakers fairly, Even it's not gonna hurt the wallet

Nessa:

cuz there's so many other things that are way more expensive than that,

Nessa:

that you should not be worrying about.

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Speakers

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. Isaac: Yeah.

Nessa:

Let me introduce you to a catering menu or an AV services estimate, right?

Nessa:

Like those are the big ticket items.

Nessa:

Catering alone, it just is gonna make the speaker fees look like nothing.

Isaac:

Exactly.

Isaac:

I think another one of the underlying problems when people are approaching

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speaker compensation like this, Is a resource management issue.

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And by that I mean that especially as a first time organizer it's

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easy to not really understand what your existing network reaches or you

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may feel like, oh, I want so and but I can't afford them or I or I feel

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like I'm influential in a space and so anybody I ask to speak at this would

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totally be willing to do it for free.

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I think that comes down to a little bit of ego too, which can be unhealthy.

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And as we think about what resources someone has available to them, what

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their network is that can start to help us understand who actually

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should we be targeting with this.

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And how how is that influencing this underlying question of what

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do I wanna spend to get these the right people in the room for.

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or in terms of research management?

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Your- not research, resource management.

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Your idea of who a speaker is or who qualifies as a speaker.

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That's also something that is not explored.

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Because they're just thinking about a website, of this is a

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database of speakers and everybody here charges $10,000, right?

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That's, that this is stereotypical image of what a speaker is, So going

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into resource manage- management.

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Thinking about when we say speaker, are we talking about the same thing?

Nessa:

Does that word mean the same thing to you as it does to us?

Isaac:

So the last kind of like underlying problem, That I want to

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dig into, and I would say that this is maybe not the first thing that came

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up for us, but it might be the most important thing is around exploitation.

Isaac:

And I it's a little tough.

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But anybody, especially who works in creative, in the creative fields,

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design, art whatnot, is very familiar with the classic meme.

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I don't even, honestly, I dunno what the original source of it was.

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it was a cartoon.

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Talking about working for exposure.

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And this notion of exposure capitalism . Nessa, I know you have a lot of.

Isaac:

Opinions about this?

Isaac:

Oh, yes.

Isaac:

And I think you're probably a little more articulated, articulate about

Isaac:

it than I am, as I stumble over my words . So I'm gonna hand it over

Isaac:

to you to go a little deeper.

Nessa:

Yeah.

Nessa:

So basically exploitation via this exposure capitalism, right?

Nessa:

This idea that, I don't have to pay you because I am giving you

Nessa:

access to this audience that I have, and that should be enough.

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And then eventually one day someone down the road will pay you.

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But we, what we know is that never, that's a cycle that kind of never ends.

Nessa:

There's all, you're constantly being asked to work for free and

Nessa:

for bigger and bigger audiences.

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And then, . Yeah.

Nessa:

It's just expectation and it sucks.

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And one of our core values at kickass conferences is

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that we don't play that game.

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Everybody gets paid for working and paid how they need to get paid.

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Not in exposure, not in thank yous.

Nessa:

You know what I mean?

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And that is a big problem, not just in conferences, I mean in everything in

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design and art and all the things and.

Nessa:

It's really egregious in the speaker space though There are so many incredible

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speakers that have been, that have spoken at huge events and they did not

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get paid a dime and events that are turning million dollar profits and they

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see none of that and yet their work, their image, all their reputation is

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being used to sell this event and we.

Nessa:

We break that cycle.

Nessa:

Like we don't work with anyone who is unwilling to pay their speakers.

Nessa:

Yeah.

Nessa:

So it, it's a big problem of breaking that habit of just because it is

Nessa:

something that has been done so much and something that is so common that doesn't

Nessa:

mean it's right or that is appropriate.

Isaac:

I think to me, that comes back to.

Isaac:

Kind of unhealthy ego thing or this notion that I'm creating, like the stage that

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I'm creating is literally a platform for this person to share their message.

Isaac:

And so therefore they should be willing to do it for access to this platform.

Isaac:

Mm-hmm.

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Without being compensated.

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And I think That's a really dicey mindset to get into.

Isaac:

Before I started Kickass Conference I worked in the events world for

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a number of years and I worked on projects where, you know, outside of

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travel expenses, the speakers were speaking to thousands of people.

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And not getting a dime for it.

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And that rubbed me really the wrong way.

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Did not like that notion that it's like, Oh, this is a privilege to

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be able to speak on this stage.

