I just finished reading Ender’s Game. Wait, that is a lie. I just finished listening to Ender’s Game (I’ve discovered Audible while I ride).
It wasn’t my favorite book, but it definitely kept my attention through more than 220 bike miles. That said, there was one thing that really bothered me about it. Here are these genius children who are brought up in battle school, some as young as six years old, and they’re taught to fight the enemy, to anticipate what the enemy might do, and how to win.
I’m not against winning. I’m one of the most competitive people around (ask Jason Konopinski how that’s going for him). But what bothered me is these children – genius or not – have the perspective of 40-year-old adults. The kind of perspective that only comes from living life. It’s not something (unfortunately) that can be taught. You can’t read about it in text books. You can’t learn it in simulation. You have to live it.
About five years ago, I was in charge of hiring the keynote speakers for an industry event. We invited – and paid – one of the top experts in the field to do the opening keynote. It, unfortunately, fell on a Saturday afternoon and this speaker only agreed to do it if we would change the schedule to accommodate his being home with his family for most of the weekend.
I remember thinking, at the time, he was a diva for such a request. In my mind, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was if you are paid, your expenses are paid, and you get to hang out in an exotic location with some of your friends.
Fast forward five years and my perspective has completely changed. The last thing I want to do is work a full week and then get on a plane on Friday afternoon to speak at a weekend conference. I’ll do it for my full rate, but I don’t love it. Many of us who speak also own businesses so the idea that you work all weekend and then take a couple of days off the following week is completely foreign.
I didn’t understand his request until I began getting on a plane several times a week to speak and was already away from home quite often. Perspective.
Public Speaking for Free
Last week a friend sent me an email to ask if I’ve ever had to pay to attend a conference where I was speaking. I said no. Resoundingly.
She’s speaking at a conference – for free, mind you AND paying her own way (flights, meals, hotel) – and the organizers are requesting she pay to also attend the conference. She was a bit flustered about it and asked my advice on how to handle it. I suggested she reach out to the organizers to see if they would consider giving her a conference registration in exchange for the time she’s giving them in speaking for free.
She did. I read the email before she sent it. It was very kind and polite.
The organizer called her a diva and was shocked at the request. She said the professional organizations where she has volunteered her time have only waived the registration for the portion where the speaker is speaking.
Good Lord. I hope so! Can you imagine being asked to pay to attend your own speaking engagement?
But the diva comment really got me. My friend is the least diva-like person on earth. She actually feels badly the conference may have to take away a “scholarship” to let a student attend for free so she doesn’t have to pay to attend. She’s even considering telling them to forget it and paying to attend (don’t get me started on what I would do in that situation).
Time is a Gift
If you don’t sell your time, I realize it’s hard to understand why it’s such a big deal to speak for free. If you work for a company, I realize it’s hard to understand what three days away from your business means. If you don’t make a living (or want to make a living) speaking, I realize it’s hard to understand how much time goes into preparing something for the conference, rehearsing, and making it sound like you’ve done that same thing a million times before.
It’s a huge gift to the conference, to its organizers, and to its attendees.
Think like the kids in Ender’s Game. Gain perspective, even if you don’t have the personal experience. If a speaker is willing to come to you for free, give them something in return. And, for the love of all things good and mighty, don’t make them pay to attend your conference, too.