Faceoff: Should Speakers be Paid for Virtual Events with Nathan Wrigley

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Back in October, I wrote a blog post called, “We Need to Talk About Speakers and Virtual Events.” I outlined how I believe speakers should be treated when it comes to virtual events; See I feel like too many virtual event organizers treat speakers as their marketing arm too. Shortly after, my friend Nathan Wrigley reached out. See, he is a virtual event organizer. In fact, I’ve spoken at his events! We wanted to have a debate of sorts, so we recorded it. It was a truly fantastic conversation. I certainly learned a lot, and I think you will too!

Top Takeaways:

  • Be communicative with your speakers and manage expectations. 
  • Doing the affiliate program well can net a lot of money for you without a TON of effort.
  • It all depends on where you are in your speaker journey, and what your ultimate goal for speaking it. One peice of advice: choose events wisely. 

Show Notes:


Joe Casabona: Real quick before we get started, I want to tell you about the Built Something Weekly newsletter. It is weekly, it is free, and you will get tips, tricks, and tools delivered directly to your mailbox. I will recap the current week’s episode and all of the takeaways, I’ll give you a top story content I wrote, and then some recommendations that I’ve been using that I think you should check out. So it is free, it is weekly. It’s over at howibuilt.it/subscribe. Go ahead and sign up over at howibuilt.it/subscribe.

Back in October, I wrote a blog post called We Need to Talk About Speakers and Virtual Events. I outlined how I believe speakers should be treated when it comes to virtual events. See, I feel like too many virtual event organizers treat speakers as their marketing arm too. And shortly after, my friend Nathan Wrigley reached out. He is a virtual event organizer. And in fact, I’ve spoken at his events.

So we wanted to have a debate of sorts. And we recorded it. We’re releasing it on both of our podcast feeds. And it was a truly fantastic conversation. I certainly learned a lot and I think you will too.

Hey, everybody, and welcome to Episode 246 of How I Built It, the podcast that offers actionable Tech Tips for creators and small business owners. It is the last episode of the season, save for my annual recap, which is generally a bonus episode. And it’s brought to you by Nexcess and TextExpander, two sponsors who have been with me for a very long time. And as we wrap up and bring 2021 to a close, I want to sincerely thank them.

Now, you’ll be able to find more information about them as well as all of the show notes, including the blog post that set off this episode over at howibuilt.it/246. Now, usually these episodes are ad-free and extended for members. And members will only get the ad-free version of this this time around because I wanted the full episode to be released. I wanted the same episode in both feeds since Nathan is releasing his as well.

But what members will get is an extra 10 or so minutes as a separate episode with my thoughts on the overall conversation. So Nathan and I had a pretty extensive conversation. I’ll kind of give you my post mortem on it.

And if you want to hear that as well as ad-free extended versions of every episode of this podcast, you can sign up again over at howibuilt.it/246. Become a member of the Creator Crew for just 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month.

All right enough of these reindeer games. Let’s get into this fantastic conversation. This debate that Nathan and I have about the way you speakers are treated at virtual events.

Hey everybody, Joe Casabona here I am here with Nathan Wrigley, and what I would like to call a very special episode of How I Built It because it’s a combined episode of How I Built it and Nathan’s podcast WP Builds. See, a few weeks ago, I wrote an article called We Need to Talk About Speakers and Virtual Events.

I didn’t think about the timing of this very much, but I wrote about how I feel speakers are treated at virtual events basically, as I was speaking at Nathan’s virtual event, the Page Builder Summit. So Nathan and I spoke and we wanted to have a conversation around speaking at virtual events from both the speaker’s perspective and the organizer’s perspective. So I’ll bring in Nathan now.

Nathan Wrigley: Hello. This is so strange because this is the first collaborative podcast I’ve ever done.

Joe Casabona: Likewise. This is new ground for us. Maybe we’re breaking new ground here at the end of 2021. Good podcasts definitely timestamp themselves.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. But it’s interesting. So this podcast is going out on two channels. It’s going out on your podcast and it’s also going out on my podcast. And it will basically be the exact same content. So if you have listened to it on Joe’s, don’t come to mine and expect it to be different. Because it won’t be. It’ll be exactly the same.

Joe Casabona: And likewise, you know, a little bit of how the sausage gets made before we go into this is I’m uncertain about whether I’m going to make this a bonus episode on the feed with no sponsors added in post-production or if I’m going to make it a normal episode. I’m unsure about that.

Nathan Wrigley: I don’t have that luxury because I don’t really have bonuses or anything like that. My podcast is just the same every Thursday it comes out. There’s no variation in that. It’s just a different type of podcast, you know, an interview and then I have chats with David Waumsley each and every fortnight, two weeks. So that’s just going to come out how it comes out.

Joe Casabona: Very nice. Well, cool. So that’s something I will absolutely think about. But the beauty is that we’re recording this without any of the bumpers or anything like that. And we’ll both do our pre-production magic. But let’s dive into the article.

So again, to set the stage here, I wrote an article. It’ll be in the show notes I guess over at howibuilt.it and WPbuilds.com.com. It’s called We Need to Talk About Speakers and Virtual Events. I talk about some of the things that I think have become very commonplace in virtual events that I don’t think… I don’t think there’s a lot of malice. I just think that it feels like it’s easy to maybe take advantage of speakers.

The impetus for this article was I saw somebody talk about how you can run your own virtual events. And this person was talking about basically how speakers are happy to put together the talks for free and happy to promote to their audience.

And I asked a few questions to push back on this, but I also respected the person running the webinar, and I didn’t want to make a scene or cause any bad blood. So I asked a couple of push back questions, but I was kind of unhappy with the answers because it very much felt like, well, yeah, I put together the event, I get all the money, and then the speakers will put together the content and promote to their audience and not really get much else from it.

