I recently read a Tweet about #PayToSpeak events, and it prompted me to want to share a viewpoint.

It’s very easy in life, or on social media to take an absolute stance, and to have little in the way of flex on a view, and I wanted to write a piece to try and help with that flexibility issue.

I also just got reminded that I’d written this blog post already but not published it when I was asked by an event to speak at their heavily sponsored London event where they would cover… checks notes my buffet lunch and a free ticket. 🤦🏼‍♂️

First, what is #PayToSpeak?

Paying to speak (under the hashtag above) is effectively when you are invited to share your experience, knowledge or skills at an event or conference, but where the conference organisers do not remunerate you for that time/expertise/expenditure. Effectively you’ll be out-of-pocket for some or all of your time spent in favour of the event. 💷

Sometimes this is as clear as:

“we will provide you with a free ticket to the event to watch other talks. We do not pay for any travel, food, accommodation or other expenses incurred”

In which case you would be “paying” to provide them with information they can sell, travel to the event, eat at the event and/or stay in the location of the event before or after it.

Other times it’s a little more nuanced and needs some calculations done around it, for example:

“we will provide you with a free ticket to the event to watch other talks, free accommodation for one night, free food at the event and up to £100 in travel. We do not pay for any other expenses incurred”

In this case the organiser is covering much of the cost, but some speakers would still be out of pocket if their costs are higher than the amount offered, e.g. if they are travelling from further afield than the amount covered in travel.

But the above examples are ultimately a binary equation - Do those offers (in total) result in folks paying out of their own pocket to speak at that conference?

If the answer is “yes”, it’s a #PayToSpeak event for you, in your circumstances.

So then if I have to pay out of my own pocket, I should say no, right? 🤔

Not necessarily!

You see, it all boils back down to the subject of my last conference talk at TestBash X and which I will be giving at TestBash Careers next week…


The equation of #PayToSpeak for me isn’t actually a binary one, as there are many more factors to take into account with what “out of pocket” can mean, and many more factors with what I might personally get out of the event.

Here’s a list of example factors that could go toward your own “cost” to speak at an event:

⌛️ Time

  • To write, review and iterate the abstract, plus submit it to conferences
  • To create the content
  • To practice the content
  • To make adaptions to the content

🚴🏻 Impact on other aspects of your life, making the time to do these things

  • Using needed downtime from your day job
  • Time taken away from Family
  • or Friends
  • or Hobbies

🏖 Taking time from your day job

  • Using paid holiday
  • Losing a contracting day

🚆 Travel

  • How much will it cost to get there and back? Is it affordable? Is it worth the cost?
  • Will you have to travel uncomfortably in order to lower the cost?
  • What is the total cost (booking fees, tickets, etc) of travel?
  • Will you need to pay for additional baggage?

🏨 Accommodation

  • How much will your accommodation cost?
  • Will there be required extras to pay out (e.g. room wifi, breakfast, early check-in/late check-out)?
  • Will you need to compromise on accommodation for it to be affordable, or worth paying for?

🍲 Food

  • Food while travelling?
  • Dinner the night before?
  • Breakfast the day of the event?
  • Snacks and drinks during the day?
  • Evening meal?
  • Socialising with peers?

👚 Other

  • Suitable clothes for the event?
  • Any equipment you might need (hardware, adapters, cables, software licenses, printouts, stickers etc)

A list such as the above can give you an idea on what your full “out of pocket” costs might be.

But what about the other side of the equation? What might you “receive” from an event?

  • A break from home/work
  • Socialising (seeing folks you’ve not seen for ages, or that you’ve not met in person yet)
  • Networking (meeting new people, hearing about other companies, ways of working, vacancies etc)
  • Visiting a country/city you want to
    • Extending your stay to have a mini break while there
  • Watching other talks you might find valuable
  • Improving reputation and advertising yourself, team or company to others
  • Sharing your talk with others (feel like you’re making a difference)
  • SWAG! (which I’ve just found out stands for Stuff We All Get)
  • etc

Each of those things will have its own level of value to you. 📈

Is Socialising a really valuable thing?

Have you missed human interaction?

Have you missed specific people?

What about having a break from home?

Maybe you work remotely 100% of the time at home and you want some time away from “these four walls” as they say?

How valuable is that to you?


Maybe the conference is in Barcelona and you’ve always wanted to visit the city and take in the sights. Maybe it’s a springtime conference and being held in Provence, France and you’ve always wanted to visit the lavender fields at that time of year.

And so the equation then becomes far less boolean in nature; you might end up with equations like:

  • The conference will pay for everything except for flights, including 2 night’s accommodation. Flights will cost me £150 return. I have everything I need to do the talk and already have the content. My overall “out of pocket” is £150. On the other side of the equation I’ve always wanted to visit Berlin, I have peers who will be attending who I’ve missed chatting with, and I want to attend Bob Smith’s talk on Super Amazing Thing. I’d happily pay £150 for all those things. The equation is then balanced. Yes “technically” it’s a #PayToSpeak conference because there’s an element of needing to pay something, but the overall package is good for that person.
  • The conference will pay for and organise my accommodation and travel to the event. They will allow me to attend the conference as a delegate for the rest of the day, including all food and swag, and there are talks I want to see. They will also pay me £150 for my talk on the day. I will not be out of pocket at all. On the other side of the equation, I will see peers I’ve missed seeing, I will see people I know from online or working together (remotely) for the first time. I will have a break from home, and I will be able to share experience with others to help them. Overall this is a net-positive equation.

And so, to summarise, for me, if I get enough value from my personal outlay to speak at a conference, I’m no longer paying to speak, I’m entering into a known exchange of value, or trade.

They get my time, effort and experience and I get in exchange.

Before you offer your services to speak at an event, weigh-up the whole picture; what will it cost you?

What will you get in return?

Is that a valuable exchange for you?


Lastly, for more thoughts and ideas on the concept of Value, please check out my talk, “The Most Valuable Talk Ever?”

Until next time, folks! 👋🏻