I do not charge extra for wearing pants.
That’s what I’m tempted to say when someone suggests I should charge less for a Zoom presentation than I do for a live speaking engagement. But because my mother taught me to be polite, I resist temptation and don’t mention the pants.
Ah but this is Garden RANT, where controversial opinions are not only appreciated, but required! It seems the perfect place to announce that I’m considering changing my fee schedule to charge more for Zoom presentations than I do for live gigs. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Zoom presentations are already less expensive than live presentations because there are no travel expenses.
A quality organization knows this, and will not nickel and dime a quality speaker. Por ejemplo: I’m travelling to Alaska in 2023 to keynote a Master Gardener conference. In addition to my speaking fee, I’ll be reimbursed for airfare, airport parking, hotel, etc. If things change on the Covid front and the conference is required to go virtual, all of those travel expenses disappear. Poof! My speaking fee remains the same, and the Alaska MGs are wise enough to know that my work will be of the same high quality whether I present live or virtually.
Zoom presentations are more difficult for the speaker than live presentations.
Essentially, what I’m doing up there is a one-woman show. Maybe there are no props or costumes (or maybe there are!), but make no mistake, a quality speaker is as focused and energetic as any Broadway performer. How do I know this? Because I was a Broadway performer! When a speaker engages with a live audience, the exchange of energy is exciting for everyone. They’re connected to me, I’m connected to them, and together we’re having a synergistic good time, just like at the theater.
There is no difference in content between a live presentation and a Zoom presentation.
If my content is worth X dollars live, why would it be worth less when delivered virtually? My slides are the same, my words are the same, and I am the same. And while attendees may not be able to see what I’m wearing, I assure you, I have pants on. Viewers at home may choose to wear pants or not…I won’t judge.
Zoom Rooms aren’t free.
Professional speakers use professional equipment, and professional equipment costs money. Next time you’re in a Zoom Room, look around and notice everything the speaker has done to create a good-looking, good-sounding setup. This requires reliable, high-speed internet, a paid Zoom account, special lighting, a quality microphone, and often a realistic backdrop on a frame, so attendees won’t be distracted by piles of unfiled papers or books waiting to be reshelved.
I understand there are times when traveling for attendees isn’t appealing. Winter weather makes both air and road travel risky, and evening meetings can be difficult for people who don’t like to drive at night. But neither of these things affect the quality or value of the presentation itself, so why should they affect the presenter’s fee?
I’m already making less money when I present virtually because I can’t sign and sell books.
Even if my fee remains the same on Zoom, how do I sell books to a virtual audience? Enthusiasm is contagious and the best time for an author to sell books is when the audience is all revved up immediately after a fantastic presentation. Sure, they could order on Amazon after the fact, but the book won’t be signed or personalized, and we won’t get to meet and talk.
Intangibles are worth something!
I love my work, and one of the things I love most about it is the chance to meet people face-to-face who share my interests, or who want to learn something I’m passionate about. Being able to engage with an audience before, during, and after a live presentation is an intangible bonus that I value highly, and that I lose when I’m speaking via Zoom – which makes my job a little harder.
And you know what? A live presentation is better for the audience, too. If I’m speaking in person, I can see if attendees are tuned in or zoned out. Do they get my jokes? If they’re not laughing, I’ll adjust my sense of humor. Do they understand a principle I just explained? If they look puzzled, I’ll go back and explain that principle another way. In a Zoom webinar, I can’t see my audience, and by the time I finish and we’re in the Q&A, people may have forgotten their questions. In a Zoom meeting, the faces of attendees are so small I can’t read their expressions.
The pandemic changed a lot of things, and Zoom allowed us to go about our business (for the most part) without risking our health or the health of our families. But I miss people! I’m ready to mingle, chat, converse, schmooze, shoot the breeze…and I want to do that face to face. So sue me. I’m a people person.
Yes, I know not all speakers share my P.O.V. And the above may make me sound cranky, perhaps even petulant, but this is Garden RANT, after all. I care deeply about the quality of my work, and if you hire me to speak at your event, I want you to have the best possible presentation for all your attendees. The only way for that to happen is if I give you 100% of my heart and soul, and I am happy, nay eager, to do that. But in return I have to know that you truly value my work. Pants or no pants.
Thanks for putting so much effort into your Zoom presentations. I am definitely willing to pay the same speaker fee. I really love the option to attend virtual garden talks, simply for the convenience. This past winter, I attended a wonderful, inspiring virtual talk by Thomas Rainer put on by Green Spring Gardens. About a month later, I attended a really dull talk by a garden historian put on by the Garden Conservancy. I figure she probably would have been boring in person, too. I agree with you that an engaging presenter with creative, informative content is worth the same amount virtually as in-person, but there is a ceiling on what I will pay for a one-hour presentation regardless. I’m not exactly sure what it is, though 🙂
I agree, Mary Gray, a boring speaker is boring in person and online!