Now, Nathan, maybe before we take this pseudo point by point, you have organized virtual events. I maybe want to organize a virtual event in the coming year or so. And so this is another reason I wrote this as like my speaker manifesto to hold me accountable when I start booking speakers.

But I’m certain because I know and respect you that you don’t try to take advantage of your speakers. And a lot of the things I mentioned here you weren’t even doing. So maybe we can start with, as you read this article, and as you’ve gotten feedback from speakers, what’s your general take?

Nathan Wrigley: First thing I would say is that the amount of work that goes in was far in excess of what I actually imagined at the start. On the Page Builder Summit, we have a really lo-fi approach in that it’s not live; there are live comments. That is to say, you can go and watch the presentations one hour, basically, and the speaker will be in the comments. But before that, it basically it’s just recorded video.

So there’s all of those things to take into account. There’s the sponsors, there’s all of the upsells, there’s the things to bundle together. And it is no exaggeration to say that it’s probably five, six times more than I imagined. I really did at the outset I think.

And I should, at this point mention that my co-hosts for the summit, Anchen Le Roux, does a very, very large proportion of the work. I by no means… if it were a seesaw, her side would be touching the ground and I’d be dangling in the air. She’s doing all of the heavy lifting.

But I really did think it would be more or less a walk in the park. You know, I’ve built websites before and I understand how these technologies work but there’s a lot more to it than that. But also there are so many little tripwires everywhere where you feel that okay, how should I behave here? What’s the correct thing? What is the balance that I want to strike in terms of giving good value to the users, giving good value to the speakers, giving good value to the sponsors? And also at the same time in the back of your mind the whole time… and you don’t really want to say this but you’ve got to say it, there has to be some recompense for the amount of work that you put in. So at the end of the day, it has to be profitable.

Now, the thing that we’ve got does mirror what you said, the person that you mentioned, I don’t know who they are. But the idea being that we offer slots. So far we haven’t offered a call for speakers. We actually go out and we contact the people who we believe have probably the most to offer. So we contact them one at a time based on, you know, whatever it is that they’ve been doing in the recent period, and we make the offer, which is: we would like to have you in the summit, are you willing to do that?

And then we try really, really hard to message that really clearly. So we send emails, and we have a landing page where all of the speakers can go and read what it is that we’re asking from them. And it diverges the things that we would like them to do and the dates that we would like them to do it. But also it tells them about the things that they can expect from us.

So we do have the model that if you would like to be on our summit, with regret, we don’t actually pay you for that. But again, we would like you to feel that you get something out of it. I think that was the sort of the fulcrum of where your piece… It was the catalyst for this conversation that we’re having now. Because you actually sent it to me before you published it, because you suspected, “Oh, I think Nathan might imagine that I’m actually talking about him.” And I don’t think you were.

Joe Casabona: No, no, I definitely wasn’t. I think that we can both agree that I’ve given candid direct feedback, right?

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Yeah.

Joe Casabona: Because I know that you always ask your speakers for feedback. So I think any feedback I would have for you or for any virtual event organizer who asks me for feedback should not be a surprise.

It’s like if your manager calls you into your office and is going to fire you, it shouldn’t be the first time that you’re hearing about all of this negative stuff. I feel the same way. If I’m going to publish something where I’m not calling people out specifically, but offering feedback, the people that I have in mind should also hear this feedback.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, first. Yeah. Yeah. But it centers around whether the speakers should be paid. Here’s a couple of bits of context. The way that we run it is that we offer an upsell. So it has various different tripwires in terms of time. You know, you can get it for this price if you decide to buy it very quickly. And then it goes up to a different price if you decide do you want to buy it later on.

And we sell that. And we offer our speakers an opportunity to divest themselves of an affiliate system. So in other words, if they refer people to just like any product, you know, you’d find in the WordPress space where there’s an affiliate system, if people buy… we call it the power pack. If people buy the power pack, and it comes through your link, and that link is good enough for the entirety of the whole time that we’re promoting the summit. So basically, if you refer them to us, you’ll get the lead.

We have had… I don’t want to say about names or figure exactly, but we do have quite a lot of the speakers who do quite well, shall we say. I don’t know what reasonable or quite well is but we just handled actually the other day the affiliate payouts for those. And some of them they were fairly handsome. You know, you think that’s actually not too bad.

Now, whether or not it would compensate you for the… Okay, let’s say that you put in five hours work, would it compensate you for that? I don’t know. Would it compensate you for 10 hours work? Would it compensate you for two hours work? Are you the kind of person who has any interest in promoting it, you know, really hard? Or are you more “I’ll be on the summit, I’ll enjoy it and I’m just doing it for the for the kicks”? There’s things to be discussed there.

Some people, financially, they do quite well out of it and other people less so. And I don’t know if that’s because they’re just not into that kind of thing. Or they just don’t make use of those affiliate links. But we do try to encourage them to use those.

So whilst it’s not the paid as in we will give you $200 to be on the summit and to be in the live chat for that hour, there is an opportunity. And we do have people who definitely do considerably better than the figure that I just have suggested.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah. And I think that makes sense. That’s a reasonable point. Full disclosure, I have promoted with my affiliate links to the Page Builder Summit and I have not made any money from the affiliate program, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise to you. Because, you know, he didn’t pay me anything with the payout.

But the point I make in the article about this is from my perspective, that’s essentially another job. Right? Because now the speaker is becoming a commission’s only salesperson. From my suspicion, from my audience, because, again, it sounds like you’ve had some speakers who have done well with the affiliate program, I’m going to guess that most of my audience probably found the Page Builder Summit another way.

