About this site
This site began life as a survey created for a presentation I gave at ConfConf in May 2016. I was asked to speak at this conference for conference organizers in order to share what it is like to be a speaker at a tech conference.
I felt that the information collected was too valuable to bury in a slide deck and that it would not only be of use to other event organizers, but also to new speakers. In the quotes from speakers listed on this site you can read what other people find acceptable and helpful on a range of subjects - be that money issues, speaker dinners or help while at the conference.
I’m about halfway through getting the data out of the survey and onto the site, I’ll keep updating this as I have time!
In general the survey revealed lots of positive comments about the extra mile that many organizers go to help their speakers. A lot of conferences are essentially put together out of a desire to help the community, by people who are not professional organizers or earning money from their efforts. To reflect this, I’ve only mentioned conferences by name when the report is positive. In general people didn’t name names in their responses when posting a negative story, however where it was obvious which conference was being referred to I have removed the name or reference. That said, it has been my experience (and that of many survey respondents) that often it is the lowest budget community conferences that treat speakers with the most kindness.
You can see my slides from ConfConf below plus a couple of major takeaways that I highlighted during the talk.
Who Answered the Survey?
Left as an open question.
- 67.25% Male:
- 29.74% Female:
- 3.01% Other (includes non-binary, non-conforming male and other):
- 33.93% Self-employed
- 47.62% Employed speaking NOT part of your job
- 18.45% Employed and speaking IS part of your job (dev rel etc.)
In the next 12 months would you like to speak at?
- 35.12% More Events
- 17.26% Fewer Events
- 47.62% About the Same
How do you get onto the lineup?
Multiple choice, so % is of no. of responses from total.
- 4.17% Employer sends me
- 84.52% I apply for Call for Papers
- 69.05% I am asked by the events
- 17.86% I email events I would like to speak at
I still have data to go through and work out how to publish in a useful manner, however here are some of the things I drew from reading through all of the answers. Some of these surprised me.
Speakers frequently find themselves out of pocket
Even when speakers are paid a fee, it rarely covers close to the time it takes to prepare a talk and all of the time to be at and traveling to the event. A frequent estimate in the responses for time taken to prepare a talk was “about 2 weeks” or “40 to 80 hours”. However, when agreeing to speak we weigh up all of the possible benefits to speaking.
What is more of a concern is when speakers are told they will get paid a fee and then do not get paid. This has happened to 8% of the speakers in the survey. 17% of speakers had been promised expenses repaid, and this did not happen. Other stories included speakers finding out at hotel checkout that some of the nights were not being covered by the conference. This could put someone in a very difficult position, so organizers should make sure it is very clear what they are covering before the speaker arrives!
The impact of fees and expenses on diversity
Something I had never imagined when I created the survey is that several responses made a link between finances and safety of speakers. Speakers are sometimes being asked to speak at a conference, but then struggling to survive financially while there. This has led people to make choices between food and a safe ride home from a party, for example.
If we want to have diverse voices in our conference lineups then our commitment to diversity cannot stop at curating that lineup. We have to make sure people are safe while at these events. Your experienced speakers might be the people you are using to promote ticket sales, they might be the star turn on the bill, however it is the newer speakers who really need your time and attention. They may not be able to throw money at a tricky situation while in a country or city they are unfamiliar with, they may not have the confidence to ask the organizers for what they need.
Small kindnesses are more important than extravagant gifts
Take a look at all of the quotes I’ve added under the Kudos category. In general the things speakers are thrilled about are not major expenses but instead thoughtful gestures. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make your speakers really happy - just think about what will help them feel at home and comfortable at your event as it will be your attendees who ultimately benefit.