paid to speak drone conference

How to get paid to speak at drone conferences

Speaking at drone conferences can be a great way to build your business and gain clients. It can establish yourself as a thought leader. Give a great conference talk, and the upside is huge.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a downside. It costs money in travel expenses to get to that conference. A day (or a few days) speaking at and traveling to that conference is a lost opportunity cost when you could be doing work more directly related to your business.

And what’s more, giving a great conference talk doesn’t mean spending 30 minutes putting together a slide deck and hoping for the best. A great drone conference talk means putting together fresh presentations unique to every conference, spending time to research little-known data, facts and tips for that conference, and practicing your presentation multiple times. It’s a big time commitment — and you should be paid to speak.

The challenge? Most drone conferences won’t outright offer that you’ll be paid to speak (even though most drone conferences cost attendees hundreds of dollars in registration fees).

The good news: it’s not that there’s no money in the speaker budget. You just need to know how to ask for — and earn — it.

Fiona Lake speaking at the Commercial UAV Expo Europe

Aerial photographer Fiona Lake has spoken at conferences across 4 continents. At some conferences she’s been paid to speak, though not always. And throughout those experiences, Lake has learned the best way to get a top ROI — her investment in preparing for and speaking at conferences. And often that means getting paid actual money to speak at drone conferences.

In Part 3 of a 4-part interview series with Lake about speaking at conferences, Lake shares how to get paid to speak at conferences:

Missed Part 1 and Part 2? Last week, Lake shared her advice for giving a great presentation at drone conferences. Prior to that, she gave insights on how to get booked to speak at drone conferences for the first time. 

Drone Girl: Speaking at a conference is a huge commitment, given the effort to travel, lost hours of work at home, etc. How do you decide when conferences are worth your while?

Fiona Lake: The obvious investment is time spent travelling and attending but the huge investment is what nobody sees – preparation time. It takes most people at least one hour to prepare each minute of a presentation. A good presenter doesn’t wheel out the same presentation to different audiences and because the drone industry is so fast moving, the huge investment in preparation time continues.

DG: What other “hidden costs” are there to speaking at drone conferences?

FL: Care must be given when considering sharing your intellectual property. How much should you include, in return for what you receive? Intellectual property is generally undervalued by conference organisers, and the speaker benefits are overvalued. 

DG: So given all those costs, it seems like you should be paid. But talking about money is always such a tricky topic! How do you bring up/talk about money with the conference or class organisers?

FL: Remuneration is unfortunately not publicly discussed and it should be. Too many conference organisers are using speakers, and too many are charging hefty attendance fees but then putting sponsors up on the main stage to give product or service sales pitches. 

DG: So how much should you reasonably expect (or ask) to be paid?

FL: First, there are a few factors that go into knowing how much you can get paid.

  • Distinguish for-profit conferences vs. talks given for philanthropic reasons: With non-profit conferences, industry organisations often rely heavily on volunteers, and they typically request people to help the industry they work in by speaking for nothing.  That’s different from conferences run by salaried professional event managers whose essential sole aim is to make money. 

Ultimately both types of events have audience members who probably stand to gain financially by listening to quality information, so are they paying enough for it?  Think carefully about what’s actually in it for you. Otherwise, most organizers probably won’t really give you a second thought, and most attendees are completely unaware of how much of your time is being donated.

  • Assess where you sit in the food chain: How unique and valuable is what you have to offer? Have you got solid public speaking experience, a long track record and a well-established reputation, or are you just starting out? The laws of supply and demand, and value for money, apply.

DG: With that in mind, what kind of compensation should someone expect?

FL: This depends on where you are in that food chain.

  • Keynotes should have all their travel costs covered plus a fee if they are foregoing income by attending, such as if they are self-employed (that’s distinct from government or corporate employees, who will still receive their wages).
  • Celebrity speakers command hefty fees that run to tens of thousands of dollars, because they are entertainment headliners who drive early bookings and high attendance.
  • Other speakers aren’t always paid adequately for their time and expertise, but sometimes it’s just not economically feasible. However it is reasonable for speakers to expect free attendance at all conference sessions, reasonable accommodation to be paid for and reimbursement of some — if not all —  transportation expenses.  They should also receive promotion before the event and feedback afterwards. 

