Aisha Blake

Getting Paid as a Speaker

August 29, 2019

This post is adapted from a Twitter thread I wrote on the subject. I saw the following tweet and thought “Okay! I’ll give it a try because this has been on my mind lately.”

Can we talk about speaker pay? I just discovered that this was a thing. Myself and I’m sure many others would love to hear approaches/advice on this. Someone should make a thread or something about how they charge, why, things to consider, etc. https://t.co/pOdF8Sn0KJ

— 🍁Pariss Athena🎃 (@ParissAthena) August 29, 2019

My Experience

First up, a little background on me for context: I’ve been speaking for a few years off and on and really kicked it into high gear last year. I attended around 20 different conferences, most of them as a speaker.

I’ve volunteered for some conferences (notably Strange Loop and CodeMash) and co-organize self.conference and WordCamp Detroit. I’m starting a musical tech conference called <title of conf>. I’ve participated in tech conferences in most of the ways it’s possible to do so!

I’ve also taught courses, workshops, and bootcamps online and in person. This gets into slightly different territory, so I’ll break my comments down based on the type of activity, focusing primarily on giving talks and running workshops at conferences.

Speaking at Conferences

Lightning Talks

While many conferences will offer opportunities to give lightning talks during the event, those talks are often unplanned. It’s unusual for a speaker to be compensated by the conference for a lightning talk alone. Often, attendees will sign up to give one during the conference itself.

In rare cases, when lightning talks are built into the main schedule, they may be submitted ahead of time with speakers receiving some or all of the same benefits afforded to those giving regular sessions. The Lead Developer and !!Con are both wonderful conferences that emphasize shorter (10-minute) presentations.

Regular Sessions

The majority of conference sessions are 30- to 60-minute, lecture-style presentations. For most people, when we talk about “speaker pay” in terms of a tech conference, we’re not discussing a rate that you negotiate. Usually, the conference will determine ahead of time what they’re willing to offer to speakers. The absolute bare minimum here is a free ticket.

If a tech conference you’re considering applying to wants their speakers to pay for a ticket, RUN FOR THE HILLS.

Other common speaker benefits include money for travel and hotel accommodations. The conference might book these for you or, more often, they’ll reimburse you for these costs after the conference. If you can’t front that kind of money, it’s worth asking the organizers to do so.

Some events will have you sign a performance agreement. For self.conference, the main reason we do this is to have some sort of written agreement that says you’ll pay us back the money we spend on your hotel if you don’t show up. If you receive a performance agreement, read it carefully before signing! If you’re not comfortable with a certain clause, ask to have it amended or struck from the agreement. Understand ahead of time how important any such changes are to you and whether or not you’re willing to walk away from a speaking opportunity if your request is denied.

Tatiana Mac has an incredible speaker rider that you should read. It clearly lays out everything she requires of conferences she speaks at.

Look for specifics when reading through a conference’s website/CFP. Is there an upper limit to how much the conference will reimburse? This will sometimes be different depending on your distance from the venue. They may offer sponsorship benefits if your company pays for you. My number one tip for getting your conference talk accepted in the first place is to read the CFP. This will not only help you determine what you should submit but also how you can expect to be compensated for your contribution to a conference.

Workshops

Less commonly, conferences offer honorariums for speakers delivering workshops (or possibly for all speakers). Expect $100-300 if the event is in the US. If folks need to sign up for a particular workshop ahead of time, you’ll likely get a percentage of the income specific to your session.

To be honest, I’ve found certain organizers to be somewhat disingenuous in their commitment to paying speakers via honorariums. Receiving a check for $200 after a conference doesn’t help me if the conference doesn’t also provide assistance for travel and a hotel. Offering a small honorarium without a clearly defined policy for travel and accommodation funding does not count as “paying all speakers”.

Private Engagements

If you’ve got a company asking you to teach or come to them to speak, you choose your speaker fee.

If you’re asked to speak or give a workshop outside of a conference, that’s a whole other beast. You need to consider the resources it’ll take to prepare and deliver that talk and then probably double or triple whatever you’re thinking about charging. Consider how much time and effort it’ll take you to research, write, design, and prepare this talk. It’s helpful if you already have an hourly rate for freelancing because you can use that to estimate. Make sure to bake any travel-related costs in.

The wonderful Laura Webb recently shared these resources with me to help gauge what you should consider charging for these types of speaking engagements:

Fee Calculator

Understanding Speaking Fees and How Much You Should Get Paid to Speak

Other Possible Benefits

Rarely, you may get a per diem for food. I wouldn’t expect to be offered more than $50/day. Keep track of your expenses, hold onto your receipts, and be ready to submit everything to the organizers promptly after the event.

If you’re more established and/or well known, you can expect a little more in the way of compensation. This is not to be confused with a formal speaking fee. In this scenario, if you’re able, I urge you to advocate for other speakers who may not have the same privileges.

If you’ve been invited to speak as opposed to submitting via a call for proposals, you have some leverage.

Always, always communicate with the organizers of an event if you’re interested in speaking but something they’ve published doesn’t work for you. Can’t wait for reimbursement? Ask the organizers to book travel and hotel accommodations for you. Need to bring a plus one for emotional support? Request an additional ticket to the conference. Got laid off? Let them know you’ll need help to cover things like food and local travel.

I hope this has been helpful to you! I’m always happy to talk about this sort of thing. If you have questions or want feedback on anything (what to charge, talk abstracts, how to choose conferences), please reach out!


Aisha Blake

Blog by Aisha Blake, a speaker, teacher, and Application Developer at Detroit Labs. Say hi on Twitter!