Back in 2004, I received an email from a couple who were organizing a big conference in the northeastern United States for young families. They were launching a new ministry, and had a vision for replicating these conferences in communities across North America.
They were still in the infant stages of their dream, they said, but they knew it would grow. They knew it because their market research told them there would be 1000 people at their first conference. So they needed workshop leaders. Would I like to be a workshop leader? They could pay me $200, or, in lieu of payment, I could have a table in the huge resource room, where these 1000 people would be browsing for books. They couldn’t afford to pay my travel (which was extensive), or my hotel, but they were asking people to come and speak anyway, because it was those who spoke at the first conference that they would be most likely to consider speaking again as the conference grew.
I started emailing people I knew to find out what they thought of the offer. It seemed like this couple was very well connected, and had been in the planning stages for such a conference for a long time. This wasn’t a shoddy operation.
So I decided it was worth the investment. I loaded up my van with tons of books, had a friend accompany me so I could stay awake on the long drive, and we headed south for this three day conference.
That’s right, three days. That’s three nights in a hotel, with meals to buy for my friend as well.
And guess how many people showed up at that conference? 150. That’s right. 150.
And I had offered several workshop ideas to consider, many of which were very broad in nature and would have many people interested. However, they wanted something more specific, so I chose a much narrower topic.
Five people attended my workshop on the first day. We cancelled it on the second. And three people came on the third.
I think I sold 11 books.
I recently received an email from one of the readers of this blog, who is also part of my Facebook speakers’ community and a student of mine, explaining a scenario almost the same. She had been invited to speak at a conference, and it had been agreed that while she would cover her travel, her hotel would be paid for and she would receive a small honorarium.
Well, the conference was very sparsely attended. Her hotel was covered, but she is still waiting for the cheque.
When we’re starting out speaking, we’re often so eager for speaking engagements that we commit ourselves to something that we may very well feel disappointed–or worse–about later. Here are some things to consider when you get offers like this one, out of the blue.
1. Be Wary of Jumping in on the Ground Level
Don’t be a guinea pig. If someone tells you that they have heard from God that they need to start a certain ministry, and they’re planning a conference, be wary of accepting. Many people have big dreams; few have the ability to bring those dreams to true fruition. Often the first few such conferences are learning experiences. They learn how to market, what people actually want, and how to put on a conference.
They may have a great vision, but do people in their community share it? If no one has ever heard of them, and their passion isn’t shared, it will be hard to get people to come to a conference.
Need is not a good measure of passion, either. For instance, there’s a huge need for parenting courses for those with toddlers. If parents of toddlers could learn discipline techniques and basic parenting skills, our world would be much better off.
However, parents of toddlers are the hardest people to get to commit to coming to a conference, even if the need is huge. They don’t share the urgency or the passion for it, and they likely don’t have the time, money, or baby-sitters.
Similarly, there’s a huge need to speak to people who have remarried and are raising step-children. But it’s also notoriously difficult to get such people out to a conference.
If you have a passion for something, and you find someone else who shares that passion, and you’re willing to take the risk with them, that’s fine. But just because someone has a passion and they have invited you to be a part of it doesn’t mean that you have to go, or that you have to take that risk.
2. Be Wary of Smaller Churches
I love small churches, I really do. And I personally have never had any problems being paid from any churches I have spoken at.
But sometimes you’re hired by a church basically run by a few families, or by a home church. And they want you to come, and they say they’ll give you a love offering. You’re thinking it will be a few hundred dollars, and they’re thinking $15.
Or, even worse, you’re hired by someone and invited to come, but it doesn’t end up being a real church sanctioned activity. And the church doesn’t really know you’re coming.
Smaller churches often can’t draw more than a few dozen people to an event. If you’re willing to go for that, and if you have an agreement on your fee, go ahead. But if they’re promising the sky, stop.
Think. Usually when people promise the sky (“we’ll invite the whole community! We’ll take up a huge love offering! We’ll rent out the banquet room!”), they’re being unrealistic. Try to deal with someone who can give you specifics. What are you doing to attract others from the community? What is your church’s track record at events like this? Can you guarantee a minimum honararium so that at least my expenses are covered? If they can’t answer these questions, but keep talking about how God will provide, and God will bring the people, then only go if God is also telling you the same thing.
3. Always Investigate
If you get an invitation from a church, look up that church on the internet. See if they have had other events like this before. Ask if they have a committee. Be careful about just dealing with one person who doesn’t sound like they’re very affiliated.
If possible, speak to whoever spoke at the event last year and ask how it went. I had a friend email me this week because she had just been asked to speak at a weekend event I did last month. She’s been invited for 2011. So she asked what I had charged, what the group was like, what the atmosphere was that day, and whether I thought she’d be a good fit. We compared notes, she went away happy with the arrangement, and all was well.
There’s also an email scheme going on where churches in England supposedly email speakers asking them to speak at a big conference coming up. It’s usually within three months. They promise thousands of people. They give an email address and a website.
And it’s not real.
I don’t know what the purpose of all of this is, except perhaps to get your passport number and identification. But what I did when that email came to me was to Google the church and follow the Google link to the website (which was different from the one in the email). Then I emailed the pastor.
Never get on a plane or give up any kind of personal information unless you have verification that this is legitimate.
4. Ask for a Deposit
Finally, if it just looks like this may be a fly-by-night operation, and it doesn’t seem well organized, ask for a deposit of about 50% payment before you actually go. I don’t ask for deposits usually because I haven’t had a problem. Even that conference above was not a failure to pay–it was a failure to attract all the people they promised, and thus my sales were negligible. But they didn’t owe me money.
However, I do know some speakers who have been “stiffed” by conferences and churches when the event has had very low attendance and they can’t seem to pay their bills.
If it seems as if this isn’t being run by business principles, and you’re leery of participating, pray about it and ask for a deposit. If they’re not wiling to give one, and talk about how “God will provide”, back out unless you feel God telling you to step forward. It is not fair for someone to ask you to take a financial risk for their passion. If it is their passion, they should be willing to help.
I know it’s exciting when you get asked to speak, but don’t be lured into something that will cost you money when it’s not part of your ministry. There’s nothing wrong with sacrifice, but if I’m going to support a ministry, I want it to be one of my choosing (and I have several that I’m passionate about). I don’t necessarily want it to be the ministry of some stranger who isn’t really running it well.
Just be careful, ladies. I want your ministry to grow, but I want it to grow in the right way, and I want to encourage churches and conference leaders to treat speakers fairly and with respect. If we all start demanding that, maybe things like this wouldn’t happen anymore.