Financially Justifying Speaking at Conferences

Flash conferences are fun. WebDU (formerly MXDU) is fun because you have an international crowd & speakers, it’s in a warm climate in an awesome country, Australia. I’ve heard great things about Flash in the Can, Flash Forward, and MAX. I was planning on speaking at Flash in the Can & Flash Forward in 2006… but plans have changed.

Not only have I waited too long to submit proposals, but I suddenly am finding it hard to financially justify speaking in the first place.

Why do I speak? I love to speak about what I love, and what I love is the technology I use, namely Flash and its brethren. I also love meeting people I’ve known online for years, but never met in person. I enjoy seeing those I have already met, and hanging out again.

I cannot, however, justify them financially anymore. Now that I’m a contractor, even if travel & accommodations is paid, that is still time I am not working, and thus making no money. The first 2 MXDU’s did wonders as additions to my resume, while the networking contacts went deeper than business. Capitalizing on them seems fruitless, however. My plans to relocate to Australia never panned out, so I’m apparently in the states for good.

All of the potential work I receive is through networking contacts, my blog’s high page rank, and referrals. No one has specifically mentioned they heard me speak at MXDU and want me for a project. While many assumed I’d be at MAX, most were friends & professional colleagues.

I know a lot of people who are speaking, some personally, and I guess I really don’t understand how you all financially justify speaking at them. It’s easy to emotionally justify them; they are extremely fun and rewarding, and sometimes you even learn something during chats, or the odd chance you’re a speaker and actually attend a session.

Obviously, this point is moot if you are an attendee; I’m referring specifically to speakers.

If you are a speaker, not an attendee, how do you financially justify it?

17 Replies to “Financially Justifying Speaking at Conferences”

  1. ’cause if I die the day after the conference, I’ll regret not have gone, understanding only at that time that you never wish you spent more time at the office when lying on your deathbed :)

    and webdu is just too much fun to avoid.

  2. I don’t view it just as a speaking engagement: I view it as a conference to attend and learn from. The learning opportunities help justify the cost. And speaking at conferences does add to your resume. And whilst you may not have seen specific value from the networking you’ve done so far, don’t underestimate the potential future benefits…

  3. For me, conferences are a great excuse for a holiday, i love my job but i dont want to work every single day of the year, i need a break, so i speak about what i love, hang out, get slaughtered with friends in a foriegn country.

    Im a contractor too as you know, and i justify speaking at all the conferences i go to simply by earning enough money the rest of the time when im not at a conference to be able to pay for it. After all, whats the point in earning money if you can’t have a little fun with it. Networking is great for business, speaking raises your profile and brings work in.

    If worst comes to worst, my conference trips are just another bunch of receipts that i can use to offset against my companies tax bill – flights, accomodation etc… are all legitimate business expenses.

    Plus, Australia is a rocking country and everytime ive been i go home with a tan :)

  4. I think Guy is not telling the full truth, even Australia doesn’t give him a tan. It just burns his skin…

    Seriously though, conferences for me are really just an excuse to take a break and not feel as guilty for it. Hanging out with friends is mainly the reason I go, exchange ideas, and as an added bonus I get to share my work and experience with others.

    Also conferences help put things in perspective. When you work in your own bubble for a while, you tend to loose track of things, conferences help you keep your brain clear. And often enough, conferences give me some motivation afterwards to keep going at the same pace.

    All of these don’t offer a direct return of course, but I don’t know of anyone who speaks at these conferences in hopes that it will make them rich

  5. Aside from the obvious fun aspects of travelling and hooking up with people from the community I do find that I’ve gotten quite a bit of business through speaking at conferences.

    It may not be directly but showing people what you’re doing at a conference brings some serious exposure and credibility to your work.

    I don’t particularly see conferences as a means to boost business though, I’m a contractor myself and as Guy said its a great excuse for me to have a holiday :)

  6. Yeah, it’s not financially viable. If you look at that–or, really many other activities–it never adds up. Man, the hotel prices are what kill me.

