You’ve probably received an invitation to an online telesummit - fabulous speakers and it’s free, all you have give is your email address. It seems like a great deal, but scratch the surface and you’ll often find some disturbing things. These events have become more popular as coaches have created programs teaching people how to use these telesummits to grow their lists and profits. I get invited to participate in lots of these events, and I’ve participated in a few. They’re not all bad, but I wanted to give you an insider’s view of some of the issues under the surface.
Speakers are invited based on list size, not content.
You get an email saying that they really want you to speak. If you accept the invitation, they ask to “hop on a call” to talk about the details. On that call, you learn that if your “list” (the number of people on your newsletter/social media community) isn’t a certain size then not only don’t they really want you as a speaker, they don’t want you at all. I experienced this firsthand when the person I was on the phone with, having been effusive about how much she loved my work and how she “couldn’t believe I was going to be part of her summit,” then asked about my list size.
She misheard me (she thought I said hundred instead of thousand) and she immediately, and incredibly awkwardly, back-pedaled saying that she loved my work, but I just wasn’t right for the event... maybe there were other ways we could work together. Once we got it straightened out (it turns out my list was 10 times the size of the minimum requirement), I was once again “perfect.” She excused the whole thing by saying, “You know how it is…” No, not really. What I do know is how totally shitty I would have felt if I had been uninvited.
The model can exclude speakers from marginalized populations.
Creating a large “list” isn’t easy. It takes time and dedicated work (that’s why these summits are trying to find a shortcut). And it’s far more difficult for people who are part of groups that are marginalized, and/or speak about things that are difficult or unpopular. This model of choosing speakers based on list size serves to further marginalize the marginalized.
Speakers are not compensated, but are often obligated.
Speakers aren’t paid for their work or expertise. They are typically required to give away a free gift in addition to the free labor and expertise they’ve already provided. Finally, they must agree to market, based on the summit dictates – something like two “solo e-mails” to their lists and four posts on social media. Speakers are led to believe that this event will help to grow their own lists, make sales, and/or book future gigs. Based on my experience and that of others I’ve spoken to, this rarely happens. To the contrary, the model devalues the work of speakers and gives people the impression that they should expect speakers to work for free.
The real goal.
Often those putting together the telesummits don’t care about these issues, because the actual goal of these events is for the coordinator to build their list (by leveraging their speakers’ lists). Then they market aggressively to the people who gave their email address to hear the speakers at their summit. I started to receive emails from people in my community who signed up to hear me speak (based on those “solo” emails that I obligatorily sent), and then got a ton of aggressive sales pitches. In some cases, the marketing went completely against my platform. Of course I researched the people whose summits I spoke at, but in those cases they didn’t have any weight loss language in any of their online stuff, but then marketed weight loss and body shame to those who signed up for the summit.
A better way.
Not all summits are run like this. Also, those who run them this way may have the absolute best of intentions, and may simply not have thought through these issues. And of course, people may disagree with me that these are problems at all.
But I think that there is a better way. I coordinate and co-coordinate a number of events and this is what I’ve found works:
Invite speakers for their expertise.
The Fat Activism Conference (www.fatactivismconference.com) is often praised for our speakers. We focus on having diverse voices at every level - from the organizing team to the speakers. We don’t ask about list size, we just ask that speakers don’t accept unless they are excited about being part of the conference and telling their community about it. That works in combination with…
Pay people for their work.
I used to do events where the speakers weren’t paid, but I decided that I wanted to host events that were successful and paid people for their work. Everyone who works on the Fat Activism Conference gets paid – the organizers, the speakers, the artist who wrote the hold music - everyone. We also have an affiliate program so that people get compensated for helping get the word out about the conference. When Jeanette DePatie and I created the Body Love Obstacle Course, we brought on guest speakers and we paid each of them.
One option that can work really well is to pay using profit sharing. It can help people to be more excited about promoting, and it protects the event organizer(s) from doing a massive amount of work and then losing money.
I prefer to run events where the transaction is very transparent – a registration fee in exchange for helpful/valuable information. This helps registrants acknowledge that there is value in the event. It also allows me as an organizer to put money back in the community. It’s possible to do this without making money a barrier to access. For almost everything I do – speaking engagements, conferences, online courses, dance classes, and even books and DVDs – I offer a sliding scale/pay-what-you-can-afford option. Yes, there are people who take advantage of that – who can and would pay full price if the pay-what-you-can-afford option wasn’t offered - but I would rather have a few people take advantage than have the event be inaccessible to those who truly need that option.
At the end of the day, I think that this is the most honest situation. It’s not “give me your email and who knows what marketing you’ll get.” The registrant knows exactly what they are giving and getting. Simple, transparent.
What do you do with this information?
It’s up to you, of course. When I get invited to events like this, I ask them if they invited the speakers based on their list size (fun way to phrase this if they are inviting me to speak: “Thanks for inviting me and for your kind words about my work. Out of curiosity, on this phone call you are proposing, is there a chance that I could be uninvited based on my list size?”) I ask if the speakers are getting compensated for their work and expertise, I ask if the members of my community (to whom I am being required to advertise) can expect to receive a lot of sales pitches from the organizers when it’s over. I ask if they plan to sell my work after the summit ends, without compensating me. And if the answers are yes, then I politely decline and focus on creating and participating in events that entertain and educate participants, focus on representing a diversity of viewpoints, and compensate speakers and organizers so that the communities I’m part of are growing and sustainable.