Following up on Nick R. Thomas' post on when to turn down a speaking engagement, in which he references my post on pro bono speaking (whew!), I'd like to add a little more to the discussion.
Nick gives examples of some unpleasant people you would never want to work for, for various reasons. My post focused on some of the reasons I have done pro bono speaking engagements, mostly for nonprofits.
Now I'd like to talk about one of the most typical requests that speakers get. The one from the conference/association meeting where you are offered the "opportunity" to be in front of the exact audience who needs your service or product.
You can promote your business! You can build your mailing list! Oh yeah, but we won't pay you. Oh, and we want you to pay your own way to the conference and pay for registration, too. Or... we don't pay the speakers, but the audience pays hundreds of dollars to hear you speak.
I'll tell you why this doesn't sound good to me.
Regardless of the organizer's confidence about the attendees, there is no guarantee that any business will result from this event. There is no guarantee that the audience is actually my target market or that as many people will show up as promised. And there is no guarantee that anyone will even sign up on my mailing list. And when it's a new conference, there's no history to back up any organizer claims.
Of course, there's never a guarantee on these things, but if you're a professional speaker you can at least count on a check at the end.
Note: Sometimes you're invited to bring products to sell, and if you have a book or other items, this might be a way to generate income aside from revenue. And don't forget, from my other post, that there are many options for creative compensation and other sources of income and exposure.
I'm not saying I would turn down every such speaking engagement. But I want to know the history, the demographics of the audience, the number of people who come, if my registration fee is waived, and I want to know if there are creative ways to be compensated if there's no actual cash involved.
Businesses do "pro bono" product placement all the time donating water, coffee, prize giveaways, etc.; it's called sponsorship. And for their donations, they get their logos splashed all over the program, their banners hung from the ceiling and other visible promotional opportunities.
Why should professional speakers get any less for helping to "sponsor" a conference by speaking for free? It's a business, not a hobby. Speakers are trying to make a living, too.
Make sure you're getting something in return for providing your services, especially when the organization is making money on your appearance.