Nathan Wrigley: Interesting.

Joe Casabona: Either I mentioned it somewhere else… because I was getting clicks. I was checking to make sure things were working. So even if my talk was the thing that got them to, say, buy the power pack, they probably signed up a different way.

Nathan Wrigley: Because if you think about it, maybe it’s not your main thing. But one of the big things that you have is audio. And I would imagine that in your audio it’s unlikely that you’re going to read out for everybody your affiliate URL. You’re probably just going to mention the event either just by its name and expect them to google it. Or you’re just going to say that the sort of root domain, you know, pagebuildersummit.com in this case. Just because that makes more sense.

Maybe there’s something in that. Like if you’ve got a newsletter with thousands of people reading it, and you put the affiliate link in there, maybe that converts much better. And I know this because I do the audio podcast thing. There is no click in a podcast. There is nothing like that. And so that is a really good point.

Joe Casabona: And I’ll certainly put the link in the show notes, and I have included it in my newsletter. And those are things that I teach my students to do with affiliate links and such. I guess I would suspect that the people who do really well with this are also very good at marketing and creating the content.

And for me, that’s a whole… I’m good at creating content, no doubt. But I have a content schedule. I guess I view the making money through affiliate sales as a whole other job no matter what it is, right? Because I’ve had people approach me and say, we can’t sponsor your podcast, but we think you can make more money on the affiliate program.

And when people say that, to me, that’s always a red flag, because it says to me, “You’re asking us for 500 bucks to sponsor your podcast, we think you can make 1,000 bucks with the affiliate program.” Why wouldn’t you just pay me 500 bucks, then?” Because I’d have to do extra and it’s zero risk for the sponsor. They don’t have to put up any money and they can pay me based on guaranteed sales.

Nathan Wrigley: I get it. I wonder what the sort of anecdotal figure would be from you, you know, in a dollar amount for… let’s say that we go for like 30 to 45 minutes, something like that, that’s when we would ask people to commit to. And then we’re also asking them to commit to an hour of their time to be in the live chat.

So it’s all of the thoughts, the execution, and the time to edit that down and what have you and then send it over to us and put together the bundles that have… all of the speakers have an opportunity to put something into this power pack thing. And there’s a bundle there. So there’s some work in there.

But also there’s this hour. This hour of time, which may not be a convenient bit of time because of where we put you in the schedule. So there’s all of that. So it definitely isn’t an hour. It’s more like dozens of hours possibly. I wonder what the figure is. Is it like a specific day amount? Do you pay… I don’t know… for want of a better word, do you pay people who have a heritage of doing this?

So let’s say for example that we got… what is that guy called who seems to get…? Gary Vaynerchuk, right? That guy. If he was on the summit, would we pay him the same as somebody who was doing their first ever speaking gig, and so on. I guess there’s more to it than meets the eye.

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Joe Casabona: Some speakers command a certain amount of money for their time.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Yeah.

Joe Casabona: Now, okay, I do throw out a figure for about how long delivering a good talk, it usually takes me eight to 10 hours. Right?

Nathan Wrigley: Right.

Joe Casabona: If we extrapolate my hourly rate at 10 hours, that’s 1,500 bucks. I would never expect anybody at a virtual or live summit to pay me 1,500 bucks just for speaking. I think what I’m really driving, I say here the main goal is to make sure speakers know how they’re appreciated in a tangible way.

Now, I will say that the personalized video that you sent me after the summit I felt very appreciated. So it’s not that I feel underappreciated in general. But I’ve spoken at virtual events where they paid me essentially 200 bucks for my time to be there. And each speaker has to look at it differently. But that’s reasonable to me, right? Because I’m putting together a talk based on something I know really well, I’m probably rehearsing it, but then I also get to sell at the end. So, you know, I think that it really depends. What I would love to see as a WordCamps come back is at least covering travel costs for speakers.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, okay. Yeah. Sorry.

Joe Casabona: People at the WordPress foundation will say, Well, you know, WordCamps are really supposed to be for the local community anyway. So if you’re traveling, it’s your own choice. And maybe that’s true for like WordCamp Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But like for WordCamp US, it’s not really the case.

So, I think that it’s really the dollar amount… if a speaker says I charge X amount of dollars to speak, then that’s up to the organizer to say, “Well, how badly do we want this person?” When I’m organizing, potentially my virtual event, I will come up with a number that I think is fair for most speakers, and I’ll put that in the budget. And for me, it’s going to be like I’ll probably try to aim for like six to eight speakers one track on this very focused topic.

So I think when it comes to payment, that’s kind of more what I have in mind. I’ve gotten paid 100, I’ve gotten paid 200. But very obviously, I’ve done a bunch of events where I haven’t gotten paid anything. So it’s not like I take this hard line like I’m not doing it. I do the cost-benefit analysis and I say, “Well, I’m getting myself in front of some amount of primed audience that might join my membership or whatever.”

Nathan Wrigley: So yeah, it’s really interesting. So in a sense, it’s not like you’re saying, “Here’s my hourly rate, I’m doing these many hours. I’m putting a line in the sand here, unless you pay me this, you’re not coming on.” It’s more of a sort of gesture of goodwill really. It’s more of a way of sort of saying, “Look, we’re affirming that we appreciate you and that we realize this probably won’t cover the cost. But here we go anyway.”

So I’m sort of likening it a little bit in my head to if you show up to somebody’s house and they’ve cooked you a meal, and it’s delicious and expensive, and they’ve obviously put time and effort into it, if you don’t at least show up with a bottle of wine, you sort of miss stepped. Is that getting it about right there?

