This week, a discussion erupted around speakers and conferences — -mainly who gets paid and who doesn’t. This article about closing the pay gap for speakers and Luvvie Ajayi’s experience with The Next Web conference brought up the need for fairness and transparency in booking speakers. As someone who has done my fair share of public speaking and after reading The Next Web’s response to Ms. Ajayi, I’ve got a few things to say.
Here. Hold my martini. While I explain this to you. Old white lady style.
- If you lie, express your embarrassment and apologize. “I’m very embarrassed and I’m sorry I lied to you.” That makes you human and a hero- we’ve all screwed up like this.
- Then tell the truth. “We’ve set a limited speaker’s budget. We only pay a few of our keynote speakers. We realize we’re asking you to work for free. If you think this audience may be a good one for you, we will work to make this a beneficial experience for you. And we will promote you in the following ways….” and then tell them what you can do. This allows people to evaluate fairly.
- Don’t have policies you’d be embarrassed to explain. It must have felt kind of crappy to spin the people you talk to with lies about how you do business. You rationalized not telling the truth because their feelings might be hurt. But really you just get as many speakers as possible for free because it is more profitable. You aren’t the first person to lie in business but it’s not a good long term practice.
- You were challenged by a woman so you made of point of saying she’s just not that desirable. “Not that into you”. Interesting comparison. Never compare a business matter to dating unless you are a comic or want to be sued. For example if you were to speak to an employee in your company and compare pay policies to dating, he or she would probably consider that unprofessional and depending on how far you went — actionable.
- Don’t threaten the person that you lied to and insulted with “I’ll be truthful in the future and you’ll be sorry.” Truthfulness does not include lack of consideration for other people’s viewpoint or dignity. She’s a professional and she wanted you to treat her like one. It’s not her feelings, it’s her pocketbook.
- Every professional speaker knows they have more earning power in some settings than in others. And their “egos” are not that fragile. Or they wouldn’t climb on a stage in front of strangers and talk about their life’s work. Honesty about fees doesn’t hurt the way a lie does.
- When a woman and/or person of color expresses their viewpoint that this may be about gender or color — take a timeout. Say this — “thanks for raising that point. It’s an opportunity for me to examine whether our practices have been biased. I will give this an honest examination.” Then do it.
- Be gracious. I know your mamma taught you that. People will sometimes work for free for people who are honest and gracious. And they’ll promote you and your work for a really long time.