Nessa:

I hate that so much.

Nessa:

And

Isaac:

I, yeah, I think that's

Nessa:

garbage.

Nessa:

I hate that so much.

Nessa:

I hate it.

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And I hate anybody that thinks that way because that is such an

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arrogant, that is such like a it's capitalist imperialist and.

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Always, at the end of the day, that always is hurting people who are already

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marginalized and on the outsides, because it's always gonna be, it always

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ends up being a rich, influential white person doing this to people of color.

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Women, queer people, disabled people who they're already getting screwed

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by the system, but now they're getting screwed for the sake of being able

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to get access to this community that they, and this, and the truth is, yeah,

Nessa:

they probably wouldn't have access if it weren't for that, but that's so

Nessa:

exploitative and so gross and I hate it.

Isaac:

Yeah.

Isaac:

Let's talk about some, a solution.

Isaac:

Ideas and some of the ways that we can combat those mindsets with actual

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practical ways of working around this.

Isaac:

So I think the first thing, the first big thing for me, especially

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when we're talking about this exposure capitalism, is starting by

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understanding what you actually can offer to people beyond this exposure

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platform, privilege, whatever bullshit.

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I think that if you If you start by saying, Okay, this is the event that

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I am creating, this is the audience that I am creating it for, and this is

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what I want to offer to that audience.

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And so therefore this is what I can offer to speakers to be able to deliver that.

Isaac:

That's the better mindset to start with.

Nessa:

And connected to that is the budget.

Nessa:

Don't talk to me about speaker payments if you don't even know

Nessa:

what your budget is, right?

Nessa:

That we start from there.

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You do the numbers, you figure out what you need and from there

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we can have a real conversation about what we can offer speakers.

Nessa:

And that could be on top of the honorarium.

Nessa:

I don't know, maybe you own a business and you could get 'em product from

Nessa:

your business, or something like that.

Nessa:

Like they're.

Nessa:

There's plenty that someone can do that can offer on top of an honorarium.

Nessa:

And we could step back a little bit.

Nessa:

We're not saying to offer more than you have.

Nessa:

What we're saying is that you need to offer something like $0

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is not an honorarium . Yeah.

Nessa:

Yeah.

Nessa:

Like even if we're talking about $200, $300, you start from there.

Nessa:

This is what the black and white budget says.

Nessa:

But what else can I offer them?

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Like I said before, can I get them free product?

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Can I get, can we pay for their travel and their lodging pay for their meals?

Nessa:

Can we is there a sponsor that can help us provide additional money or stuff?

Isaac:

Yeah.

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We like to think about a compensation package right, beyond just what

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cash you can give to a speaker in return as a fee for service.

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For them delivering a talk or contributing to a panel.

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We think about what the entire package of how we are able to compensate that

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speaker looks like for each client, and that's within the client, the context

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of each client's budget and scope, and the number of people they're bringing

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to play and all this kind of stuff.

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A couple examples.

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A few years ago we were working with a client.

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For an event that was happening in Europe and we had invited a speaker,

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we'd set the compensation package.

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We said, This is our flat honorarium that we're offering everybody.

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We're gonna cover your travel expenses up to X amount.

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We're gonna do this et cetera.

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We invited one particular speaker who came back to us and said this sounds great.

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Would you also consider helping connect me with potential business opportunities

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when I get there and reach out to a couple universities or areas that might

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be willing to contribute more to have me lecture while I'm there, Things like that.

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And we just went, Oh, that's actually brilliant.

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That's low rent for us.

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We can make some efforts.

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You.

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Send some intro emails, shop it around a little bit to help amplify this

Isaac:

speaker's profile and get them more of a reason to come because we couldn't

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afford to pay their normal fee, right?

Isaac:

That's something that we can do to compensate them or to help

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make that trip worth while.

Isaac:

That is a little more contextual to that speaker's needs.

Nessa:

Yeah, and it wasn't just exposure, it was literally connecting

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them, like highly targeted leads.

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Like these are the people, the type of people you wanna talk

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to and wanna be in front of.

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We've connected you with them.

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And then after that, I think that speaker had two or three like onsite

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visits during that same conference.

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And they had a great time like connecting with these people.

Nessa:

When it went it.

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At the end of the day, they were very satisfied with it because it

Nessa:

helped them reach goals outside of

Isaac:

yeah.