Joe Casabona: Yes. Yeah. I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, you obviously didn’t do this. But certain virtual event organizers will brag about how much money they’ve made from virtual summits. And then they also talk about how they don’t pay their speakers, because their speakers are happy to help. Right?

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: I think that that person or people fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between the virtual event organizer and the speaker. And I know that it feels slightly hypocritical to me sometimes, because people are coming on my podcast for free. And I’m getting sponsor money from the content, and they can figure out how much money I’ve made, because my sponsor numbers are public. But the difference, I think, is that I’m not requiring my guests to do any prep.

Nathan Wrigley: That’s a big difference.

Joe Casabona: We’re having a conversation, you’re getting in front of a new audience. I’m going to ask you to share with your audience. But I’m not going to even expect it. I’m just going to kind of hope, if you want to.

And similarly, for something I’m thinking about doing for my memberships in 2022 is something that… this idea I got from Andrew Warner in his Mixergy membership. But these things called master class is where they’re like hour-long private podcast episodes for members where you learn something tangible in an hour or less.

Nathan Wrigley: Nice.

Joe Casabona: That’s going to take some prep. And so I have 500 bucks set aside and I would pay each person 100 bucks for the hour of their time or whatever. There would be a partially public episode where they can talk about their services and things like that. And then the part that I pay for would go only to my members. And so I don’t know if this is going to work. I’m mostly thinking out loud.

But that’s something because… well, now I put this out there. I feel like I need to put my money where my mouth it. But if I’m offering something that requires a little bit more prep and it’s something that will add a ton of value to my membership, even if it’s, you know, maybe these experts that charge $200 an hour, and so this is half of their hourly rate, but I’m giving them something for hopefully a thing that’s high value for my audience, but lower effort for them because it’s something that they know so well. That’s my thinking. Totally untested.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it is curious. Because we do we do offer feedback forms for the speakers. Again, I’m not going to connect any names to any comments but we did actually… All I can say is not everybody… and we’ve really focused in on the payment thing and we will we should get on to some of the other stuff.

Not everybody would on the speaker side seemingly share your opinion because quite a few of the comments that come through along the lines of “I loved it. I really enjoyed it.” There’s a whole bunch of new people that I’ve met and I’ve got some people on my email list and people that have ended up becoming customers of mine and so on.

So we do know it has that impact. But also I guess maybe there’s a position of where you’re at at the time. So for example, you know, you’ve been doing this for a really long time, you are a really an expert in public speaking and putting out audible content and video content and all of that. But not everybody is in that same boat. Which is to say that they might have a bit more flexibility in terms of what they’re expecting out of it.

And what I simply mean is that they’re just really pleased that somebody has come out and said to them, “Actually, we’ve noticed that you’re doing things, let’s say on YouTube, or we’ve read some of your blog articles, would you mind coming on this summit? And here’s all the things that we discussed earlier.” And in many cases, they’re just delighted.

And so I’m sort of imagining a scenario where you, Joe, are let’s say approached by, I don’t know, some major television network and they say to you, “Look, Joe, you we’re going to create an hour-long program for you. You’re going to get probably 2 million viewers. But Joe, we’re not paying you.” What would you imagine your reaction might be?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s a really good question and a really good way to put it. I mean, based on previous experience, I would say yes, right? Because again, most of my speaking of events have been unpaid. And I do the cost-benefit analysis.

Even with the Page Builder Summit, I think the first time I spoke because I had my Beaver Builder course. The second time I didn’t because I didn’t feel like my goals at the time were aligned with the audience, I was getting in front of will say it that way. And then this most recent time, you know, I had the master a full site editing course and spoke about full site editing.

Which another thing that we can talk about, right, is selling to a largely free audience. Because I think that there’s other things too that I cover there. I would say yes, in most situations, especially if it’s something that I know I can speak about really well.

Because that’s the other thing I’ve been invited to events where it’s like, “I want you to talk about this.” And I’m like, “I don’t think I could talk about that” or “it would take a lot of time for me to put a talk together about whatever the subject is.”

Nathan Wrigley: I guess there literally are two sides to this coin in the sense that, you know, if somebody would just love to… they’re just desperate to find a new audience, and then they’re into the stuff that we’re putting content out about, then it might work for them. And obviously, you know, we’ve had a lot of discussion around what the price point might be. And in some cases that works for them if they’re happy with the setup that we’ve got. And in other cases, like you said, you may be willing to go on to a major TV network and so on.

But the opposite will of course be true. If I tried to attract… I literally can’t think of anybody famous right now but name somebody famous, I don’t know, some film star and I asked them to come on my podcast. Well, I know the reaction is going to be just “No.” Not only because you’re off…

Let’s say that I could grab somebody super famous and I had a podcast about, I don’t know, talent or booking super famous people or something. I’d still find it difficult because there’s a real mismatch for where I am at in terms of my content journey and the audience numbers and the prestige that I’ve got and that guest. And I guess it’s trying to marry those two things up, and we’re just trying to figure that out.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll give a perfect example, actually. Peter Hollens is a popular YouTuber. He has over 2 million subscribers on YouTube. He makes his living off of YouTube and his videos are highly produced. These are not like things that I’m filming with my 4k camera, which is already really good, right? Like my camera looks better than most people’s camera.

He’s got like multiple shots. And if you look at his behind-the-scenes stuff, it’s like a final cut with like hundreds of tracks or logic with hundreds of tracks. And he makes his living off of YouTube. I reached out and I said, “Hey, do you want to come on my podcast?” And basically what his assistant said was “normally we wouldn’t but Peters launching a new Creators Academy.” And so it was beneficial for him to come on the show.

Nathan Wrigley: Interesting.

