I Wanted to Speak at a Homeschool Conference… But, it’s Pay to Play

For those who don’t know, I was homeschooled for grades K-12. I think that homeschooling is a wonderful thing and, with some infrequency, when I speak at conferences and events, I encounter people who don’t really understand it, which is cool. Like everything, homeschooling isn’t for everyone and public and private schools can be great, as well.

I help explain it to them and, in those cases, I am an unintentional ambassador of homeschooling. That comes from my mom, who always taught me and my brothers that because we were different from a majority, in regard to education, some people would already have a negative view of us and would be looking for a reason to think poorly of us. We’d have to be on our best behavior to make a good impression, if it was even possible.

Recently, I decided that it would be great if I could speak at some homeschool conferences. I looked at some of them, the largest ones, and I saw a lot about homeschooling itself, about curriculum and about family management. All of which are great and important. What’s missing? I don’t really see any young professionals, like myself, who have been homeschooled and are now out on the other end. I feel like that would be interesting to talk about or, of course, I’m happy to talk about online community, social media, social networking and how it can be beneficial in the home or whatever. The normal stuff I speak about.

So, I picked a few events and emailed them, introducing myself. I just received the first response. Guess what? The only people who speak at this particular conference are the ones who book exhibition space, which is $400 per 10×10 space. In other words, this is a “pay to play” conference. I will never participate in one of these, unless it is clearly disclosed as being all sponsored. I am a professional speaker who gets paid to deliver value. I’m not looking to advertise anything. I’m not looking for clients or for business leads.

I sent a short, though pointed email to the organizer, declining my interest and suggesting that they disclose that the only people speak at their event are the people who pay them. Their website goes on and on about how Christian they are (which I appreciate), but I can’t find a single mention of the fact that the only people you’ll see speaking at the event, are those who have paid for the privilege of doing so.

I’m not surprised, as I’ve seen it before. But, I am disappointed.

Edit: After having some conversations about this post, I feel like I need to add a few extra things. First, I am not trying to do anything altruistic. I don’t view speaking at a homeschool conference as charity. As mentioned, I am a professional speaker that gets paid to deliver value. Homeschooling is a business (in some ways), just like every other form of education is a business (in some ways). Companies (and conferences) make money off homeschooling and from homeschoolers and that is a good thing. A healthy economy around homeschooling is a good thing for homeschoolers.

I’m not saying the conference shouldn’t make money. It should. As much as it reasonably can. You can have sponsors (which this conference does), charge for passes (again, this one does), have an exhibit hall with exhibitors who pay to be there (yes again) and more. I’m not saying they need to pay speakers at all. I’m not even saying they need to pay travel expenses for speakers. If they had said, “we’d love to have you, but can pay no expenses,” that’s cool. I hear that a lot, no worries. I understand.

But, making speakers pay for exhibition space at your event just to speak… it’s unseemly to me, especially when it’s not disclosed. Would you attend a conference where the only people who speak at people who paid to speak to you? I wouldn’t. For the most part, the people who are truly qualified and the people who can be the most helpful will never pay to speak, because it makes no sense. People who pay to speak are generally looking to advertise or to add a notch to their resume. It’s bad for speakers, it’s bad for attendees and, in the end, it’s bad for the conference. That’s all.

Patrick O'Keefe

Managing online communities since 2000, I publish a collective of websites known as the iFroggy Network. I wrote the book Managing Online Forums and, as a public speaker, have presented for organizations like CNN, institutions like Australian National University and conferences like SXSW. More about me.

4 Comments

Bnpositive

about 8 years ago

Thanks for sharing this article. I knew you had been homeschooled (we talked before) and I agree with you, I think something that would be very interesting is to hear professional adults speak about their experiences, both during their time as students, as well as they're time in the "real world" as well. Keep me updated and let me know if you ever have an opportunity to speak somewhere on this topic.

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Bnpositive

about 8 years ago

Oh, and you should disclose what conference it was so we'll know and the sponsors aren't willing to make that information known.

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Alison

about 8 years ago

Disappointing! I had a funny phone call the other day. A conference organiser was trying to sell me a speaking spot as a marketing opportunity (for $10K!!). He was trying the hard sell - "aren't you worried that as a new business people don't know about you?" So I asked him how he found me. "By chance - I was just looking around online". "It's called Google Adwords," I replied. "And it's considerably less than 10K!" Conferences should be about though leadership not deep pockets. Yes they're not mutually exclusive but I agree it should be disclosed.

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Brandon Eley

about 8 years ago

I don't even know where to start. I firmly believe that by requiring speakers to purchase a $400 booth, plus pay all travel and expenses, this conference (and any others participating in this type of "pay for play" model) handicap themselves immensely. They weed out any GOOD speakers. Good speakers get paid, even if it's just travel and expenses covered. The only people who will speak at this conference are people who think they can SELL more product or services to the audience than their costs to speak there. Their entire presentations are probably filled with self promotion instead of good, quality content. Who wants to pay to go to a conference and only hear several days worth of sales pitches? I've been to a half-day conference like this and actually asked for my money back. I was infuriated that I spent a good amount of money and time taking one of my employees to a half day conference only to be "sold" on consulting services and books for hours. Ridiculous. I hope you find another homeschooling conference that respects both its attendees and speakers.

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