It’s not uncommon for speakers to have to pay the conference attendance fee. No speakers means no conference. Why would anyone think it is reasonable for speakers to have to pay to attend?!

DG: I know the focus of this interview series is on conferences, but on a related note, what about education of training sessions? How much should you expect to be paid to teach a drone training course?

FL: Unlike conference speaking, workshops are profit generating – imparting useful information to a small group of keen users, for business or recreational purposes. In addition to drone rules and practical operation information participants in my classes get the benefit of more than 3 decades of small business and marketing experience plus social media and specialty topics such as professional aerial photography or drones for agricultural purposes. Basically an A to Z of everything I wish I’d known from the outset but had to learn the hard way, because a lot of what I cover isn’t online, anywhere.

Fiona Lake at the World UAV Federation conference.

DG: Do you have to travel to get to those?

FL: Yes, to get sufficient attendance numbers, it’s necessary to travel to workshops in different areas. I travel thousands of kilometres from home and I’m not doing it every week. Occasionally I run a workshop where I live but away from home for host organisations that have arranged for me to do presentations in their region. This ensures higher attendance because locals know what suits their region best and have established networks of contacts for marketing purposes.

DG: How much would you typically charge for a workshop?

FL: I charge $2,000-$6,000 to present workshops, plus travel expenses at cost. Running a one or two day workshop requires at least a few weeks of work in total – travel time plus research to update the content and tweaks to suit the new audience.   

DG: Going back to drone conferences, what runs through your mind when deciding to speak at a drone conference — whether paid or unpaid?

FL: Ask yourself:

  • Are the event organisers good communicators and well organised?
  • Do they respect and value speakers? Have they thought about what’s in it for speakers to attend? 
  • Is this ‘your tribe’? Who are the other speakers this year or previous events? Does it look like they’ve been chosen carefully and do they sound like the kind of people who are genuinely open to meeting new people and sharing insights? 
  • What are the organiser’s aims? Are subjects of particular interest to you included? If yes, you know you will learn from other presenters and enjoy meeting them, and that the audience attracted to the conference is likely to find what you say useful and be great contacts.  

DG: So even if you aren’t getting paid, what’s the benefit to you to speak at conferences?

FL:  Editorial coverage is infinitely more valuable than money spent on advertising.

DG: Heh, so true! Everyone ignores ads — or has ad-blockers. Plus, people can tell the difference between sponsored content vs. a genuine article about something of interest.

FL: In addition, presentation research and preparation plus answering audience questions has the unexpected benefits of deepening knowledge, strengthening weaknesses and building confidence. Presenters also benefit from meeting other speakers as well as interesting attendees.

DG: And what about the networking aspect? Is that as valuable as we think?

FL: Something that shouldn’t be underestimated is the benefit of socialising with like-minded people. People involved in the drone industry tend to share some common traits – outward looking and curious, entrepreneurial risk-takers. Small business owners usually have few opportunities to mix with their peers and discuss common issues. The recharge from attending an annual conference can be priceless.

DG: When does it make sense to speak for free vs. only speak at a conference if you’re getting paid?

FL: Weigh pros and cons carefully and be selective when choosing which conferences to approach or accept. And don’t be afraid to negotiate for a better deal, such as more hotel nights if you’re flying from the other side of the planet.

DG: And if someone wants to find you either just to chat, or maybe invite you to their conference, how can they find you?

FL: I have lots of social media accounts, but my website is best.

This year, tons of drone conferences have gone virtual! That sort of throws a wrench in the conventional wisdom for getting booked (and paid) to speak at conferences. Next week, Lake shares her thoughts on the shift to virtual drone conferences, and how to decide when and if it’s worth your time and effort. Come back next Friday for Part 4. 

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