Joe Casabona: And Andrew Warner talks about this too in his book, “Stop Asking Questions.” You know, you want to look for these moments where it might be beneficial. John Warrillow was just on my podcast. He’s like a best-selling author. He’s just trying to get out to a wider audience. He didn’t directly promote anything, but you know, he did set up a page specifically for my show, where people can to opt into a learning more about subscription-based business. So I think it does depend.

And so if I think, you know, this is an opportunity for me to get people on my list or this is an opportunity for me to add members… and I will fully recognize that maybe I’m doing it wrong. Because, again, most of the times I speak, it’s at free events, like WordCamps—and I have another point on this in a second—but most people aren’t converting. They’re coming for the free content. They don’t want to pay for the paid content.

I know that you’ve got people getting the power pack for a bunch of reasons or another. I’ve seen really good feedback about the power pack too. But in general, the people I’m getting in front of have not been willing to even, you know, buy the master full site editing course, which I thought would have been an easy convert.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, yeah. I guess it’s a question of expectations, isn’t it? And maybe it’s a question of messaging about those things prior. We do actually try. I don’t know how we compare, because in all honesty, Joe, I’ve never been involved in running any other events. So I can’t really have a direct comparison, “Oh, over here, we did it this way, and over here we did it this way.”

But on the messaging side of things, I feel like we do quite well, you know, in terms of here’s what needs to be delivered, here’s how it can be done, all the follow-up emails, the information about where you need to be and when we would like things and so on and so forth. I think we do okay with that.

Again, the reason I think that is because feedback from speakers who sort of say, “Actually, it was really well organized. I was on another summit just the other week and it was like two different worlds.” I don’t know, there’s definitely work to be done.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. And it’s tough, right? Certainly, with yours, I knew where I needed to be and when I needed to be there. What I do think is in the… and I can’t say it’s specifically the WordPress space, but WordCamps have never been paid. And like proudly, right?

So like even if you look at other events in the WordPress space, like there have been copy on websites where it’s like, obviously, you don’t get paid to speak at WordPress events. And those organizers were given feedback that it’s not obvious and you really should pay your speakers. So like they changed the wording.

But I do think it’s a mindset, especially in the WordPress space that, well, you just don’t get paid to speak at events. But that’s kind of the mindset I’m trying to change with this piece. Because I do think that if a speaker is delivering high value to a for-profit event. And I don’t know how many of the speaking events end up being for profit, but I just think that the people involved should be paid.

If we look at like An Event Apart, they pay their speakers and coach their speakers. Like their speakers are compensated very well because it’s a high value, also high dollar event. So I think that’s maybe another aspect of it. Maybe if I speak at more events where the attendees have to pay, maybe I’m more likely to get paid as well.

Nathan Wrigley: I guess maybe we’ll wrap up the sort of payment side of things. But I guess we message clearly that it is free, and it’s okay you can just decline at that point. But you know what you’re getting yourself in for. But that was really curious. You just said about the… what did you say it was called? An Event Apart?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Nathan Wrigley: I confess I don’t know about that one. They actually coach the speakers too. How does that work? Do they send you a video about what the video ought to be like or how you ought too…? I don’t know. Is it like the dress code or the type of set audience they’re going to be in front of them?

Joe Casabona: I’m not 100% on the details. These are just things I gleaned from attending those events. But yeah, from what I understand they encourage you to rehearse and review the slides and design the slides that everybody delivers. They coach you to start with a story right because that’s the best way to start off a talk and things like that. So like yeah, They give you pointers and feedback on your talk. And I will say I spoke at a TEDx event in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Nathan Wrigley: Nice.

Joe Casabona: And it was the same. Now, this was free. This was not paid because TED famously doesn’t pay their speakers either. It’s the prestige of speaking at TED event. Or TEDx, which they also are very keen on distinguishing. I can’t say I spoke at a TED event, I spoke at a TEDx event.

Nathan Wrigley: Oh, okay.

Joe Casabona: But yeah, I had to actually rehearse the talk twice in front of the organizers.

Nathan Wrigley: Wow.

Joe Casabona: They gave feedback and coaching because they want you to memorize the talk, too, and it’s usually not slides. An Event Apart is like 1,500 bucks to attend in person. Again, that’s a high-dollar event. They’re curating their speakers. There’s I think five or six over the course of two days. I’m sorry. There’s five or six each day for two days.

So different from like a free virtual event that has multiple tracks and is a five-day event, right? I guess I’m just thinking about speakers in the virtual space or speakers in the WordPress space have been conditioned to think about speaking a certain way. But they don’t need to be.

I asked a YouTuber to come on my podcast, and she was like, “I charge 200 bucks.” And I said, “When I’m ready to invest that in guests I will reach back out.” And I’m circling back to that. I might be ready to do that now. But that was totally unexpected. But in the YouTube space, you’re going to pay me. If I’m a big YouTuber, you’re going to pay me to make an appearance either on your channel or on your podcast.

Nathan Wrigley: It is really curious all of that. There’s so many different things. I’m just going to kind of like bullet point some of the things that you mentioned in your article because some of them are really not what we’ve strayed into, which there’s still quite a lot to talk about.

So you mentioned how you can coach people to be able to deliver a good talk. I guess if you’re in the TEDx, or the TED thing, or I’m guessing An Event Apart as well, you are literally doing it live, you’re on stage, they can’t possibly afford for you to be a train wreck. Because you’ve got to exercise the demons of nerves before you stand up there for the very first time and realize “Ah, I actually am no good at public speaking.” You need to have proven to yourself that you’re capable of that.

I was slightly different, everything’s video. So you get a million tries if you really want a million tries. It’s curious, actually. Several presentations we got submitted and then pulled quite close to the deadlines, and in some cases after the deadlines because the speaker decided they wanted to change a portion of it. And there’s no way of doing that apart from just pulling the video and redoing it or at least re-editing it in some cases. So that does happen sometimes.

