Pay Your Speakers

Jeremy Keith at Frontend United

A twitter thread by Heather Burns has yet again struck me as so important at this time and it makes me want to re-state something that I feel is so important in open source conferences: pay your speakers — all of them.

As Heather explains, far more eloquently than I'll ever manage, open source has a habit of expecting people to donate their hard-earned inspiration and experience to a conference through the work required to prepare presentations, funding their own travel to and accommodation at an event and the time spent there away from earning their own keep. That lack of financial support can lead to some speakers taking risks that they should not have to take, just to help us learn.

This is then often made doubly worse by conferences that then also choose to spend money bringing in "big name" speakers, presumably to help sell tickets. What makes these big name speakers' experiences more valuable to other speakers, often those who are contributing to their respective open source projects in many other ways too?

It's wrong, simply wrong, to be paying one speaker more than another.

Whilst I have enjoyed listening to "big name" speakers, like Tom Standage, Rachel Andrew, Jeremy Keith, Bruce Lawson, Charlie Owen, Harry Roberts and Sue Black, I would much rather know that all the speakers at a conference had financial support to pass on their knowledge to us.

I have long said that I would much rather be associated with events that eschewed payments for keynote/plenary speakers and instead spent that same money to make for a better experience for all their speakers. That could be in terms of providing accommodation, paying for travel, whatever. It all depends how far the money not spent on keynotes takes them. 

Of course, not everyone needs financial support to speak. Fine, great, let them put their share into a pot to spend on scholarships!

Paying for "big names" is the past - the future is making a better experience for all those wonderful people who are dedicating their time to help us learn. All of them, equally.