My Current Policy on Speaker Travel Costs

Tiny Raccon perches on a pillow on a business class airline seat. Below sits a passport, in a case that says "without this I'm nothing"
Tiny Raccoon would like to always travel in style. One day.

About a year ago I wrote about how I get myself uninvited from unflattering speaking invitations (TL;DR I use them as negotiation practise). And last August I wrote about the different options that speakers have when it comes to travel costs – including not going.

I was pretty public about not speaking if there was no real code of conduct, and I shared my costs for becoming a “public speaker” in 2014, but the thing I didn’t directly address last year was how I approached the money aspect.

My general rule last year was no travel, no Cate. I made a couple of exceptions and accepted accommodation-only where it worked for me (basically I wanted to go somewhere anyway, and if I gave a talk, I could make a case to write the flights off against tax), and covered my own very minimal costs to get to a local event that I loved the year before.

I said no to some things, but mostly just didn’t apply to things – I also find it useful that Technically Speaking highlights what travel costs are covered. And a big part of the reason why we do that is because we think it’s an inclusivity issue. This post covers it really well.

Anyway I learned some things last year about speaking and travel and what I was and wasn’t OK with. For example taking 4 flights because the conference had a limited budget. Turns out I’m not willing to spend one of my limited 24 hour days taking extra planes just because. We eventually found a compromise, but I learned something important about conferences that agree to cover international flights – check how much they think an international flight costs, especially if you are not flying from a major hub. Because you might expect max 1 change on the airline you have status with and they might think 3 changes $random_airline is acceptable.

This year I’m limiting myself to 6 talks, and getting more invitations, which means more opportunities for negotiation practise. But also, I can ask work to pay for travel, which also changes things.

However I’m not changing my policy, really. Because even if I don’t necessarily need my travel covered, I don’t want to speak at or attend events where only speakers who can have their companies cover travel can speak.

So in 2016:

  • For more community events, especially where I know the organisers, I’m willing to ask work to cover my travel in exchange for being listed as a sponsor if there is also provision for other speakers to have their travel covered. In one instance me doing this meant that the organiser could invite another woman speaker. Amazing.
  • For corporate events (I have a definition of this in my head, but it  lacks diplomacy and seems unwise to share it), I want travel / accomodation covered. Star Alliance, minimum connections.

I’m not a diva. Well OK, I’m not that much of a diva. But my time is valuable, and to me this is an extension of the Code of Conduct thing – I only want to speak at or be associated with events that make an effort for inclusivity, and I believe that travel costs are an inclusivity issue.

Two years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing and frankly as an unknown couldn’t afford to be that hardline about it. I’ve worked (and paid my own way to speak) to get to this place of privilege where I can say “this is what I want” and where I don’t feel like I’m missing out if I can’t get an agreement. I hope being public about it encourages other people (who also have this privilege) to as well.

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