Isaac:

A another example would be a recent project we had where it was very

Isaac:

much a community oriented event.

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It was all online.

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It was a first time thing.

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We had a very limited budget.

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But out of that we were able to carve.

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A little bit of honorarium for each person who contributed to the panel

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discussions and to the content.

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And we were able to approach that and say, Look, this is what we can offer.

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We know it's not much but we value your contributions and if there's any other

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way that we can support you, let us know.

Isaac:

And so just framing it from that standpoint, knowing that yes, we were

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able to pay the speaker something.

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It wasn't by any means of market.

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For a talk or anything like that.

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But having that context around what your goals are and what you're creating will

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help you craft a compensation package that that will both fit within your

Isaac:

budget and not come off as offensive or completely disingenuous to the

Isaac:

people you're inviting to contribute.

Nessa:

Exactly.

Nessa:

So I think we've talked plenty.

Nessa:

I think we, we shared our opinions, our hot spicy takes.

Nessa:

So why don't we bring it all home

Nessa:

? Isaac: I will just add one

Nessa:

That ultimately this speaker compensation comes down to speaker selection

Nessa:

and the process you use for that.

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And so related to all of this is using a selection process that is appropriate

Nessa:

and contextually aware for your audience.

Nessa:

Your content goals and your budget goals.

Nessa:

And if you're thinking about that holistically, you can craft a

Nessa:

compensation package that's appropriate.

Nessa:

Okay.

Nessa:

So the our core question that people ask us all the time, the most

Nessa:

often is, Do I have to pay speakers?

Nessa:

Do I have to, Oh, do I have to, Do I have to?

Nessa:

Oh, do I have to pay them?

Nessa:

Yeah, you do actually.

Nessa:

Yeah.

Nessa:

And so underlying that question are the real questions of can't

Nessa:

I just get speakers for free?

Nessa:

I'm worried about my budget and so will not paying speakers help me balance that?

Nessa:

I heard so and so doesn't pay their speakers.

Nessa:

Why do I have to, Or even just how much should I pay speakers?

Nessa:

I just have no idea.

Nessa:

So I have these really weird misconstrued notions about what speakers cost.

Nessa:

So solutions around that are really understanding what you're able to.

Nessa:

You do that through proper budgeting, budgeting early and often, setting

Nessa:

compensation packages you as you do that budgeting process, and then really using

Nessa:

your speaker selection process in a way that is holistically aware of what your

Nessa:

goals are, what your audience goals are.

Nessa:

What your budget is and what you have to work with and how you can craft something

Nessa:

out of that is respectful and authentic.

Nessa:

And that show that really demonstrates that you are committed to your speakers.

Nessa:

Because at the end of the day, a conference needs two things

Nessa:

that without either of them, you don't have a conference.

Nessa:

One you need an audience.

Nessa:

Two, you need speakers of some, You need content, right?

Nessa:

And if you're not willing to pay for the content to be able

Nessa:

to get the audience in the.

Nessa:

You've got a problem, so pay your speakers please.

Nessa:

Thanks for listening to Make it Kickass.

Nessa:

We definitely have a lot of thoughts and a lot of opinions around speakers and

Nessa:

speaker honorariums, but we hope today's episode will put you on the right path

Nessa:

to inviting incredible speakers to your event and bringing them to your audience.

Nessa:

But if you wanna dive even deeper, if you want more, go to geteventlab.com and

Nessa:

get a free copy of the tool that we use with our clients to help them figure out

Nessa:

their conference budget so that they know how much they can pay their speakers.

Nessa:

That is geteventlab.com and I will see you all soon.

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About the Podcast

Make It Kickass
Community Event Mastery
Make It Kickass explores how leaders of growing communities can make conferences with impact, gatherings with purpose, and an attendee experience that knocks their socks off. We uncover the strategies, tactics, and tools we use every day to bring our clients’ conferences to life. If you've ever wanted to host a life-changing conference, this podcast is for you.

Find us at kickassconf.com or geteventlab.com

About your host

Profile picture for Isaac Watson

Isaac Watson

Isaac Watson is the founder and Executive Producer at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. Isaac helps community leaders develop and deliver transformative events for their audiences and inspire them to build a better world.

A maker and introvert at heart, when he’s not working his magic behind the scenes in event strategy and production, he’s usually at home in Vancouver, Washington working on remodeling projects, gardening, cooking, learning to sew, and building LEGO.