I have been speaking at software conferences since the 90’s. Since competition is pretty high at paid conferences, most I have spoken at are “community conferences” which are usually free or a very low-cost. One of the very first Silicon Valley Code Camps I spoke at (the largest in the world with over 2,500 attendees each day for free), I made a comment about being nice to speakers since we don’t get paid. One of the attendees came up to me afterwards and asked “You really don’t get paid?”. I asked him how much did he pay for the conference. He answered nothing (since Code Camps are always free) and I said to him that’s exactly how much I got paid. For me to speak at Silicon Valley Code Camp it’s close to $600 just for travel expenses.
So without much luck the next couple of years, I showed a PowerPoint slide to encourage attendees to make sure to thank the conference organizers, speakers and sponsors since most of us do it because we like to share our knowledge with others. Some speakers give sessions because they are consultants or run a consulting company, because their company they work for wants them to (Microsoft for example), they are marketing their books etc. But the vast majority of the speakers I know, don’t get paid.
Even if we do get paid, like a large conference as VSLive or DevConnections, the speaker fee is usually around $500. They usually pay for most or all of the plane and hotel costs. If you consider how much time we put into professional presentations (I spend a minimum of 40 hours for each conference session), we are still operating at a loss, especially if you include the lost work/ billable time. I estimate that I lose $1,300 – $2,000 per day when I speak at a conference, including travel days.
Because of this, in 2010 I started to make and sell DVD’s (I’m up to 3) to offset my costs. I often take my books to sell, but the profit is so low on books, every single person at the conference would have to by one to break even. I started this, just to break even… not make a profit. There has to be a point where speaking out of the kindness of our heart shouldn’t put us in the hole, financially. I have a few speaker friends that budget up to $10K of their own money annually, just to help developers.
So, to give you a real example of a conference I spoke at, which cost attendees up to $900 to attend, check out my costs below:
- Travel Costs: $900+
- Speaker Fee: $0
- Income from DVD’s: $15
- Income from books: $0
- Consultant jobs found: 0
So as you can see, I netted a loss of $835. If you include the four days of non-billable time, I lost a lot more. Because of this loss, I have found a few software vendors that will sponsor some of my trips. But unfortunately, the third-party vendors for the Microsoft .NET market has been really though in recent years, so is the number of trips they will sponsor. My biggest sponsor only paid for one of my trips in 2015.
I’m not complaining at all other than I can’t speak at as many events as I would like to, which means I can’t help developers as much as I would like. So, the next time you are at any conference, not matter if it’s free or paid, thank the speakers, thank the sponsors and thank the organizers! If the speaker, like myself, are selling their books, DVD’s, consulting services etc… take advantage of it and most importantly don’t complain about it! There is a reason behind it. We aren’t greedy bastards.
October 2021 Update
Now that we are on the other side of the COVID-19 world-wide pandemic and some in-person conferences I wanted to point out another bad trend that I am seeing at conferences in the United States. Above I spoke how much speaking costs a normal every day software engineers such as my self, conferences here have now decided that the will…
- Conferences are not giving any speaking fee of any kind! Yes, if you can believe it, the major conferences here take in many millions of dollars and they are paying the speakers $0! If $500 per session wasn’t bad enough, this is a slap in the face to those of us who really want to teach software engineers.
- Conferences are not paying for travel! Yes, not a single conference in the US that I have looked at such as VSLive (ticket cost per attendee $1,775 – 2,775), and DevIntersection (ticket cost per attendee $1,899 – 3,546) are among these conferences.
Both of these issues is already causing an issue that I wrote about in July in this post: https://dotnettips.wordpress.com/2021/07/06/new-code-rules-for-profit-conferences-are-taking-advantage-of-speakers/. This is why I don’t even submit papers to speak in the United States. So if you want to see me speak on a subject, you will have to wait until a conference in another country invites me or if you watch where I am speaking virtually.
I am PLEADING all software engineers to not attend any conference that charges a fee and does not share that fee with the speakers. PLEASE!
Email conferences NOW and demand they take care of speakers by paying for travel and sharing part of the millions they make with the speakers!