What’s that old expression? “If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that…”? Well if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me about how our clients decide what to pay industry speakers I’d probably have bought myself a few cups of coffee by now.

Industry speakers (as opposed to professional speakers) are individuals that are drawn from your event’s target audience (think members of your trade association or primary occupational group). These speakers are often found by way of a Call for Abstracts or other formal process, or sometimes just by invitation based on knowledge of their work. Figuring out what to pay professional speakers is quite straightforward – most high demand professional speakers have set rates for their time with little room for negotiation.

When speakers are invited from within the industry that they are presenting to, there is much debate as to how to properly compensate and show appreciation for their time. An extensive report on the use of speakers at conferences and meetings was recently released by Velvet Chainsaw Consulting and Tagoras called The Speaker Report. From it we get a clear picture of what is common practice with the use of industry speakers. Of those surveyed, 75% of respondents indicated they did compensate industry speakers in some way:

Source: http://www.tagoras.com/docs/Tagoras-Velvet-Chainsaw-Speaker-Report-2013.pdf (page 36)

This tells us that the vast majority of compensation being issued is non-monetary or “soft-dollar” (complimentary registration to the event, lodging, etc.), reflecting the budgetary realities that many conferences face. The survey did not give an indication of this, but the note should be made that many industry speakers are paid by a combination of the above benefits rather than just one.

The bottom line of how much your conference decides to compensate industry speakers will depend on your own bottom line.

Here are a few steps to help you review:

1. Have a look at your budget and establish where your best use of speaker dollars are. Often industry speakers are local and therefore don’t create as big of a ‘buzz’ as a big name professional speaker. Review who your industry speakers are and how much you can realistically afford.

2. If your event is annual, review what has been done in past years. If a precedent has been set and it still works there is no reason to make a change. Some of our association clients who regularly use members as speakers have chosen to make policies in this regard so consistency is maintained and expectations are known.

3. Review your “soft-dollar” benefits to see how you can best recognize speakers while staying within the budget you have established.

  • Offering reduced registration rates can also be a good solution – many of our clients offer free registration to industry speakers on the day of their presentation. If your budget allows, offering complimentary registration for the run of your conference is even more beneficial to all: the speaker is given a chance to network with delegates prior to their session to get a ‘lay of the land’ and possibly tailor their message further to your audience; and after their talk it gives more value to the interactions as it can assist them in making meaningful connections with individuals. This increases the value to both your participants and your speakers
  • Offering a complimentary night at the event’s host hotel is often a win-win: it encourages speakers to stay on site for your event increasing networking opportunities with attendees, and helping you reach your room block commitment with the property. Keep in mind that if you are offering additional registration days to the conference you will want to consider increasing room nights accordingly (as your budget allows)
  • Many of our clients have given donations to a local charity on behalf of the speakers. This is a great way to build connections between your event/organization and the host city. A card or token is then given to the speaker acknowledging the donation
  • A classic option is always a speaker gift. This token of thanks can be anything from a useful item branded with the conference logo to something created by a local artist. Try to focus on an item that won’t just end up gathering dust on a speaker’s desk – think outside the box. One caveat: if your speakers are traveling to attend your conference, bear in mind the size and fragility of your gift as many travel with only carry-on luggage!

4. However you choose to recognize, ensure you do recognize! If after reviewing your budget you realize that there is no ability to compensate these speakers monetarily, ensure that thanks are still given and value is still received by the speaker for their time:

  • When you get permission from your delegates to be included on the listing of attendees that you give to your exhibitors, ask permission to provide it to speakers as well. If you are not able to give out the list of delegates, offer to send out a an e-blast to delegates on behalf of the speaker after the event.
  • Offer to provide your speakers with a letter of endorsement after the conference. Giving speakers who are possibly new to the speaker circuit with something to include in their resume is quite valuable as it can help them gain momentum.
  • Include your speakers in any social events that you can around the conference. If the event allows, make an announcement of the speakers that are in attendance. This again increases the level of engagement for the speaker and your delegates.
  • Include your speakers’ websites when you are promoting your conference via social media and e-blasts. This costs you nothing and helps delegates get excited for the speakers that they are going to see.
  • Even if each speaker receives nothing more than a thank you note signed personally by your conference chair or the association’s president, ensure they get one. Don’t let speakers who have given their time to present feel as though it is not appreciated or valued.

Below are examples of what of two of our clients have done to compensate their industry speakers . Both groups have made these formal policies as the majority of their industry speakers are members of their respective associations.

  • One night’s accommodations at the host hotel, travel expenses (which are usually in the form of mileage as the association attempts to use mostly local speakers) as well as reimbursement for meals incurred outside of the Conference to a maximum of $30 per day.
  • One night’s accommodations at the host hotel as well as one ticket to the Conference social night out

The last thing to remember when deciding how to compensate your industry speakers is this: the relationship of industry speakers to a conference is mutually beneficial. Your conference is receiving a speaker with direct industry experience and your speaker is receiving notoriety among their peers and building their professional resume. Consider your options for speaker compensation carefully and act to demonstrate your appreciation of their value.