Should you ever give a talk for free?

I was recently asked by a trade association to give a
presentation at their national meeting, which is out of town and
would require a plane trip to reach.

As a member of the organization, I know they do not pay speakers.

And out of loyalty and fondness for them, I offered to waive my
usual 4-figure speaking fee and do it for free, as long as they
covered my expenses — and of course let me attend the event on
the day of my talk free of charge.

They immediately responded:

“Bob, the terms you specify are eminently reasonable. However,
they are not what we had in mind.

“Paying your travel expenses would not be possible, and we also
normally expect speakers to attend the conference at a reduced
fee — though there is possible flexibility there.”

I quickly sent off a quick email:

“Thanks for the kind invite, but I have to pass.”

Was I insulted?

Not really.

Many organizations don’t pay their breakout session speakers …
and many people accept these invitations gladly.

In my early days, I did too, because speaking at meetings
attended by potential clients was a good way to promote my

However, for many years, the demand for my copywriting has
greatly outweighed the supply, which is sharply limited by time.

And so the incentive to speak without fee is no longer present.

In fact, when the group first invited me to present at their
upcoming event, my original response was as follows:

“Thanks for asking me. I’d love to do it.

“When I speak without my usual fee, I attend the conference … on
the day of my presentation only … for free.

“The sponsor organization pays all my expenses including airfare,
ground transportation, food, and lodging.

“If the presentation is videotaped, I get a copy of the mp4 and
the right to use it however I wish.

“I also get one ad in the organization’s e-newsletter, also for

But they would have none of it.

So there’s little or no motivation for me to go.

And that’s the end of the story.

Except for this:

I am still a member. And will be for as long as I live.

I love the people in the association — both those running it and
my fellow members.

And if they ever have the meeting in NYC, which is just an hour’s
drive for me, I’ll do it for free in a flash.

But pay for my own airline ticket and hotel?

That’s where, rightly or wrongly, I draw the line.


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