    I spoke at every MAX since 1996 to 2003 then in 2004 I went on my own dime. It was a MUCH better deal. I had time to do whatever I wanted and I enjoyed it. I’m so cheap though I’d probably speak again if they invited me. Of all the conferences, though, that one is very questionable (to speak at) because they don’t even give you a honorarium. What’s crazy is Flash Forward pays pretty well–they used to pay GREAT. And many other conferences pay you a ton to speak. Personally, I’ll probably do any conference that pays my hotel and travel–but there are exceptions… like if I’d rather stay home for something in town or the conference is charging attendees $400+/day.

    To answer your question: you can’t justify them. It’s not like you’re going to get some gig that pays for it. However, I do think in my case that I’ve sort of signed up to do what I do and that includes teaching/presenting. I can’t look at every move as whether it has an immediate payback. I just look at every decision and think: is this good or bad. Pretty simple, but rarely is it a monatary decision.

    And, like many others have said the main reason to attend is to socialize. I don’t feel that I learn a ton of specific technical info (but do ‘learn’ stuff like how to approach a project). Plus, many conferences are inspirational.

    As for you, I’ll be damned if I take a flight to Australia just to meet you–note: I’ve never met you in person. That’s enough of a reason to go to Toronto this April.

  7. Dude, I’ve already clearly articled that A) conferences are fun, B) my networking contacts go farther than business; we’re friends, and C) Australia rocks.

    However, it’s expensive. I just feel like I’m the only one who feels this way, so I posted assuming that either everyone else was rolling in bling, or did in fact make tons of job offers result from conference speaking stardom.

    Paying 4k to come half-way around the world JUST so I can hang out with you and Matt and the rest of the Kiwi and Oz crew for 3 days is worth it, most definately. Financially, though, I feel like I’m doing something wrong, and just am trying to find ways to make it work within my budget, is all. Maybe I should stop charging $2 an hour for Flex work?

  8. Mate, I hear you – consider the reverse, how many Aussies ended up at MAX this year… One that I know of Richard Turner-Jones, and he picked up a MAX award!

  9. >>Maybe I should stop charging $2 an hour for Flex work?
    There you go Jesse. When you speak at conferences you establish yourself as a Big Name in the community. That then allows you to *double* your hourly rate. Imagine being able to bill at $4 an hour!

  10. I spoke at PHP Quebec and the guys paid expenses (hotel, plane) for all speakers there (too bad it was in my hometown). I’m preparing a math conference this summer and we’re paying the speakers’ expenses as well. I think the commercial Flash conferences are abusing their speakers by making them speak on their own time and money; I haven’t seen any other conferences outside of MM-dom that didn’t cover expenses.

    I did get a really cool job by speaking at a conference though.

  11. Not much to add here.

    I look at it in much the same way as Guy. I mostly go to conferences as mini holidays, where I can hang out with a bunch of people I like, party, and get inspired. I have pretty much given up on any conference that doesn’t at least cover costs (WebDU, MAX, etc) – I just can’t justify the lost time + expenses, especially with the number of conferences to choose from now. Taking my wife to conferences has also made it more expensive (though it makes it more fun).

    I do get the odd contract from the conferences I speak at, but not many. Maybe enough to cover costs? I think speaking does help raise your profile as an expert in the community, much like your blog (which also takes time away from your work).

    Anyway, back to work for me.. I’ve got to start prepping for FF and FitC. ;)

    Hope to see you at another conference in the future dawg.

  12. Perhaps I can offer a different view coming from more of the listeners perspective rather than the speakers. Having recently attended Grant’s one-man, two day workshop, I’d say my time and money were well spent there rather than at a big conference. In exchange for the diversity of speakers, I got the process of one individual. I don’t think speaking for one hour in front of 300 people gives justice to the amount of work we put in to our craft. Sure it’s great for your profile as being recognized as a expert, but I’m not sure it provides maximum benefit to your audience.

    I would assume that doing a workshop pays comparable to speaking at a conference. Seems the one I attended, everyone there was looking to hire.

  13. Yeah man, if you lined up enough one on one or one on two (ignoring dodgy overtones :o) before hand you could come out of the thing coming close to breaking even. I think you are in a great position in 6mnthsish when flex 2 comes out all proper like. Food for thought dude! Im lucky enough to have just weaseled bosses to pay for the conferences….(not speaking tho)

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