It keeps happening to me and some of my good friends and it's getting to a point where something needs to be said:
we are pleased to announce the YaddaYadda 2004 conference that will be held in Overseas City, Farwaway Country on Octember 24th-27th. We know your great presentation skills .. blah, blah ...
We will cover coach class airfare of up to $500 and will reserve you a room in the speaker hotel where we will cover the overnight stay and breakfast. We will also provide you with a free registration to attend all the sessions of YaddaYadda 2004.
YaddaYadda 2004 is a world-class conference with 40 speakers from 10 countries and we expect an audience of architects, developers and IT-managers from great companies so that we will give you a great platform and exposure to demonstrate your expertise.
Please let us know whether you are interested in speaking at YaddaYadda 2004 and submit your presenentations until ... blah, blah
YaddaYadda Marketing Droid
The short answer is: No. For several reasons. First of all, YaddaYadda conference is one amongst a hundred conferences held each year in Faraway Country. You are not running a Microsoft TechEd or a Microsoft PDC where I meet a lot of my friends, and you are not running a high-profile academic event that would really interest me, you are running just another developer conference. So we have that out of the way now.
You know that I live in Germany, right? Sure you do. You know my name, you invite me, it should be pretty much public knowledge that I don't live in Faraway Country. So how do you expect me to even dare to talk to a travel agent about a ticket to Faraway Country for $500? Well, right, you say that if I book 12 weeks ahead of time on the cheapest possible connection (with a comfortable 8 hour layover in St. Someairport) I could get a flight for that price. True. Care to have a look at my schedule? I am Norway until 2 days before YaddaYadda 2004 and I need to go to South Africa from there. And as things happen, these dates may move. A tourist ticket that's inflexible and invalid unless I use those exact flights is practically worthless for anybody who needs to be as mobile as us guys (and gals) who are helping you guys out with content. And you know what? My travel agent is so good that he's getting a business class fare on the German gray market that's cheaper than any flexible economy fare that you could ever book from Faraway Country; go figure that out. And you know what? If other speakers decide to drive 20hrs to Overseas City, do you force them to come in a Yugo, too?
The free registration to your conference sounds like a nice benefit, but I'd like to decline that offer and rather trade those $1499 for cash. Of course it'd be a bit difficult for me to get to the session room without a badge, but I am sure you'll figure out how that works.
And just because you say that your conference will give me a great platform and exposure to demonstrate your expertise I suspect (no, I am sure) that you are not paying speakers, right? See, there's an immediate benefit to you and that's me and all the other speakers talking there and adding to the value of your conference. No, sorry, we are the value of your conference. I like to trade immediate benefit against immediate benefit and that usually either translates into $$$ or into something that's a bit more painful for you than giving out "exposure" - let's say a booth or an full page ad in one of your magazines plus a token of appreciation for the talk.
Do you want to know what the value of "exposure" is and how it translates into immediate business opportunities for the speaker? If you are lucky, you get a good lead out of one per 500 attendees (and really lucky if your get two or three) and that doesn't even guarantee a deal yet. How many people did you say will you have at your conference? 450? Sorry. Doesn't translate.
There are many reasons to speak at conferences. Some are just plain fun to be at. Some are great for the parties. Some are fantastic for the money (go figure). For speakers there are many motivations that range from "the kick" to speak in front of 800 people to liking themselves being on stage to actually earning their lives by speaking. Some of the speakers I know got so IPO lucky in 1999 that they're doing it just so and it has nothing at all with their business.
So how about some honesty and saying: We're throwing a conference, we're going to have a raving party at a bar at the beach and many of your best buddies are likely coming too. Minibar in the hotel is on us. Sorry, we can't pay you for speaking, because we're poor and need the money, but we can pay for a reasonable flight ticket and hotel and since we have this hotel deal anyways, why don't you just stay 3 days longer, use your air-miles to upgrade and maybe bring along your girlfriend? Now, YaddaYadda 2004, that'd be a lot more honest and if your location is cool enough I'd even come. Just don't try that exposure argument on me, please, Mr. Marketing Droid.