A good friend of mine recently posted this blog post written by someone who refused a TEDx speaking engagement because it wasn’t paid.  You can check it out here.  The gist of what this fellow says though is this:

  • TED costs $6,000 for a week; therefore, speakers should get paid
  • TED is a non-profit, but speakers are not.  Therefore, speakers should get paid.
  • TEDx is the little sister of TED, and therefore must also make enough to pay speakers.
  • TEDx has rules, and he’s not clear on what those rules are.

First things first, the economics of putting on a conference are typically just barely profitable at best.  Conference organizers need to pay for:  staff (many that are year round), office space to put the staff, flights for some, food, venue, sound systems, video systems, video editors, room blocks at hotels, cocktail hours, permits, marketing teams, etc.  In the case of TED, their staff is MUCH larger than the average big time event staff and includes: a Fellows program, a knowledge management system for their videos, the translation program, and I’m sure more than that.  And if there are any unions at the sites that the event is at, expect to pay a lot more and to hire an expert that knows how to navigate complicated union rules.

Secondly, TED and TEDx aren’t the typical speaking engagement.  TEDx can get you into the eye sight of TED.  Speaking at TED is like the Olympics of public speaking.  It’s like being in the final rounds of the World Cup.  The networking at the event alone is worth the time (the crowd at actual TED is just as curated as the speakers – you have to apply).  What are things that people got access to from speaking at TED that they probably wouldn’t be able to get at otherwise?  Book deals. VC funding. Business partners on a different level. A much higher level of network. The ability to charge more for your services in the future (in some cases, A LOT more) In short: getting bumped up to the big leagues. But more importantly, getting to experience TED.

Thirdly, it’s wise to learn the rules before you bash on something.  I’ve worked on a TEDx before and the rule was that we had to be non-profit and that tickets couldn’t cost more than $100.  We also had to follow very specific rules for video capture (TEDx is partially about getting content for TED.com).  There are some specific rules around using the TEDx logo and how many TED videos must be played throughout the day.  There aren’t rules around how many people can be in the room or how many days the event is, or who you allow in the room.  All TEDx organizers are aware that their videos may not make the TED.com site, and most do a TEDx for a specific community for the love of that community.  Nothing more, nothing less.

This is also true of some other more large scale events.  So before you snub your nose at a speaking engagement for not paying you immediately, ask yourself what you’ll get paid later.  If it’s a question of not being able to afford getting to a large scale gig, ask the organizers if they can help you out at all.  Sometimes there’s some money set aside for flight/hotel for special cases.

Also, realize, for some events to pay for everything they need to pay for, they need sponsors.  And sometimes that means you’ve got to pay them to be on stage.