I was asked to present at a conference recently and I willingly agreed. I was quite aware at the time that there would be no direct payment involved for presenting but the conference was relevant to me, I thought I had something worthwhile to add and I figured I would enjoy presenting… so I said yes. Besides, the organiser is a longstanding friend of mine and I am usually happy to help out. I’ve presented for this person at a number of other conferences and on each occasion my services as a presenter have been greatly appreciated, but have also been expected at no cost. Because of the good exposure it offers and because it ultimately looks good on my resume, I have willingly presented without charge and have usually not regretted doing so.
But I’m wondering where to draw the line. I live in Sydney, and this particular conference is in a different state. So it means a flight, a hotel and a day away from work. It means a taxi to the airport. It means eating at restaurants for a few days, and while all of that might sound somewhat exotic and glamorous compared to the usual school-bound world of education, it can get quite expensive. Adding up the flights, the accommodation and associated incidental costs can easily accrue to four or five hundred dollars. In most cases I’ve insisted that the conference organisers at least cover the cost of getting me there and back and putting a roof over my head, and in most cases they have willingly done so.
This particular conference, which I don’t want to name, did not initially make such an offer. In fact, when I raised the question, I was put into a bargaining situation where I had to offer to double the number of sessions I was running in exchange for my travel costs to be covered. And while I think it will be a great conference, the fact that I am presenting both morning and afternoon sessions for both days means that I won’t get a whole lot of time to enjoy the rest of it.
The final straw in stretching my goodwill came today however, when a confirmation email arrived for the conference, and kindly informed me that if I wanted to attend a preconference social event it would only cost me $70. In addition to that, the official conference dinner was also available to me at a mere $90. There is something wrong with this picture… Now, not only am I presenting for no charge, I had to bargain for my basic costs to be covered and have to pay my own way to join the social part of the event. That doesn’t seem right to me.
So I replied to the email with this little note tacked on the end…
This is a little bit awkward, but I feel I need to say it.
Without presenters there would be no conference. As a commercial business that operates for a profit, it amazes me that <company name> has an expectation that presenters will come along and present for free. Obviously, there are people out there willing to do this (including myself) who simply enjoy the opportunity to present to their colleagues and who do it for the love of it. If <company name> had to actually pay the presenters there would probably not be a conference, as it would not be affordable to run or attend. Looking through the presenters list is quite a who’s who of the EdTech community in Australia and you are fortunate to be able to get them to present for you, and especially so when you consider that you are getting their services for virtually no cost.
I was surprised a few months ago that I had to do a deal with <name removed> and offer to present a couple of extra sessions in exchange for <company name> covering the expense of getting me to the conference and putting me up in a hotel, both expenses that it was initially assumed I would be carrying myself. While I enjoy presenting, I simply cannot afford to pay the cost of airfare and accommodation, not to mention having to ask for a day off from my regular employment in order to offer my services for free.
There has to be a limit to what people will tolerate before it feels like they are being taken advantage of. I have no idea how many of the presenters are having costs covered, or indeed if any of them are in fact charging for their services, but if my own experience is anything to go by it would seem to be very few of them. To present for no financial reward is one thing, but to be out-of-pocket for the privilege of doing so is just absurd. These things are not a holiday, they’re hard work. It takes lots of preparation time to do one of these sessions (let alone 4 of them!), as well as time away from loved ones, time away from work and other interests, etc.
Now, in return for their generosity, these presenters are being asked to pony up their own money to attend one of the only real perks of being there, the social events.
I believe there needs to be a rethink about how much you value your presenters. I understand that it would be a significant added expense for <company name> to look after them in the way they ought to be looked after, but again, without presenters there would be no conference. It’s OK not to pay us (sort of!) but to expect us to pay our own way in order to help <company name> run a profitable conference is a bit of an insult.
Just my thoughts, although I’m sure others are thinking the same things.
I raised this question on my Twitter network and it seems that many agree with me. The general feedback was that conference organisers should, as a minimum, cover the expenses of their presenters. In the education sphere there is typically not a lot of money to throw around, and I understand that if presenters had to be paid what they were really worth there would probably not be nearly as many conferences to present at… Catch 22. But what is reasonable?
So what do you think? What is a realistic expectation for commercial conference organisers to offer teacher presenters? Do teachers who present for free (like I have in the past) make a rod for our own back? Do we undervalue ourselves by offering our services at little cost?
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy presenting and am glad to be able to contribute. I don’t have a problem presenting for free (for now anyway) but I do think that I ought not have to be out of pocket for the privilege of doing so, especially when these events are being run as commercial exercises. To be paying my own expenses to help someone else make money makes me feel like I’m being taken advantage of, and that’s not a good feeling.
Please leave me a comment as I’m really interested to hear what you have to say on this.
A Question of Value by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.