How would you feel if you paid over $1500 to attend a conference but you were never informed that some of the "speakers" actually paid to be speaking in sessions that were nothing more than a heavily veiled sales pitch?
Just recently I recommended someone as a speaker for a well-known organization that holds many different types of conferences. It was a perfect fit. Their content was in the specific niche that this conference was covering and, according to the online schedule, there were still several session slots that had not been finalized. I wrote a fairly compelling email with supporting links and even media coverage on behalf of this speaker. It felt like a slam dunk.
Then, this arrived via email...
"Thanks so much for your email and your interest in [conference name]. Although it may look like there are slots available on the schedule grid, the main program is now full. That being said, I do have a few sponsored speaking opportunities available... I could offer you a very good deal. Please let me know if this would be of interest and we can discuss further."
Do you think the people who paid over $1500 to attend this conference are informed that some of the sessions are paid sponsorships? It's not mentioned anywhere in the online schedule and there is no visible indicator that would even signify this differentiation. I don't know about you, but I would like to know which - if any - sessions I am attending are a sales pitch versus authentic content that was put on the slate because it was earned.
Businesses are getting pretty desperate.
As bad as things might be because of the economy, these types of antics are going to happen more and more. People are looking for angles. The are looking for ways to pull more profits. The problem is that it's not a sustainable model. Someone else would probably "drop a dime" and call this conference organizer out. There's no doubt that this sort of thing would severely affect their business. But, in a world where a company would be happy to pay to get up on stage and deliver a glorified sales pitch to a full room, and the conference organizers can walk away with not only the full registration fee from the attendees but also some extra shekels from this "speaking" revenue stream - with no one being any wiser - it was bound to happen. It's sad to think that conference organizers might need some kind of "code of conduct". It's even sadder to think about how much they are taking advantage of their attendees/customers.
What can you do?
As a professional speaker, I do over sixty speaking events a year, and this is the first I have heard of this. Going forward, you can bet I will be asking both conferences that I am speaking at or attending if any of the sessions are paid sponsorships (i.e. sales pitches) and whether or not the conference organizers notify their attendees of this practice.
I think it sucks big time. What do you think?