I had purchased a ticket last fall to attend the BlogHer conference this year, but was approached to sit on a panel and speak on Google+ (so the conference refunded my ticket cost). As a professional trainer and speaker, most of the events I participate in every year are paid. I do choose to go to about 3-4 a year that I wave my fees for, as all but the top keynote speakers are compensated. I do it because most of the events I do I can’t publicize, and it is usually at events or in genres of industry that I know people and want to make more connections in. This particular review of the BlogHer conference is from my point of view as a speaker.

As a Pro Bono Speaker

I love seeing and talking with other speakers that have a deep understanding of their area of expertise and gain recognition from both professionals and peers by speaking publicly. Over the years I’ve seen some amazing people too shy to stand up in front of a room of people now grace the ‘main stage’ with professionalism and poise all because they were given a shot to speak at a conference. I saw a lot of those ladies at BlogHer. I am quite aware that not paying speakers is a way to keep ticket prices down at a conference. As an attendee, please understand this and be kind and supportive regardless if it was that person’s very first time speaking in public or an A-Lister that normally charges an arm and two legs to show up. No matter what the path to the stage was, every speaker has a desire to share their knowledge and help others. I did see quite a lot of support by attendees to the speakers at BlogHer and they were genuinely treated with respect. (I can’t say that for all conferences I’ve attended.)

As a Professional Speaker

This may be my most critical piece, and I do apologize for that. Part of what I do for a living is “speak for pay” – but usually for training seminars or keynote-style motivational pieces. I allot a handful of events a year pro bono and mostly even cover my own expenses of travel and hotel out of my own pocket. Many of the events I speak at I cannot publicize, so in the case of BlogHer I get to talk about it online and use it as a way to meet others in my industry in person. I do NOT normally get business from these events as there are usually very few attendees looking to hire a strategist and trainer at what I charge per month. They are usually looking for free speakers or advice themselves. I encountered more people and brands/businesses at BlogHer that fell into this category than any place else I have ever spoken. I realize it might be because a good number of the bloggers are new, aren’t treating their blog as a business, or aren’t running a business. I had many people grab me in a hallway or message me and ask that I sit with them and basically tutor them on the spot or if they could set up a phone call with me after the conference and ‘walk them through’ all the things they need to do in order to _insert goal here_. Mostly I smiled and told them that there are plenty of resources available on the Internet, but my time and knowledge is at a premium. Most people pushed a bit when I didn’t cough up anything other than fairly generic information on the spot, but understood. One person had a very nasty response, and I’m sure she was unexpectedly shocked by how fast I spun on my heels and walked away. I’m pretty sure I saw her drunk in the elevator later that night. {karma}

Takeaway on this: if someone is speaking at a conference, please don’t assume their responsibility extends to personally assisting you off the stage – for free. I really don’t want to come across as a bitch on this one, but as someone that makes their living via professional services, time is money and we are already giving away a chunk of our time and expertise for the good of the community. My rule is that 75% – 25%. I need to focus 75% of what I work on for pay, and leave 25% to help out others out that don’t have the means or as something I do as a speaking or teaching engagement. The paid part has to come first though. If someone is really hellbent on having me work for them for free, I’ve offered up the idea that they can help get me three new clients to offset their piece. Not many have wanted to actually work for the ‘free’.

My Thoughts on $100,000 Keynote Speakers

EDIT: BlogHer has confirmed that no speaker was compensated for an appearance, including Katie Couric and Martha Stewart. For the record, although I have no idea if the keynote speakers waived their fees for BlogHer, it is generally known via speaker bureaus that both Katie Couric and Martha Stewart charge $100,000+ EACH for an appearance. While it was very validating that they were both there in person to address the 5,000 attendees (that comes to $20 per attendee for each speaker), I feel that the money might have been better spent to at least cover travel costs for speakers or to issue more ‘scholarships’ for attendees. Again, I don’t know if BlogHer actually paid $200,000 to have these ladies show up. BlogHer did disclose that the cost of an attendee ticket didn’t even cover 1/3 of the cost to feed an attendee and that the attendee ticket cost was basically subsidized by the vendors. I am not a professional conference organizer by trade, so I am looking at this as just a regular attendee, but something about this doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not just BlogHer, but a lot of other major conferences across all geners of business that try this tactic.

If the fees were waived for BlogHer, then THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. I can’t imagine what the ticket prices would be if there were an additional $250,000 in costs.