But we don’t get into the mire of “here’s how we want you to deliver it.” We simply say, “Look, it’s a WordPress thing, this will be what the audience makeup.” It’s like, “They would probably appreciate if you’re talking about a page builder, you know, if you’re doing something technical, show them the screen, allow them to have time to dwell on it.”

The nice thing about video, of course, is that you can just pause it, you can rewind it if you didn’t catch something the first time. And so you can sort of deliver that technical expertise whereas in a TED talk it’s narrative mainly, isn’t it? You’re just running through some facts and hoping that some of them will stick. But with this, you can literally go back, “How did he do that? How did she do that? How was that done? I’m just going to go and… Okay, all right, okay, rewind, pause, rewind, pause,” and so on.

That is the sort of level of the coaching that we do. We don’t go into the whole let’s coach you how to create the video. We just have almost the expectation that you will, if you’ve signed up for the event, figure out how to use Camtasia or whatever app that you’re going to do that with.

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And now let’s get back to it.

Joe Casabona: To your point, I think, again, you’re very forthcoming about the expectations in the beginning. I knew before I signed up what I was signing up for. But also I’ve been to events where the talk was a train wreck. Not virtual events. Well, I mean, virtual events too. But I’m talking about in-person events.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Yeah.

Joe Casabona: I think one of the best things I’ve ever seen a WordCamp do was it was WordCamp DC 2017. They asked some of the more experienced speakers, myself included, if they wanted to coach newer speakers. So I was paired with a speaker and I worked with her to go over her talk and start with a story and then she rehearse it for me. And I was happy to volunteer my time there because I like helping people do that and I was asked. And they did a great job delivering the talk. It two women who worked at this government organization.

And so I would love, love, love to see I think more of that as far as helping speakers deliver a good talk. But, you know, I think most speakers probably don’t know, for example, start with a story, right?

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: Most people say like, “Hi, my name is Joe. I’m a blah blah at blah blah, and today I’m going to talk to you about the exact title of my talk.” And like, okay, those are things that we either already know or don’t care.

Nathan Wrigley: You did awesome well. You told us about Orson Welles.

Joe Casabona: I did. I did. And you know what? I put a lot of time into thinking about the story.

Nathan Wrigley: I could tell. Yeah, I could tell. That was good.

Joe Casabona: I want to find one that’s analogous to the overall point I’m trying to make.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that was a nice hook.

Joe Casabona: And one that’s gripping. Thank you. I haven’t told that one before. Usually, I can pull from like Disney or Star Wars. But I don’t know how the Orson Welles story jumped out.

Nathan Wrigley: No, it was good. It directly related to what came next. I mean, it wasn’t tenuous at all. Anyway, the point there is I totally remembered it. Of course, I did have to go and watch that again for the purposes of this for this.

Joe Casabona: Thank you. And similarly, the first time I ever saw Chris Lema speak, and he’s the one who like made it really clear to me that I should start with a story. So like I had the benefit of a good speaker teaching me. The first time I ever saw him speak was at PressNomics 2. And he opened with a story about Reggie Jackson, which I’m a huge Yankees fan. Reggie Jackson basically powered the Yankees through their 77 and 78 World Series wins, Mr. October.

And he’s talking about how in the Yankees brought in this star, and he was amazing, and he brought the Yankees World Series. But then he goes to LA and he doesn’t do the same thing for them. And it’s more or less when you’re building a team you got to build a team that works well together. You can’t just bring in a superstar and expect them to fix the team. And then he talks about how to put together a good team for your agency. So like, the story hooks you, and then you’re listening to him the rest of the time.

Nathan Wrigley: He got you right, the first couple of words.

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. I was like, “This guy is talking about Reggie Jackson.”

Nathan Wrigley: That’s it. The guy next to you was like no, “Reggie Jackson again?”

Joe Casabona: “I hate the Yankees.”

Nathan Wrigley: Yes, exactly. I always heard about Reggie Jackson. But that’s really interesting. Here’s another, right, totally just changing the direction of this completely. Imagine that you’re doing this for the first time. And you mentioned that you’re going to be doing this for the first time in a minute.

One thing that is interesting about the WordPress space is that there’s a very limited pool of kind of sponsors and things. And sponsorship, as you will find out I’m sure is a really big component. We’re lucky in the WordPress space A, we know who the sponsors are who are available. There’s a handful. There’s not a handful, there’s more than a handful.

But you could list off. I’m sure if I gave you a pen and paper and said, “Write down 20 sponsors who you’re going to approach for your next event,” I bet you could do it without a moment’s thought. And also, I bet that you will get favorable results from them because we’ve got this lovely little insular community. And it’s easy.

But if you’re doing something for the first time, and you’re putting on an event like this, some sort of Summit, you don’t really have that set of companies that you can call on because it’s something much more generic. Let’s say that you’re doing something, “Oh, I honestly don’t know, let’s say about dogs or something like that-

Joe Casabona: I can give you… I’m thinking about doing a podcasters summit. Specifically, a summit to help podcasters make money. And I don’t have nearly the connections I have in the podcasting space that I do in the WordPress.

Nathan Wrigley: So this immediately throws into question like whether or not it’s worth it. In other words, do you put on this event… As a loss leader, do you at the outset, say, “Okay, I’m going to sink 50 hours, 100 hours of my time into it, plus, I’m going to be willing to spend X amount of money because I’m not expecting too many people to buy any upsell that I’ve got, or I’m not really expecting to gain much in terms of sponsorship?”

