D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Prairie Dev Con’s Evolution – Thoughts on Covering Speaker Expenses

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 11:56 PM

Greg Young tweeted this recently…


This started a really good Twitter discussion about whether conferences should cover travel expenses (airfare and hotel) for speakers, with some event organizers weighing in. Having run a successful conference for the last four years I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences around this (Twitter’s 140 character limit is very…well, limiting :) ).

Conferences are a collaborative effort between four groups: Organizers, Attendees, Speakers, and Sponsors. Each group has a certain expectation of each other in the context of the conference.

Attendees want engaging speakers who bring unique knowledge, skills, and experience; organizers who provide a great venue and amenities, and who respects the audience’s time and money being invested in attending the conference; and sponsors who are active participants and add an extra element of fun through on-site presence, swag, contests, etc.

Speakers want attendees who are positive, participatory and ready to learn; organizers who value the time and talents they lend to a conference; and sponsors active in conference events who may be affiliated with them (i.e. a speaker who is also a Pluralsight author).

Sponsors want excellent speakers who will help draw a large number of attendees; attendees who will engage with them at or through the conference; and organizers who look at sponsorship more as a partnership than simply a money-for-logo opportunities.

Organizers want attendees who appreciate the work and effort that goes into putting on a conference; speakers who’s professionalism and preparedness help form the culture and personality of the conference; and sponsors who recognize the importance of community events and want deeper engagement with attendees.

At my work we like to talk about a 3-legged stool analogy between customers, employees, and employer. The same analogy holds true with conferences, but with 4 legs instead of 3.


It’s this model that I’ve based Prairie Dev Con on, and one that continues to evolve as the conference does. For the last three years I’ve been fortunate to have speakers who invested in the conference through covering their own airfare expenses (I cover all hotel costs as well as a speaker’s dinner). Admittedly that was an imbalance that allowed me to work through my conference model and refine it; if not for those speakers over the first 7 iterations of Prairie Dev Con, it wouldn’t be the success it is today.

Going forward, and starting with the 8th Prairie Dev Con I just held last week, travel expenses for speakers (airfare and hotel) will be covered by the conference – as it should be. My model has matured and has been proven to be successful, and being able to provide speakers with the proper expense coverage is an important step to ensure Prairie Dev Con continues to offer top-tier talent to it’s attendees.

Now, I don’t want to call out any other conference because no two conferences are alike. Each has their own nuances, mission statements, cultures, and goals. But for conferences that charge a non-trivial amount for registration but don’t cover speaker travel expenses, I would challenge those organizers as to why.

The problem with having the legs of your stool at different lengths is that you’re constantly trying to balance. Ensuring that all our participant groups are having their needs met means that you have a solid base to grow from…and that small foot stool eventually becomes taller and taller as your conference grows and matures over time. That’s what I’ve seen with Prairie Dev Con, and ensuring speakers are taken care of is a huge part of that growth.


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