Is Your Conference Guilty Of Incestuous Inbreeding Or Speaker Vanity Publishing?

Is your conference guilty of speaker vanity publishing?

Your Conference Is Like Vanity Press

Are you charging speakers a full or discounted registration fee to present at your conference?

Perhaps they must cover their own travel, lodging and expenses to attend your conference in addition to spending time to develop their presentation.  And pay a registration fee.

Does your conference do that?

If yes, lawyer and speaker James H. “Jim” Moss says you are like a vanity press. Wikipedia defines a vanity press or vanity publisher as a publishing house that publishes books at the author’s expense.

You know those authors that have self-published. They are the ones with boxes of books in their basements and attics. Poor writing, poor grammar, poor content, poor storytelling. Eventually they try to give away those books during a yard sale.

Moss says that if you ask for a registration fee at the expense of the value of what you provide, you will eventually disappear. By charging the speakers a registration fee, you send a message that you do not have enough value in your event and even need the speakers to pay.

Traci Browne of Trade Show Institute raised similar issues in her post Myths Conference Organizers Believe About Speakers. Browne says, “There is no way you will get quality speakers by demanding they pay for your event AND speak for free.”

Maggie McGary discussed What Free Cost Her and asks some tough questions: 

Am I the only one who’s feeling stretched too thin and wondering whether, in the end, ego strokes are worth tipping the work/life balance cart? At some point will people start deciding they don’t want to write or do webinars or speak for free anymore? Or is this nothing new and there’s always someone willing to do it?

Incestuous inbreeding at your conference

Moss states that conferences that secure speakers from those who attend the conference are only inbreeding thought and insight. It is incestuous. It is nothing more than an echo chamber with the same voices saying the same thing year after year.

As long as you only offer speakers from within your industry, you will continue to promote living in a bubble. Your conference attendees will have difficulty seeing how their profession fits within the context of the larger business world.

Inbreeding leads to abnormalities, deformities, mental illness and idiocy. Stagnant speaker pools produce motionless, stationary conference attendees and businesses. The industry presentations are so industry-absorbed that listeners lose an accurate self-awareness.

What percentage of new speakers do you provide at your conference? What percentage of new topics versus repeat topics do you offer? Does your conference speaker list look like a repeat of last year’s meeting?

New voices, fresh perspectives and dissenting views needed

Moss argues that your conference needs new voices, new minds, new thoughts, new ideas, new people and fresh perspectives. You need some dissenting voices that challenge your conventional thinking.

I agree wholeheartedly with Moss, Browne and McGary. It’s time for associations and organizations to start investing dollars in the content and speakers at their conference.

Why should conference organizers at a minimum cover industry speaker registration fees? What do you think about conferences that require speakers to pay to present?

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  1. Traci Browne says:

    Jeff, love it that you are really digging into the meat of this subject. I like the vanity press analogy and the visual impact of a basement full of books. We’ll fix this problem yet!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Yep, going to dig even further into this subject next week and offer some tips on paying for speakers. Having hired more than 3,500 professional speakers, I learned some things the hard way!

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, I agree that some self-published authors have very valuable information.

      It’s so true that often industries do not invite open dialogue and dissent. I’m seeing a change today that some audiences are more vocal with their opinions. I think Gen X and Y are leading the way. In my opinion, more diversity of thought is a good thing and makes us question some of our beliefs and thinking. I personally like that and invite it.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt, sgnewsfeed. sgnewsfeed said: Is Your Conference Guilty Of Incestuous Inbreeding Or Speaker Vanity Publishing?: Is your… […]

  3. justin locke says:

    Well Jeff, bravo to you once more for daring to comment on the obvious.

    I would like to add one more facet to this gem of a post:

    It is quite possible that someone within your industry may have unique insight and vision. However, unless that person is retired and/or independently wealthy, they have to weigh the benefits of stating their opinions against what doing so might do to their professional advancement– after all, their boss might be in the audience.. Criticizing the current system is usually not a good way to ingratiate yourself with the powers that be. Self interest inevitably skews one towards reinforcing and repeating the existing institutional dogmas. (Dogmas: beliefs that cannot be questioned if one is to remain a member of a group.)

    Many problems are not that hard to see, but sometimes only an outsider has permission to comment on them.

    Also, just speaking on behalf of all those self published author/speakers out there, not every self published book is lousy. (I’m on my seventh and fourth printing, respectively)…) Granted, most of them definitely are, but like some conference organizers, literary agents and publishers also tend to skew towards the tried-and-true.

  4. Jim Moss says:

    Thanks for the plug.

  5. Quinne says:

    This is the reason why I love what our association does (or in this case doesn’t do) when it comes to conference speakers.

    We only pay for plenary and some keynote speakers who aren’t necessarily industry specific – but more business topics.

    We don’t allow people (or even sponsors) for that matter to pay to present. That is just buying your way in without knowing whether our attendees really want to hear what you have to say or if you are any good at presenting.

    People who come to speak for free get a free one day pass to our conference as a thank you.

    We also don’t allow repeat speakers/companies and try and leave at least 3 years or more between presenters.