Because I think this is a real thing. You and I were both very lucky… you are going to obviously have to expand your parameters a little bit in terms of the podcasting thing. You’re going to have to find new sponsors. And that’ll be a fascinating journey. But if you were to do that inside the WordPress space, you would probably find it easier. But I do think that people who are doing this for the first time…

And it’s almost like summits have become suddenly a thing. So there’s loads of probably a lot of emails and messaging flying to people who might be sponsors, and they’ve got to sift out the ones that they’re interested in. So really, what I’m trying to say there is it might be a struggle for somebody who’s never done this before to make it worthwhile. And you might have to just figure out, “Okay, I’m going to lose money on this first one, and just hope that it works out on the next one” or “figure out I’m not going to make any money. I’m not going to do it.”

Joe Casabona: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly. I think you see the same thing in the podcast based to a much smaller scale because the costs aren’t as great. But people start a podcast, and they’re like, How is this thing going to make money, right? And so you’re absolutely right. If you’re going to plan a virtual summit, this is why I haven’t just gone off and done one. Because technically I absolutely know how to do it.

But it’s about the positioning. Who am I going to get? What’s the benefit for me? What’s the benefit for people speaking? And again, part of the reason I wrote this is to hold myself accountable, but also a lot more people are holding virtual summits.

And if you’re listening to some of the people who are teaching about virtual summits, they’re going to basically talk about how the speakers can be unpaid labor for you where they bring the content, they bring the audience, and they sell for you. And I don’t think that is a fair assessment. Again, I don’t think this is something that you do. But I don’t think that’s a fair way to treat the speaker.

I think the speaker’s one and only job, whether you’re going to pay the speaker or not, the only expectation that should be put upon the speaker is to deliver a good talk. Because let’s say I am organizing the event, if I’m not paying my speakers, then my promise should be to bring the audience. You’re giving me the content, I’m going to put you in front of eyeballs that you can then sell to those eyeballs or wallets. Sell to your eyeball is a super weird thing to say. So, you know, I don’t think that the speaker is also the marketing team or the sales team.

Nathan Wrigley: I think it would be really fascinating to… let’s say a year from now and you’ve managed to do your first event, it’d be really interesting to re-do this podcast, again, in light of the things that you’ve learned. And it may be that you’ve hit a bunch of different tripwires that you totally didn’t anticipate and the feedback, you know, in areas where you saw, “I’ve nailed that,” people come back and say, “Joe, what were you thinking?” And in other areas where you think, “Oh, I’m a bit nervous about this,” people have come and said, “That was stellar. I really enjoyed that.” It’ll be absolutely fascinating to see if anything’s changed on the tail end of doing this event.

Because what I can guarantee is you’ll get a lot right, because I know you and I think that you’re incredibly… you know, you don’t just wing it, right? You plan and you prepare and you execute. But you’re going to mess something up. This is guaranteed. And it’d be interesting to see what those things are.

Joe Casabona: I think that’s a great idea. Because first of all, I think anybody who knows me knows I’m absolutely willing to admit when I’m wrong. This could also be a, you know, how people who don’t have kids talk about what kind of people parents should be?

Nathan Wrigley: Yes.

Joe Casabona: And then you have kids and you’re like, “Well, I obviously didn’t know what I was talking.” So it could be one of those situations, right? Where I’m like I’m talking about the things that I think virtual event organizers should do and then I’m like, “Oh, well, now I’m like $10,000 in the hole because I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Nathan Wrigley: I can just more or less guarantee that you won’t probably find yourself in that position. But I’m sure there’ll be little things where some unexpected email comes in and somebody’s really ticked off about some aspect of the way it’s run. Because we get a couple of those. And they’re really curious to read. Because for the one that comes through this negative, we might have three or four that are entirely the opposite. And you can’t please everybody all the time. It’s just the way it goes.

So we tried our best, we continue to refine our process, you’ll figure out your own process. And it’d be interesting to see if at the end of it you think, “Mmm, should I have done that differently?”

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah. And certainly I will. And I think I know, a bunch of virtual event organizers. I know you, Brian Richard is a close personal friend of mine. So I’ll be talking to him probably as well. But I think you’re absolutely right.

So this article, again, I want to say is definitely more from a speaker’s perspective. And as far as the idea of the ideal customer avatar as if you’re talking to a specific person, I was definitely talking to one to three specific persons about the way I’ve heard them talk about their speakers. Again, I don’t think that you think of your speakers as free labor. Obviously, you run a huge event, right? It feels like twenty-four by 5. It feels that way.

Nathan Wrigley: I think we had 40 speakers on this time. We have plus about five different panels, and then we had co-working session. Put it this way. When you get to the end of the week, you are ready for that beer.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely.

Nathan Wrigley: So I think my approach would be different. It would be a single day, it’ll probably be six to eight speakers. I already have my goals. I have my KPIs in mind for what would make this a win for me. But I think that every virtual event organizer obviously needs to do that.

And when it comes to speaking, speakers do need to think about what makes it a win for them as well. Right? So notice in the article, we talked mostly about paying speakers, but I leave that until last because I know that not every event organizer will be able to pay their speakers. But hopefully, the thesis that comes through is if you’re asking the speaker to speak, enable them to give the best talk possible.

I started off with a story about if you’ve ever been asked for a favor, right? “Oh, can you help me move? Oh, well, on your way over, can you pick up coffee? Oh, well, now can you drive me to the realtor so I can get the key?” Or whatever.

I don’t even ask people to pick me up from the airport anymore. I’m like, “I’m an adult.” So I think that if you’re a speaker make sure that you’re aligned. Because I think my problem has just been like, “Yeah, I’ll speak here and hopefully I’ll get people to my mailing list, or hopefully I’ll get people signing up for, you know, buying my course.” But that generally doesn’t work out. And that’s on me.