Ellen, thank you for this post! You have masterfully covered exactly what I think and feel each time I am asked if my virtual deliveries are priced lower.
Glad to know I’m not alone, Lorraine!
A great rant, Ellen. I have given many talks in person and online and have attended many in both formats. People often think that a zoom presentation should be cheaper but I agree with you wholeheartedly. It’s more work for the presenter for all the reasons you mention. Plus it is not nearly as satisfying to the a speaker or the audience. I’d never thought of charging more but now I may! Thanks for the idea.
Many thanks Patterson, i appreciate the feedback.
Ellen you covered this topic so well. I am right there with you and so thankful to be returning to the joy and energy of giving In-Person talks (even as I have been grateful to hear speakers I might not have heard without Zoom). I’m all for a 70/30 mix.
One point on Mary’s excellent comment above – It’s easy to think of a speaker’s fee as an hourly fee, because most speakers do speak for an hour, even if they are with the symposium/conference etc.. all day. But that hour represents the culmination of many hours work, experience and perspective, and knowing your subject well – well enough that you are incredibly comfortable with your audience and can let that energy flow. Most good speakers try their best to regionally customize their talks, and use their own photos, or ask to borrow photos from specific colleagues to best illustrate their points – no mean feat. There’s a lot that goes into that hour, it’s just tough to help others understand what that is. – MW
Good point, Marianne. The audience may only be there for an hour, but the speaker has spent much more time than that working on the presentation!
You sure made the case!
To piggyback on Ellen and Marianne’s comments about the hour being only the tip of the speaker’s time investment in a talk — it also doesn’t include the fact that most professional garden speakers pay their own insurance, business expenses, etc.— we also do our own marketing and booking. Personality, I find the process of reaching out to folks who might book me, confirming the details, finalizing the negotiations, testing the zoom settings in advance (many groups insist on a trial session), etc. to be where most of my time is spent – not in creating or giving the talks.
Excellent points, Kathy!
Ellen, I have to say, I was skeptical when first seeing the premise of your rant, but you won me over! Sure, there is a value to seeing a presentation in person, but there is a significant amount of compensatory value when it comes to Zoom presentations as well – especially if you put as much effort into a quality video talk as it seems like you do. All things considered, I see no reason why your fee should change between these two modes of delivery. Well argued!
Thank you very much, Evan!
This just in: A national organization with chapters in every state was interested in booking me for a Zoom presentation . When I asked for details, they mentioned that they’d keep a copy of the recording in their library, for members to view at a later date. Please believe me when I say I wanted to reply, “Oh hell no!”
Instead, I answered politely. “Thanks for the explanation. I don’t allow recording of my presentations for future watching. Many speakers don’t, without an additional fee. Once a recording is out there, it’s very easy to copy and share. Every Mac computer has that software built in, and there are also third party applications that allow you to record whatever you’re watching on your screen with the click of a button. It takes away from a speaker’s ability to book future engagements when videos of our work circulate for free. We consider our presentations to be performances, and just like you wouldn’t bring a video camera to a Broadway show or to a movie theater, we ask that you don’t record our performances either. Of course, not all speakers feel this way, but once you get into the more experienced group of people who actually make their living this way, recording almost always requires an extra “use/royalty” fee, if it’s allowed at all. I appreciate your letting me know this is part of what you were looking for.”
Your rant, Ellen, is applicable to many areas, not just public speaking. I just shared your rant with my daughter, who teaches piano, and switched to zoom teaching during the pandemic. At first she was excited about the possibilities for remote teaching, being able to teach not only local students, but students anywhere in the world, but soon she realized just how difficult and exhausting it is. Like you, she had to purchase special equipment for the purpose. I don’t know if she charged the same or not for her zoom lessons – probably not, but I bet some of her students or student’s parents expected her to do so. (She’s now back to in-person lessons, and very happy about it.)
As for the organization expecting to keep a recording for future viewing, I’m not surprised. (I’m always shaking my head at for-profit companies asking for photographs from people, and the payment is the honor of being chosen! But I digress.) For artwork, when you sell a piece of art, you are not selling the rights for reproduction and sales of it afterwards. There’s even some cases of limited reproduction rights being sold, but only for specific and limited uses. It gets really complicated. That organization had no right to expect you to give them the future rights of your work, which essentially is what they wanted.
You’re right, Sally, it IS applicable to more than just public speaking. Like your daughter, I’m thrilled to be getting back to in-person events. As for recordings…I don’t think most people booking speakers even stop to consider what they’re asking. So I tried to be polite and pleasant, and educate them. Or maybe I’m cutting them too much slack and they know exactly what they’re doing!