    We don’t put out a blanket RFP instead our committee decides on the track themes, and possibly specific timely topics that they would want addressed and then they go out and seek those experts and invite them to speak after submitting an outline.

    We do take unsolicited proposals but they go through a rigourous selection process to ensure they meet the expectations of our attendees.

    The result of all this? A fresh, interesting, timely and well thought out conference year after year.

  6. Thanks for this, Jeff. As I do more professional speaking, I’m amazed at some of the bad options out there.

    Forcing me to pay for a conference pass (or only giving me a one-day pass for a multi-day event) when you’ve asked me to speak is probably my pet peeve….I haven’t run into that yet with the tourism-related organizations in Texas or Oklahoma, and if I do, well, I’ll speak elsewhere. I’m not that into you. 🙂

    I DO like to mix and mingle with conference attendees before and after my sessions – many have questions about social media that they don’t feel comfortable asking me while I’m speaking. Let me participate in and help with your community; that’s what I’m there for!

  7. justin locke says:

    am looking forward to your tips on paying for speakers, i hope there will also be advice for speakers in there in terms of insight into the buyer persona. 🙂 jl

  8. Grace White says:

    I had a similar discussion with a client yesterday. She was leaning towards an industry icon for her main speaker. We will now be exploring finding a out of the industry speaker who will add a new perspective. Thanks for the perfect post to drive home my recommendation.

  9. Mike Burns says:

    Right on the mark Jeff, as usual.

  10. Adrian Segar says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m traveling and just came across your post, Jeff; thought-provoking as usual. But I’m going to disagree with a couple of points.

    First, please don’t equate self-published books with the vanity press publishing; they’re not the same. Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, John Grisham, Tom Peters and many, many other well-known, successful authors self-published their books. And, more and more these days, successful authors are cutting out traditional publishers and using self-publishing to make a lot more money from their work. I am certainly making a lot more money from my self-published book, which was edited, and designed by some of the same free-lancers who do the work for the major publishing houses.

    Second, I think your assumption that active association members cannot come up with ideas of their own or gain new experiences that are worthy of sharing year-to-year is insulting and, in my experience, flat wrong. Every time I bring people together at one of my conferences, we discover there is no shortage of needs and desires as to what attendees want to share and learn about, and it’s rare to uncover a topic of interest that can’t be covered well by one or more participants. Repeating topics from year to year is extremely rare, and when it happens it’s because, in the words of the college professor: “Yes, I set the same exam every year, but that’s because every year the correct answers are different”.

    I have twenty years of experience showing me that my participant-driven events work incredibly well in satisfying the needs of the people who attend. Have you ever been to one? If not, I invite you to experience one, before dismissing them as promoting “living in a bubble”. EventCamp East Coast, November 9, in Philadelphia, still has some open slots. We’d love to see you there!

  11. justin locke says:

    hey @adrian,

    well you know i love you and i also loved that weinberg book you recommended but i am going to come to jeff’s defense here,

    i also took issue with jeff’s use of the phrase “vanity press,” but on second reading he did not say all self published books are junk . . . “vanity press,” i.e., the hundreds of thousands of books that are printed purely for vanity /self promotion with content no one wants, does exist, and so it’s a valid metaphor. i don’t think he was including us or our finely crafted self-published work. 🙂

    also he did not state “all conferences are, he asked “is your conference like . . ?” and i have to say, i have personally witnessed many professional cultures (at least in the non profit sector) where stagnation is rampant. yes of course, there are people, and certain industries (like eventprofs) that choose (are forced?) to be open minded and nimble, but i have also experienced entire cultures in the nonprofit sector that have “matured” and have become so ingrown with repeated dogma (over generations even) that they have really gotten lost. of course, i doubt they are reading this or any other blog so i guess we’re preaching to an empty choir loft.

    as the weinberg book you recommended points out on the first page, change comes slowly if at all!

    anyway you are right in pointing out these exceptions, and jeff may have gone a little broad with his brush, but he makes a good point and I want to encourage him to keep doing so. 🙂 it’s tough being an iconoclast.

    also full disclosure, since he hires speakers and you don’t I will always be taking his side 😉 –jl

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for sharing with us the strategy your association uses for securing speakers. I like that they include professional business speakers for plenary or keynote speakers.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. It is greatly appreciated it. I’m like you, my pet peeve is asking me to speak for free and pay a registration fee. It lets me know how I rank in the conference organizer’s mind.

      Glad this post was timely for you! Adding a fresh perspective to a conference lineup can create new energy, thought and lead to innovation. At least that’s what I think.

      Thanks for the kind words. We appreciate that you are reading too!

      Thanks for adding your perspective.

      As I said in a previous comment there are those authors who self-publish that add valuable content. Also, the conference you describe is very different than the traditional conference format that I’m discussing. I think you would agree with me that if your attendees never read anything new, attended new classes or talked with others, their thoughts could become like an echo chamber and stagnant. It’s about becoming life-long learners.

      Thanks for keeping the conversation going and replying. I appreciate it and like the way you think.

  12. justin locke says:

    ‘@jeff I’m glad to hear SOMEONE does 🙂 –jl

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