Saturday, 4 July 2015

Money making conferences and speaking invitations

I am getting increasingly annoyed by some invitations I received to speak at conferences. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to be invited in more than 20 countries to talk about my research/my experience/my work in a variety of settings. I gave talks in scientific conferences of big organisations like the American College of Sports Medicine or the European College of Sports Science. I spoke at coaching clinics organised by Olympic Committees, National Federations, Coaching organisations. Finally I spoke at industry events, or educational events for coaches/sports scientists. For me receiving an invite is a great honour and a big responsibility. I feel proud of the recognition and some time apprehensive about the task. However I tend to accept most of the requests provided I have also an opportunity to learn something and/or matches the requirements of my employer. Every time I have been somewhere to speak, I have always learnt something new and/or made new connections/friends and these have always led to some exchange of information/experiences/ideas which is great. Thanks to this, I have been in so many places I would have never been to, met some amazing people, learnt great things, tried new food and drinks, discovered new cultures/ways of living, seen incredible facilities and sceneries.

(This is me speaking in Campinas in Brazil few years ago. 
Great conference, met so many great people and had a brilliant experience)

However recently I keep getting invites from organisations/companies organising conferences to make money. Organisations which charge a fortune to attendees. And they first send an invite to be a keynote speaker and then they pretend I should pay for the pleasure of speaking at their conference.
I am sure I am not alone in this. Recently, speaking to other colleagues this seems to be happening more and more to many. This has to stop, and the only way to do it is for people to say: "No, I am not coming. If you want me to speak at your event/conference you will have to pay for the costs (travel/accommodation/etc)".

Let me make this clear. I am not talking about invitations to speak at a conference of respected scientific societies of which many of us are members. In such events you go to share latest findings or discuss your research between peers (albeit I still think even in such cases travel grants should be provided). I am talking about clinics and conferences which charge attendees large sums. In that case you are going there to educate the attendees and teach (hopefully) something or share your knowledge and experience. Travelling costs money and time. So anybody invited to speak at a conference should have at least their costs covered.

But I am pushing it a bit more. Preparing a lecture or a workshop requires time and effort, travelling to and from the conference requires time and effort, acquiring knowledge requires time and effort, delivering the content requires time and effort. Why such time and effort should not be rewarded?

Former athletes/celebrities/CEOs/politicians charge very large sums for a dinner speech. Speeches which are an account of their experiences and accomplishments. A way to transmit knowledge and experience. I have been in many of these speeches, some exciting and well prepared-rehearsed with great material to show, some absolutely plain boring with not a single picture/video/presentation in sight. All well rewarded and for sure, with the travel costs covered. All well deserved.

But if this is the case, why sports scientists should accept to be invited to speak at an event, make the event (you can't sell a conference without speakers...can you?) and be asked to pay for the pleasure, while the organiser makes cash? A recent invite came form a conference charging participants  somewhere around 1000 USD each. Apparently typical numbers are around the 200 mark. So, once the organisers have paid the conference venue and few coffees and biscuits, how much are they making? You do the math. It would be great to have some views on this. I think that people's time is precious and should always be rewarded and it's up to each individual to decide if they want to "donate" their time to any cause (speaking to conferences included as I have done many times). Preparing a talk requires time and effort. It's a job, so to me it should be considered work.

This issue seems to be typical in other fields as well (see a great blog here).

So that's it, you know it now. If you want me to talk at your event, make sure you can cover at least the travel costs. If not, don't bother to email me, as from now on the replies will not be polite.


Nick Skillicorn on 4 July 2015 at 08:43 said...

Well said Marco. I hope that this is a fad and that soon the people paying for tickets will begin telling the difference between conferences organised by people with an actual history and interest in the area, or those trying to make a quick buck

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