The value of time

I was asked today if I\’d like to speak at a conference. Couldn\’t do it as I\’m not in the right country. But the basic attitude of the conference organisers puzzled me.

There was no mention at all of money on offer.

How does this work then? They charge for entrance to a conference then get everyone speaking there to donate their time for no pay?


15 thoughts on “The value of time”

  1. People who need to build up their vitas will do this sort of stuff.

    Also, people who get their travel funded can use the invitation as an excuse to travel.

    My predictions, the conference is populated by 1) the young (who need to fill vitas), 2) those on the job market (who need to spiff up vitas), and 3) is in a nice location (for the travel incentive).

    FWIW: the worst conference I ever went to was in Pittsburgh in early March. No golf, no attendees.

  2. Pretty much. Academic conferences are worse – they generally expect you to pay the conference fee.

    I have been paid, some of the time (usually just a day – so no prep time), but usually it is just waiving of the fee, reasonably often, they’ll cover your expenses. But mostly, it is for the glory of being a speaker at their wonderful conference (and the chance to convince some of the audience that they might want to employ you.)

    Mrs S-E is in a more niche area of the field so gets endless invites. We have to be quite careful with the cost / benefit analysis.

  3. I’m at a professional conference right now, I’ll be on the regular speakers list myself as of next time. There are no honoraria, but you get your expenses covered.

    The commitment (which can be substantial when delivering workshops on technical stuff) is not repaid in direct cash, but in a huge reputation boost within the profession. Those who are well known and respected in this field have greatly increased job security (everyone knows you so it’s easier to get another one if you lose your current job), and that reputation helps, directly and indirectly, to generate income, whether for their employers or themselves directly if freelancers.

  4. Oh, sorry. Forgot – if you are an academic, you get to count “points” for having a paper accepted at a conference. The more prestigious the conference, the more points. And the conference proceedings will often count as a peer-reviewed publication (so you get even more points.)

    And we all know what points mean, don’t we, children?

  5. I’ve spoken at finance conferences occasionally: the deal is that you get to attend for free, and to impress your peers with your wit and wisdom if any. Oh, and often they give you a low-value gift.

    My understanding is that they do pay substantially for a few star speakers, often from outside the industry.

  6. Aye – pay for the superstars. My profession is poaching, and we pay the gamekeepers to come and give us talks on how to poach better.

  7. The simple answer to Tim’s question is that conference organisers pay conference speaker nothing because they can.

    It’s a free market, and zero seems to be the market clearing level. Strange to see Tim complaining about that!

  8. If its a conference organised by one of the big conference companies then this is a rip off, as you say they are making a handsome profit at your expense, if you need the glory accept otherwise tell them no.

    On the other had if it is being organised by an institution or a government department then it’s probably financed to simply break even having paid for the conference venue and refreshments. In such cases give the guys a break they are simply providing a service to the profession.

  9. They should be able to get speakers organised into call centres. Do you really need a warm body out front.

  10. Standard practice, you get paid in flattery, status and network effects, and it is a very successful business model – I know some very successful conferencing companies who pay only a tiny percentage of their speakers.

  11. @LeftOutside,

    The flattery, status, network effects (and occasionally meeting-sex) make the whole thing a classically liberal win-win situation. Even those who do not leave the table with more money in their pockets leave with more value than they started with. And as that added value is not monetary it has the further advantage of not being taxable.

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