Real quick before we get started. There are a couple of things to note about this episode since it came out on Friday. I got some feedback that I came off as angry or yelling. And well, my sentiment for this piece remains first drafts are hardly the best drafts. I rushed this a little bit because I was sick and I wanted to get it out before the weekend. But I know that I could make my point better. It also feels a bit hypocritical as someone who often says it’s easier to criticize than create. This felt more like criticizing than offering feedback. So here is my better attempt.
The new article went up on Saturday. This is the new audio. Also, since that episode came out, the main event I was talking about in question has changed its speaker terms and they are offering either a five-minute pitch or a $200 honorarium which is incredible. I am so happy. So, I guess I will name them now as I am generally speaking about the bigger WordPress virtual event space. But this was Vito Peleg and Adam and their WordPress Agency summit. So, kudos to vIto for being so open to feedback even when I don’t feel like I made my points in the best manner. So, this is my second attempt. I think I make my points better and I hope you like it.
A topic that’s come up for me multiple times over the last six months is whether or not speakers should be paid for their efforts. I had a debate with Nathan Wrigley about it at the end of last year. That debate was based on an article I wrote back in October called “We Need to Talk About Speakers and Virtual Events”. But beyond paying speakers, we need to treat them decently. We need to value their time and not treat them like they are here to serve us and our own cause. And that is what I will be talking about today.
Hey, everybody. And welcome to WP Review. A podcast that focuses on the WordPress ecosystem and what it means for users and business owners in this space. My name is Joe Casabona. This episode and every episode is brought to you by GoDaddy Pro. You can get the show notes and a written to be read article over at [wpreview.io/38]. And today, we’re going to be talking about a topic that’s very important to me: Your virtual event is not a WordCamp.
The first time I hired movers, my dad busted my chops about it. “Why don’t you just ask your friends, get some pizza and do it in a day?” My dad has a very exaggerated New York city accent that I have managed to move to a low burn over the years of living in Pennsylvania. I had a few answers for him.
One, being that I had asked my friends to do it the last time in the not too distant past, and I feel like that’s really a one-time favor. Of course, I also value my friend’s time. I was making decent money and I wanted it done well and done quickly. Nothing against my friends’ abilities. Not that they were upset that I hired movers instead of asking them. See, there are some acts that have weirdly polarized schools of thinking like hiring movers. I personally think that if you’re over 27, you should hire movers just like you should get yourself home from the airport. Every time my wife offers to come get me when my flight lands, I react as if what she just said was incredibly egregious. How could I make a mother of two, now three, schlep all the way out to the airport fighting traffic just to pick me up, turn around, and go home? No. I’m an adult and I’ll pay for long-term parking.
I feel the same way about paying speakers and wrote about it on my personal blog in a piece called “We Need to Talk About Speakers in Virtual Events”. That was back in October.
Recently, I saw a call for speakers that rekindled my feelings about the topic. Because the truth is, most virtual events in the WordPress space believe that. Because they are like WordCamps. They can get away with running them, “like WordCamps”. But there’s a big difference between WordCamps and events that are in general designed to turn a profit for the organizer. And that’s okay. I believe organizers should profit off of their efforts, especially when organizing difficult events. But I believe those two types of events should be framed differently. So first, let me lay out how WordCamps are different.
First. They truly are for the community. They are run by the WordPress foundation for the sole purpose of educating people in local communities about WordPress. That’s also why they pay meetup.com costs for local WordPress meetups.
Second. The money that WordCamps make, by and large, go into an account that helps fund new WordCamps or WordCamps that have trouble staying in the block. The global sponsorship program is built precisely for this reason. Sponsors are listed on every WordCamps website and the WordCamps get some percentage of the funds to help make the event happen. Even when they have trouble raising funds on there. Every talk from WordCampss also ends up completely for free on wordpress.tv. So not only are the events affordable to attend or if online, free to attend. But the content is also free to watch. And while you can’t openly pitch during your talks, you can still mention on link who you are and what you do. Generally, what I’ll do is put the talk resources on a URL that also kind of pitches my services.
Finally, at this point, it’s understood that if you’re speaking in a WordCamp, you’re not getting paid. It’s a way to contribute to the WordPress open-source project without writing code. Most virtual events are not like that.
And let me start by saying this. Planning any event is hard. I know because I have organized lots of events from college on including to WordCamps. Organizing, promoting, and scheduling is a tough undertaking. And if it’s virtual, you also have to figure out the tech stack. As someone who live streams weekly, I can’t imagine trying to figure out a seamless tech stack for presenting lots of speakers to lots of people throughout the day. Anyone who does that deserves to get paid for their efforts. But speaking is also hard. A good talk takes work. Sometimes 8, 10, or 12 hours of it. And those talks are generally the reason people show up to events. That’s why I’m so passionate about making sure speakers are valued.
