Presentation Hack: The Allure of "Exposure"

The conference speaking circuit is an interesting environment. 

Different industries handle conference planning quite differently, as does each individual prospective speaker/presenter. Personally, I've been involved in both the backend planning of these training events & also as an invited speaker at others'.

One (1) of the things that interests me most is the selection process of speakers and presenters. Some organizations openly accept proposals from prospective speakers. Other organizations are very particular in their exclusive hand-picked invitations to speak at their event. I've heard other organizations solicit their memberships for nominations of speakers - a somewhat democratic process that puts on the crowd favorites. At the capitalistic end, vendors can pay to have a time slot...which brings me to my main focus here...

Because this blogpost is actually about another of those things that interests me in conference presenting: Compensation

Do speakers get paid money? Is that money fair based on the daily/hourly/yearly salary of the speaker? Do they only get comp'ed conference registration fees? Travel & lodging?  Do they "get" a table to sell their books during the conference? Is this one of those "let's see how the audience receives you...maybe we will bring you back for a seminar" sort of offers? 

Are speakers promised the allure of exposure?

I've fallen for the "exposure" trap more times than I'd like to admit.

I have a full-time job. For me, speaking at conferences & moderating training events is generally something done in addition to my career as a police officer. The Illinois Model is my side hustle (or in police department policy language: "secondary employment"). 

Compensation matters to me. For me to accept a gig, it generally means using precious vacation time. If I can schedule speaking or moderating events on my off-days, I sacrifice time with my wife and young kids. (Yes, there are rare times when I speak at conferences or training events as part of my official police duties, but that's something altogether different than this.)

As a police officer and detective, I was part of the labor union. Even now as a supervisor, I'm paid hourly (and eligible for overtime!). I've been conditioned to think in terms of quick, objective payment. The equation was simple:
I work. = You pay. 
As an outside trainer/moderator/speaker, I've resonated with Seth Godin's separation between freelancer and entrepreneur. I align myself wholly as freelancer. (Opinion: Too many people want to see themselves as entrepreneur & resist the freelancer label.) Freelancers still make considerable deposits of time, effort, and money into themselves. It's not just about pay-by-the-hour services.

This isn't to say I'm beyond the allure of exposure. Exposure is a great opportunity for growth. It can be seen as an upfront investment - where we pay in time as opposed to money. It's also a great gamble that comes with tradeoffs. There's only so many times I can convince my wife on being away for another day because "it's a great opportunity to network that might lead to some good paying contracts."

There's also only so many times I can tell myself that, and actually believe it. I've played the fool enough times while others took advantage of me. I learned.

I'm doing things now that I hope will pay off in the future, specifically in my retirement...which is realistically approaching faster than I ever imagined!

But, my time is worth more than I often give it credit for. There are some organizations that I'd offer my services up to for free...for that gamble of exposure, networking, and opportunity to learn. There are others from which I expect firm, competitive financial payment. There is no simple equation anymore.

Don't sell yourself out. Take risks. But know your worth and sacrifices. 


Aside from writing on a variety of topics, I publish a column of blog posts under the label Presentation Hack. Check them out for ideas, tips, and tricks to better public speaking or classroom experiences!


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


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