But I think that ultimately we should make sure the speaker delivers a good talk, because that’s going to be best for the speaker, that’s going to be best for the event organizer because you’re curating really good content that people will come back to you later.

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I love stuff like this. This is just so interesting. You know, because you write this article by, as you’ve described it pure coincidence, it matches the timing of when our summit came out. And then we ended up having an email exchange about it. And we’re like, “We should do a podcast about this because this is fascinating. You’ve got this opinion on this side, and I might have a different opinion.”

I think this has been really interesting. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve definitely got some key pointers to take away because you’ve expanded on what’s in the article. We’ll just have to see how things go in the future. I can’t honestly make any promises because I don’t know how it will all pan out.

Joe Casabona: I mean, even if we do rough numbers, let’s say that you had 40 speakers, and then panels, like, let’s just say you had 50 people that you had to pay at 200 bucks, you know, you’re looking at… Let’s see, that’s like 10 grand, right?

Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh.

Joe Casabona: Again, I think a token of appreciation is the important thing here and not expecting too much of your speakers. Again, I never felt pressure to join or use the affiliate program. I never felt pressure from you to share it on social media. Because this is the other thing, right? I’ve gotten pitches from people who are like, “And you have to share this on your social media. You have to do a dedicated newsletter.” And I’m like…

Nathan Wrigley: Oh, and that’s in the actual requirement?

Joe Casabona: Oh, yeah.

Nathan Wrigley: Really?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Nathan Wrigley: Okay, wow.

Joe Casabona: Oh, gosh, maybe we should have started with this. I just like buried the lead. There are event organizers out there who will say, “If you’re going to speak at this event, you’re also going to have to do three newsletters where you promote the event. One of them is going to be dedicated to your talk at the event.” And I’m basically like, “I’m not doing any of that.”

Nathan Wrigley: Do they checkup?

Joe Casabona: I have no idea. Erin Flynn would be a good person to ask because she has definitely seen this more.

Nathan Wrigley: That is fascinating. Okay. All right. I got a really window now into. We should have started… Let’s press stop and we’ll start again. No, let’s not. That’s really interesting, though. Okay. Okay. I’m getting a window more of an insight into the person on the other side who might behave differently. Okay.

Joe Casabona: Right. I don’t usually do cold opens. But maybe I’ll just cut this part and put it at the beginning. so it sets the tone at least for the people listening.

Nathan Wrigley: Well, honestly, absolutely fascinating. We’ve been talking for 57 minutes and it feels like four.

Joe Casabona: I know. We covered so much ground and it doesn’t feel like we’ve been talking this long. I think we should probably wrap this up. At least American-style debate format, maybe we can each get one minute to make our final points. Does that work for you?

Nathan Wrigley: If you like. I’ll go for that. I can’t promise it will be any good, but I’ll do my best.

Joe Casabona: All right. Do you want to go first?

Nathan Wrigley: No.

Joe Casabona: All right, I will make my final point then. Obviously, organizing any event virtual or in-person is really hard. A lot of work goes to it. And there absolutely needs to be a cost-benefit and a time benefit for the organizers.

I don’t think that an organizer should put themselves in the hole trying to do things like pay the speaker. But if you’re going to ask somebody to speak especially for free then you should also be respectful of the time that they are donating to you to put on a good event.

And so if you’re asking somebody to speak at your event, then you should enable your speaker to do that one job as best as possible because it is going to be the best for your event and it’s going to be the most beneficial to the speaker as well.

Nathan Wrigley: Okay, nice. I would just say, yeah, if you are thinking about being a speaker at these events and you feel pressured in the same way that Joe just described, you know, that there’s all sorts of things that they want you to do, then that to me doesn’t sit very right. And I hope that we don’t try to do that.

We have a model where we invite people, we ask them and we make it very clear I hope that the model is that please provide a video and be available for one hour. We offer you ways of making that worth your while financially. But it may just be that the requirement for you is not financial. It may be that you would simply like to contribute to the summit, or it may be that you feel that it would be nice to get in front of a new audience or be a part of something different for a change and be discovered and make some content and push yourself in that direction.

So if that’s the case, there’s kind of where we sit. We haven’t as yet done the paying for the speakers but we do try to make it profitable in a variety of different ways. And we try to be thoughtful and kind and not try to take advantage. And if any of the speakers who are listening feel that I’ve missed step there, please let me know. But hopefully, the Page Builder Summit will carry on.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, Nathan, this has been, gosh, I should probably do more podcast episodes like this because this was a lot of fun. I really appreciate your point of view.

Nathan Wrigley: I was just thinking that. Absolutely the same. That’s brilliant. A nice kind of adversarial but quite polite debate. That was lovely. I enjoyed that a lot. Thank you.

Joe Casabona: Yes, reasonable discourse. I don’t think we see enough of that in the world these days.

Nathan Wrigley: Far too much coming down the pipes these days. I enjoyed that tremendously. Thank you.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, Nathan for my feed, if people want to learn more about you, where can they find you? We are at Wpbuilds.com. I do have a Twitter handle is @WPBuilds. But I have no idea how to use Twitter. So probably just go to the dotcom.

And right back at you, where do we find you, Joe?

Joe Casabona: You can find this show and all the show notes over at howibuilt.it. And if you want to give me your reasonable discourse, polite opinions, I’m on Twitter and most social networks at JCasabona.

Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much indeed.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, thank you everybody listening. Nathan, I forget if you have a sign-off, but I’ll do my sign-off now and then you can do yours. So thanks to everybody listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.

Nathan Wrigley: Oh, that is nice. Oh, that’s really good. No, mine is just okay. Thanks for listening. Bye-bye for now.

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