A Pet Peeve: Conferences that use Feds as Speakers w/o Pay, but charge other Feds Big Bucks to attend

I was invited yesterday to speak at a conference from one of those vendors who hold expensive conferences for Feds around town. They charge upwards of a Grand to attend, but use almost all Federal employees as their speakers. Of course, those who speak do so on Government time. At the end of the day, they get a sub-$25 gift for speaking and the conference organizer pockets what everyone else has paid. (Yeah, I know they rent a conference room and bring bagels.)

Since I’m retiring (and the conference in question is next April), I asked them if they paid non-Government speakers.

Guess what the answer was? No, we don’t, but maybe you could recommend someone else from your agency to speak instead (also free, of course).

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Maggie McGary

Sounds just like the association world–except for us not only do you not get paid to speak, you still have to PAY to attend!

Chris St.John

This is interesting as I organize and run an annual Govt educational/IT conference. The DoD Comptroller has regulations that limit the amount of fees and expenses that the Govt can pay for speakers, instructors and keynoters (each has a different limit). Govt employees are strictly forbidden from receiving a fee to speak but we do pay expenses. Keynoters are an interesting animal. Govt regs say there is a strict limit on paying them to speak for an hour. BUT, when you are lining them up and call, you will find folks that charge $135,000 (Gen Schwarzkoff) and more, e.g., Jack Welch. Even local media talent asks for $54,000 (Katie Couric) and many just say they are too busy when they find out you are government. One professor from MIT told me he wanted $75,000 PLUS first class airfare for him AND his family, PLUS a week at the Four Seasons for them all. Jeesh!

Govt conference organizers are PRECLUDED BY LAW from charging admission fees that are any more than actual expenses, aka profit. My conference costs attendees about $300 for a two day conf, incl one evening reception, meals and break coffee etc, and the spreadsheet is audited each year.

Tim Evans

Outfits like ALI and Potomac charge $995 and up for their conferences. While they usually hold them in posh places (e.g., The Willard), they still don’t pay speakers–Government employee or not. Nice business model! And, they seem to fill their conferences with SES’ers and military brass, who get to listen to us GS-13’s talk.

Barb Chamberlain

If they’re not paying any of their speakers than it’s not picking on federal employees. I’ve spoken at higher ed conferences that charge colleagues to attend–never thought it was the least bit strange.

For one thing, if my organization pays my travel expenses to get to the event I certainly can’t be paid personally for my presentation. (Such conferences are only occasionally held in my town so there’s almost always travel involved.)

I would definitely ask as the speaker if my conference registration fee could be waived; that doesn’t cost them out of pocket and saves your agency/institution the fees.

Conference organization isn’t just a matter of going through your contact list and shooting out emails or getting a conference room and bagels, at least for the ones I’ve attended. It’s an enormous amount of conceptual and logistical work that adds value to the presentations. Value for attendees lies in getting together informally as well as attending formal presentations; the conference is what makes that possible.

If you want the same things for free, book a conference room, buy bagels, send out emails and see what happens. If the model isn’t meant to survive so be it.

Tim Evans

Thanks. The issue here is conferences that are aimed exclusively at Feds, who are charged premium prices to listen exclusively to GS-13 Feds, who only get a sub-$25 speaker gift for their time. Nice business model.