Drawing a line in the sandstorm

Have you ever wondered how conference organizers decide who they’ll pay to come to the event and whose expenses they’ll cover? Or, how decide how much to charge?

C.C. Chapman, a prominent social-media consultant and writer, writes on his blog that he loves to speak at conferences of all kinds because “I’ve got a permanent case of travel wanderlust mixed with the urge to meet, talk to and motivate as many people in the world as I can before my time is up. …

“But, it amazes me how hard it is to work out the details with organizations no matter how big or small they are.”

Chapman, an e-quaintance of mine who also serves as a judge of the Strategic Video Awards which I chair, lays out his terms.

Or tries to, with an instructive result.

Here are the first two:

1. You’ve got to pay his travel costs. “That is not negotiable for me and why I put it first.” Not paying his expenses is “a deal breaker for me unless you happen to be TED, Poptech or some other conference that I’d kill to be in front of.”

Oh. So it actually is negotiable.

2. You’ve got to pay his speaker’s fee. That’s simply non-negotiable. The man has to eat. And there’s a principle here: “Quality costs, so don’t just assume you can get everything for free.” Except, C.C.’s fee is totally negotiable. “I have different rates depending on the type of event or organization ….” And in fact he does still speak for free “quite often.” But that ain’t cool, because “I’ve had this happen where I had to pass on a paid gig because I already had a free one on my calendar and that hurts.”

After sharing his bottom line(s), C.C. asks his readers for their opinion: “I’d love to hear from other speakers out there as well as event organizers to know if I’m off base or not. I know in my heart I’m not, but I still want to hear what other people in the industry think.”

Here’s what I think, C.C. Actually, it’s one of the few things I actually know, from two decades as both a conference organizer a sometimes-paid speaker.

The whole conference-speaking landscape is a wild-west negotiation, whose variables include but are not limited to the speaker’s status, the speaker’s skill, the speaker’s availability and the speaker’s bank balance and self-esteem at the time of the invitation. Also, there’s the conference organizer’s personal charm, the conference company’s reputation, the size of the crowd, the prestige of the event, the speaker’s proposed place on the agenda, the conference location.

Oh, and two more things, almost forgot: Ball size, speaker’s and conference organizer’s.
What else am I forgetting?

C.C., if you can usually command travel expenses and fees, clearly you’re doing well for yourself. And good for you; don’t let creepy conference organizers push you around like they pushed you around when nobody knew C.C. Chapman from the Sea of Cortez (and the way they’ll probably start pushing you around when younger, larger-narded social media gurus start stealing your podiums).

If you sometimes speak for free, then obviously you could be doing better. But in the meantime, you’ll keep taking those lame gigs, not because they satisfy your “wanderlust.” You’re a father, C.C.; you don’t seriously want us to believe you leave your wife and kids for two days because you want to drink in the soul-saturating vista of a windowless Holliday Inn conference room in Sioux City. No, you take those gigs for the exposure. Standing in front of an audience being charming and charismatic gives you a chance to pick up some consulting work.

Here’s the principle of the thing: How much can I get?

In the interest of keeping it real, let’s don’t talk about what you know in your “heart” and then ask others to tell you whether or not you’re “off base” with your shifting “standards.”

Does that sound fair to you?

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