Thursday, August 30, 2007

Comment turned post: Conference speaker expenses

Tara Hunt from horse Pig Cow has this nasty habit of writing posts that compel me to write novels in response. So I think Tara is also familiar with my personal rule: If I'm writing a comment, and it begins to exceed three paragraphs, then it's asking to be a post instead.

So it goes today, upon reading her post Conferences and Community

In it she has some really nice things to say about BlogHer and our community. She also has a lot to say about speaking at conferences, and the compensation or lack thereof that conferences offer to speakers. She also has at least one question I can answer re: BlogHer speakers.

She says this as both a frequent speaker and as someone who has organized very low cost events, like BarCamp...and WineCamp :)

I too speak frequently and put on events where we invite speakers. So, when I went to leave a comment, I had way too much to say for a comment. So, here's the post that was crying out to be published:
This is a topic of great interest to me both as an organizer and a speaker. Since 2005 BlogHer has considered the use of sponsor funds to be primarily about two things: keeping our annual event's registration at about $100/day, and being able to provide travel assistance (and then we added daycare) to speakers who needed it. No speaker has ever gotten an honoraria at a BlogHer event, to answer your specific question above. And we now give full conference passes to every speaker, whether it's a Room of Your Own session created and nominated from the community itself, or whether it's a session we put together and found and invited people for.

The point of both of the above goals is to ensure that neither our speaking roster nor our attendee roster is filled only with those who can afford to come because they can afford, deduct or expense the trip.

But it is very difficult sometimes to asses need. We had 136 speakers this year...there's no way we could provide travel to all of them.

Some cases are obvious: a person who comes representing a funded organization (whether a sponsor or not) is going to be there for one hour speaking and for 48 hours networking on their own and their company's behalf. When i worked in the corporate world and spoke I expensed the trip to the company, not the event.

Some cases are not so obvious, and I have to say that sometimes we assess need by who asks. Always, always ask. You can later decide an event is worth doing without travel reimbrusement. I still do all the time. I'm speaking next month for nothing but a conference pass. (I probably shouldn't admit that, huh?)

Even in the cases where we do provide assistance, we don't provide open-ended reimbursement, but rather propose set stipends. We just aren't at a point where we can either take on travel planning to ensure the best rates etc. are gotten, nor to take whatever expenses come our way and reimburse them all without a second thought.

After BlogHer '06 I wrote a long and rather impassioned blog post about perception vs. reality and conferences. I don't think a lot of people realize how expensive conferences are. [This year, for example, we spent $28K on ubiquitous WIFI through the HUGE Navy Pier. The internet was perfect for the first time at a BlogHer event, and it was SO WORTH IT. I would spend it again. But man, that's a painful check to write.]

But I also don't think a lot of conference organizers think about what message they're sending by having a speaking roster that is not diverse: not just diverse in the ways people typically consider: race and gender, but also class or at least economic stature.

We try to address that, and it isn't easy, and you probably can't please everyone, but I wish people on both sides of the ongoing conference debates about these diversity topics would see the other side a little bit more.

Thanks for being one of those people who keeps bringing up these issues. I think they are important, even if they're sometimes uncomfortable.

Can you imagine how such a long comment would look? Hence my personal rule (for myself, please...I don't apply it to anyone else!!)

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Interesting post, thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. I organize a bunch of one-day conferences in my work-life, and this is definitely something that we struggle with. We can afford, occasionally, to pay for travel, but it would be prohibitively expensive for us to pay stipends for everyone who did a one-hour workshop.
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