I have recently withdrawn from an upcoming speaking commitment. I wouldn’t have done this unless I felt it was absolutely necessary. I want to use this blog post to explain my reasons for doing so and to, hopefully, allow others to learn from my mistake.
I don’t consider myself to be the most principled of people. I have participated in a partial ‘pay to speak’ conference this year, and have submitted to another one for next year. But there were some things about this upcoming event that made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t promote my participation in the event on social media, as I was not proud of being a part of it.
I want to start off by saying that I’m not particularly proud of having pulled out of a commitment, especially with it only being a few weeks until the event. It’s not something I make a habit of. I realise it was my mistake in the first place to commit to speaking at an event that it turned out I disagreed with.
I jumped at the chance to speak at this event when I was asked. As a new speaker I was flattered to have been approached to speak. From now on I will be doing more research into any event that I submit to speak at/am approached to speak at.
My reasons for pulling out are as follows:
Lack of Diversity in the Programme
The main reason for me pulling out was the lack of diversity on the programme.
There were eight speaking slots at this event. Four of these slots were filled by white males. Another two were keynotes given to the event sponsors. That in itself doesn’t sit right with me – does being able to pay hundreds/thousands of pounds means you will produce a great talk? One slot was filled by a female speaker. The last slot had not yet been announced.
The email promotion for the event contained pictures of the four white males only. This was not something I wanted to be a part of.
When I was asked to speak, I did raise my concerns around the lack of diversity. At this point I think I was about to become the third white male speaker. Unfortunately, I didn’t push my concerns hard enough. I should have used an example from Richard Bradshaw’s Speaker Rider. This is definitely something I will learn from when I look for my next speaking arrangement.
Lack of Care for Speakers
I was already having major doubts about the event when I saw the lack of diversity in the programme. It was at this point I decided to do some more research into the event organisers and speak to others who have spoken at their events in the past.
It didn’t take me long to find out that the event organiser had, in the past, sold video content from previous conference sessions for hundreds of pounds. It also appears that speakers themselves were given a “generous” half-price discount on said session videos.
After agreeing to speak at the event, I had no social media interaction with the organisers. No invitation to promote my session with a video recording, for example, and they have done nothing to promote the programme for the event. The impression I got was that they didn’t have their speakers’ best interests at heart. No speaker costs at all were covered. They even misspelt my name in the promotional email.
I know I have stated that I have spoken at a partial pay to speak conference in the past – but that conference at least paid accommodation and interacted with their speakers. If an event is making thousands of pounds from the content that speakers are providing (both from tickets and digital content after the event) then they can (and should) at least cover some travel/accommodation costs.
I recently received an email from the organisers asking about whether my employer was interested in sponsoring the event. If we paid thousands of pounds then our company was given a speaking slot. As I mentioned above, surely having money to sponsor an event does not automatically equal good content? I would suggest it can lead to a sales pitch rather than some quality conference content. It’s safe to say that I did not forward this email onto my employer.
The organisers also organise industry awards that you have to pay hundreds of pounds to enter which, for me, takes away any credibility that these awards have. You’re essentially buying an award.
Thanks to those of you who I spoke to about making this decision. I could have gone ahead with the commitment, and voiced my displeasure to organisers, but I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with myself if I did. The words would have felt empty.
Instead, I made the decision to withdraw my participation and I feel a massive relief in having done so. I know this was the right decision for me.