Anyone who has worked as a speaker or a consultant has been asked to do things for free. But hiring a professional speaker should require payment, right?
The question of compensating people for their labor is a longstanding topic of discussion. A particularly pointed editorial on this idea appeared in the New York Times:
People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it. “Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to offer compensation to our contributors…” is how the pertinent line usually starts. But just as often, they simply omit any mention of payment.
We’ve talked about whether hiring a speaker means paying a speaker here on The Methodology Blog. And we’ve even shared our views on what is probably the most widespread phenomena of unpaid professional work: the internship.
So why do so many speakers and consultants do work for free? The editorial continues:
A familiar figure in one’s 20s is the club owner or event promoter who explains to your band that they won’t be paying you in money, man, because you’re getting paid in the far more valuable currency of exposure. This same figure reappears over the years, like the devil, in different guises — with shorter hair, a better suit — as the editor of a Web site or magazine, dismissing the issue of payment as an irrelevant quibble and impressing upon you how many hits they get per day, how many eyeballs, what great exposure it’ll offer. “Artist Dies of Exposure” goes the rueful joke.
This is such a difficult conundrum. On the one hand, it seems unethical to offer work for free. You depress the entire market. You force other customers to pay those costs.
But on the other hand, speaking for free does provide access to audiences. And all speakers and consultants need audiences in order to find future success.
If you have a speaking opportunity, please contact us, even if you don’t have a budget for speakers. We may not be able to find someone for you, but we can at least distribute the information to our network.
And if you are planning a program, consider a budget for a speaker. Even a small honorarium makes a huge difference. After all, if the work is worth doing, why wouldn’t you pay for it?