Compensating Speakers With a Return on Investment

I’ve been asked to produce a seminar for other writers’ conference organizers to share methods for making it more cost-effective for speakers to participate where the organizer has no stipend or transportation budget. I am hearing that other organizers want speakers to come, fly themselves to and register to attend their event, pay for their own rooms, and pay a fee to sell their books or exhibit. The speakers may be granted a small percentage off, but it’s so minuscule that it’s insignificant. There is no real advantage for the speaker to participate from an ROI (return on investment) standpoint when the organizer’s mindset is essentially that the speaker is coming strictly to make the organizer’s event a success.

Based on the number of people I’ve heard this from, this misguided position is more common than I’d realized. Essentially these other organizers are forcing speakers to become a sponsor and acting as if they’re doing the SPEAKER a favor by ‘letting’ them speak. That’s real backward. The attitude should be one of gratitude that the speaker is interested in being involved. Recognize that their willingness to lend their time and energy to share knowledge and experience with fellow authors and aspiring writers is far bigger than you.

If you’ve organized events for a while and had speakers cancel on you at the last minute, not show up, not bother informing you that they weren’t coming, or give you some long-winded reason for canceling and then you later find out via their boasting on Twitter, MySpace AND Facebook that their excuse was nothing more than a bold-faced lie, you develop a much deeper appreciation for the professionals who DO honor their commitment to your event. That has to be reciprocated. Ultimately, your job as conference producer is to offer everyone something tangible and make it worth your speakers’ while to work with you. If you cannot afford to pay a stipend, the objective should be to provide sufficient benefits that justify the speaker’s time and to minimize their expenses as much as possible.

While I agree with my advisor on her points, I’m not convinced that a seminar on it would be well attended. Humility is not something that I think can be taught, for one thing. For another, if the organizers are getting the participation and aren’t concerned about the morale, then I doubt they’d be receptive to attending.

But it’s not difficult or unreasonable to offer benefits to presenters without a stipend budget. There are lots of ways to let people know how much you appreciate their support without going in the red doling out cash. As a minimum an organizer should:

  1. Comp their lodging (even if you can only afford one night before or after their presentation).
  2. Waive speakers’ registration fee. Allow them to attend your event and social activities at no charge.
  3. Offer  your speakers complimentary exhibitor space. Give them first choice on their preferred time slot or location.
  4. Grant them every available opportunity to sell their books, products, and services. Encourage them to do so.
  5. Promote their new book releases or events via your site and/or newsletter.
  6. Give them free advertising. Post their book cover(s) on your site, link to their websites, and consider offering them complimentary ad space in your event program, if feasible.
  7. Promote their presence on your speakers’ roster in the media by mentioning them in your press releases.
  8. Pay for speakers’ ground transportation from the airport to the hotel and back.
  9. Thank them with small gifts such as conference shirts or items that they might find useful in their occupations such as travel or book bags, gift certificates to restaurants, movies or other shows, CDs, blank books/journals, fine writing pens, photo paper weights, picture frames, etc.
  10. Recognize them during a banquet or reception. Give them certificates of recognition along with a small token of your appreciation.

These are just a few examples of many, but your goal here is to treat ALL of your speakers as VIPs and ensure they see a measurable ROI by participating in your event. Make their needs as as much a priority as the attendees and do whatever is reasonably possible to make the arrangement a win-win for all parties involved. After all, their success is your success. Remember that your event is never about YOU and develop an attitude of gratitude in all you do.

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