To all Conference Organisers: Stop Monetising Speakers!

Stewart Davison, DtL’s Director of Innovation

In the 25 years I’ve been in social housing and tech, I’ve been on panels, chaired round tables and spoken to rooms of 3 people and auditoriums of 300 +.

Predominately these gigs came about because the commercial company I worked for had booked a stand.

This I understood perfectly. The link between a stand and a speaking opportunity helped to maximise reach and therefore was associated to sales and business growth.

However, I was also lucky enough to participate in several speaking opportunities where the organisers paid travel, accommodation and wanted a speaker to provide their perspective on a topic.

In those instances, I retained a neutral stance. I mentioned which company I worked for and that was it. The organisers didn’t want a sales pitch. They wanted an expert to engage the audience on a subject and therefore show the relevancy to the delegates of paying to attend the seminar or conference.

I now work for DtL-Creative. We’re a small, independent consultancy. This year alone I’ve been offered speaking opportunities to put forward that independent view on technology and social housing.

These have been offered on an expenses-covered basis, so I’ve felt privileged to have been approached and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak to a captive audience!

However, I was recently approached by an event organiser who wanted me to attend their conference to speak about a specific tech subject.

I was regaled with background info. The person contacting me had evidently done their homework both on me and the subject they wanted me to speak on, but then comes the rub… It would be something that I would have to pay for the privilege, and the cost was in the thousands. Bear in mind the session they offered was not on the main stage, I therefore politely declined.

This monetisation of speaking and seminar slots, in my experience, just means that increasingly when someone is up on stage, they have something to flog, a specific product or service.

In my eyes this lessens the impact of having that speaker and in turn could have a negative impact on the perception of the conference as something delegates want to attend.

Events like all things are cyclical, some come to prominence, then fade away, so the challenge is with the event organisers, try to get more of a balance of paid or sponsored speakers, along with ‘free’ slots for small businesses or independent individuals. If not, you risk fading into obscurity!