Speaking experiences at conference vary almost as much as attendee experiences. Some conferences come with significant speaker bonuses – software, backpacks, other swag. Some consider paying for airfare and lodging to be enough of a perk.
Others still require the speaker to not only pay their own way but also pay for their own ticket. I’ve been to more than a few conferences where I’ve not only presented, but paid for a ticket and my own travel.
The quality of a conference is also established by how the speakers are treated when on site. Some conferences have been so kind as to meet me at the airport, give me an impromptu tour of the city, and check in with me the morning of the conference to make sure I’m OK. Having a dedicated “speakers room” also gives time for speakers to meet one another and get to know organizers.
Nothing makes a speaker feel quite as out of their element, though, as traveling for a conference and being utterly ignored by the organizers of said conference.
Here you have an individual giving up a significant portion of their time, often of their bank account as well, and no one makes an effort to introduce him or her to the team and make them feel welcome. It makes me wonder why we bother to volunteer as presenters in the first place.
Why put up with it?
Speaking at a conference isn’t about the speaker at all. It’s about the speaker’s ability to present on a topic about which they have expertise. It’s about what they can bring the audience in the way of new information or knowledge.
It’s, in the biggest way, about giving back to a community that helped educate and build up the speaker in the first place.
We might not always be greeted at the airport. We might not have a swag bag waiting when we reach the conference. We might not ever meet the entire organizing team. But we volunteer to present regardless because we care about the community and sharing a tiny bit of the knowledge we’ve gleaned from that community with others.
Not every speaking opportunity will encourage or inspire me to sign up a second time. But I will.