Rethinking Speaker Compensation

Women Talk Design
Apr 29, 2019 · 3 min read

By Paul Klipp, ACE conference organizer

“If I do everything the same way the industry does, my conference will be a reflection of the state of the industry. But as a curator, I have the option of designing an experience that reflects what the industry could be, rather than simply accepting what it is.”

We used to save our money for keynote speakers, but inspired by Ashe Dryden, we experimented with a different approach starting in 2016. We guarantee that every speaker will be paid to speak and that every speaker will have travel and accommodation paid. We knew that previously, some speakers were paying their own way and others were being paid by their employer. We also knew that we probably couldn’t afford to pay for everyone’s travel, accommodation and speaking fees. So we worded our policy as follows:

All speakers will receive:

Free admission to the conference

A travel compensation payment of 250 PLN for Poland-based speakers living outside of Krakow, 150 Euro for people based in Europe, and 800 Euro for non-Europeans if your travel is not paid by your employer

Accommodation for up to three nights if it is not paid by your employer

At least one speakers’ dinner

If you’re new to public speaking, we’ll be happy to assist you with preparing your presentation, rehearsing it, and making your first speaking experience as successful as possible. We are happy to accommodate the needs of speakers with disabilities and non-neurotypical cognitive styles. There’s no need to specify your requirements in the form. If you’re invited to speak based on your proposed content, we can talk about how to make the experience comfortable and successful for you. The venue is wheelchair accessible.

All speakers will be compensated for their time. We’re doing this to attract people who do not have the support of their employers but have stories and experiences to share. If your employer requires you to use holiday time or unpaid leave to speak at ACE!, you will be paid 250 Euro (net) if your talk proposal is accepted. This figure is based on average IT salaries in Europe and America (and our budget).

With this policy, we only pay speakers who aren’t already being paid by someone else to be at ACE. That’s about half of them. We give a sponsorship package to companies that support their employees, which is something we weren’t doing previously.

Since we implemented this policy, talk proposals have increased from less than a hundred to almost four hundred. We’re hearing from people who have never spoken at a conference before. We’re getting a lot more proposals from practitioners rather than just from consultants, trainers, and people hawking their latest book. And this year, without using quotas or any form of gender-based selection, we ended up with more women than men on stage.

The move from not paying speakers to promising that everyone would be paid felt really risky when we did it. The conference was barely breaking even at the time, but the policy has been hugely successful. The quality of the speaker lineup has improved, the PR has been terrific, and sponsorship is increasing as a result. Keynote speakers, when they learn that we pay everyone, generally ask to be paid the same as everyone else. Only once since 2016 have we paid a keynote speaker more than 250 Euros, and even he gave us a big discount when he learned we paid everyone.

So, that’s my experience with taking the risk to do the right thing. Like most things that scared me, it turned out to be nothing to be afraid of…[I hope sharing this story will] help convince others to pay speakers, even if they are just small, community conferences who don’t have much money. ACE only had about 200 attendees at the time that we did it.

Editor’s note: Each month, Women Talk Design sends out a monthly newsletter to event organizers. Under one section entitled “Important Conversations” we highlight articles to spark important conversations around designing inclusive events. This section in March’s newsletter focused on speaker compensation. We asked readers to send us a note to share their speaker compensation policy. The above was Paul’s response. We received permission to repost.

Women Talk Design

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Women Talk Design

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Women Talk Design elevates the best talks about design and tech, and empowers event organizers w/ tools, approaches, and info to engage more diverse speakers.

Women Talk Design

Women Talk Design elevates the best talks about design from women and nonbinary speakers, and empowers event organizers with tools, approaches, and information to engage more diverse speakers.

Women Talk Design

Written by

Women Talk Design elevates the best talks about design and tech, and empowers event organizers w/ tools, approaches, and info to engage more diverse speakers.

Women Talk Design

Women Talk Design elevates the best talks about design from women and nonbinary speakers, and empowers event organizers with tools, approaches, and information to engage more diverse speakers.

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