In my first article on this topic, I posited that the main job of the speaker is to speak. They bring the main content to your audience. And in a recent speaker application that I saw, though, to be clear, this is all too common across lots of events, especially in the WordPress space, I have been asked to do more than what I’m presenting here as a free speaker. But in this application specifically, I saw two asks. If you want to promote yourself at all, you need to become a sponsor and you are expected to help promote the event. Now, again, as an addendum, the speaker application I’m talking about here as I said at the top of the show has changed, and they are either allowing their speakers to pitch or paying them, which is just fantastic to see.
But let’s sub in this specific application for events that I or my friends have been asked to speak at. First, you can’t talk about your own product or service without sponsorship. There could be reasonable explanations for this. So we’ll get to that in a minute. But the second is that you’re expected to promote the event for them. Any time I’ve been asked to do this, I passed on the event. Shouldn’t a benefit of speaking be getting in front of your audience, especially if you expect speakers to do it for free? But instead, you’re expecting the speakers to bring the content and the audience that feels a little bit one-sided.
Now, when we’re talking about promotion and sponsorship, I can understand the need for clear language around what speakers can and cannot pitch or promote during a talk. In fact on my podcast, my main podcast “How I Built It”, I make it clear that if the interview turns into a 40-minute promotion, I will not air that episode. I want value for my audience after all. But I also give my guests an opportunity at the end to pitch, by asking where people can find them and learn more. I encourage guests to have a specific landing page with a special offer for listeners.
It’s been similar at previous events I’ve spoken at. With page builders summit, I was told I had up to three minutes, in the end, to pitch myself as a thank you for doing the talk. But again, I’ve also told my guests that if they want specific messaging and dates to promote something, they need to sponsor not be a guest. And right here is where the rubber meets the road for me. Do I think virtual event organizers deserve to make money off of their events? Absolutely. I’m planning one in the near future. And I hope to turn a profit. And some of these events stand to profit six figures, which is again, amazing. At that point, At this point, that’s only a pipe dream for me. But as an event organizer, I, or anybody listening need to recognize what makes the event valuable because that’s the real rub. Treating the people making the content, the main value proposition for your event as nothing more than unpaid labor is wrong. I know paying speakers is a hot-button issue. But I have every intention of paying for speakers at my event.
Asking Nate, telling them they have to promote your event is a bridge too far for me. I believe the social contract is you bring the audience, I bring the content. Otherwise, as I said, the relationship seems a little bit one-sided.
Now at this point, you might be wondering if I’m being too harsh. Maybe I am. But the WordPress space is already a place where good work is undervalued. And to be frank, I’ve seen prominent voices in the virtual event space brag about this free speaker who promotes our event to model. That doesn’t sit well with me.
With WordCamps, we see where the money goes. We know nearly every cent goes back into the greater WordPress community. But if you are not a WordCamp, and you stand to make a profit off of your event, the relationship changes. Just like you should pay developers who code your product. The people who bring the content for your event should be compensated. We need to remember to value and reward good work. Because ultimately, that does help the entire community.
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As always, I welcome your feedback, your comments. If you want to comment on the post over at [wpreview.io/38] or continue the conversation on Twitter, I’m at J Casabona. I will make a quick note, though, if you are mean or use vulgar language and remain anonymous, I will likely delete that comment. Because while the first version of this article was perhaps harsher than it should have been. I attached my own name to it and I stand by my comments. But if you are going to frankly be vulgar and mean, and not attach your name to it, Well, that’s not much of a discussion at all.
Okay. So again, I’m happy to continue a civil conversation over at [wpreview.io/38]. Wrapping up this episode, I do have a recommendation. Well, it’s actually something new that I’m offering called “Creator Toolkits”. You can find those over at [creatorcourses.com/toolkits]. Anybody can create content anytime and anywhere. But finding the right set of tools that adds more value to your content creation process is hard from figuring out the best membership plugin to opt for, to choosing an LMS. The process can be overwhelming. And what is the guarantee that you will make the right choice? That’s why I’ve created the creator toolkits. I’ve been around this space long enough to know the projects and tools that work. And you can find all of my recommendations again, over at [creatorcourses.com/toolkits].
But that’s not at all. If you join the mailing list, you’ll get a private podcast where I talk through these toolkits that is for mailing list subscribers only. And if you joined the Creator Crew, the pro level of the Creator Crew, you’ll get exclusive access to updates to these toolkits and detailed video tutorials on how to use them. So you can get that for free over at [creatorcourses.com/toolkits]. You can get the “WHY” by joining the mailing list and you can get the “HOW” by joining Creator Crew Pro special offer for mailing list subscribers.
All right. That’s it for this episode. I hope you liked it.
Again, Let me know your thoughts over at [wpreview.io/38]. You can also find all of the show notes, in a written to be read article over there. Again, [wpreview.io/38].
Thanks to GoDaddy Pro for sponsoring this and every episode of the WP Review. Their support is deeply appreciated.
Thanks so much for listening. And until next time. I’m Joe Casabona, and I’ll see you out there.