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Dear Harry,

My name is [NAME] and I am reaching out to you on behalf of the [CONFERENCE] [LOCATION] planning team.

I would like to invite you to present a 60 minute session at [CONFERENCE] [LOCATION], which is the largest annual gathering of [TECHNOLOGY] developers, business professionals, and technology enthusiasts in the world.

[CONFERENCE] is the flagship event of the [TECHNOLOGY] community, and will be held this year in [LOCATION], from July 14-18, 2014 at [LOCATION]. We anticipate 4,000 [TECHNOLOGY]istas will join us this week to help celebrate and grow the [TECHNOLOGY] project.

This conference has hosted a variety of well-known names in the new media and technology ecosystem, complementary to the [TECHNOLOGY] platform, our community values, and strategic to advancing the project.

The Frontend track team feels that your professional expertise in the area of Sass and responsive web design would be a fantastic addition to our program.

As a token of our appreciation for agreeing to speak at our conference, we would like to extend a free ticket to attend this week long event, where you’ll gain exposure to an international audience.

If you are interested in speaking at [CONFERENCE], I would love to talk further about having you join this lineup!

Thank you for your time and we look forward to your response.

Hi [NAME],

Apologies for my delayed reply—things have been absolutely hectic lately. I hope you’re well.

My schedule is looking pretty tight around those dates, so I can’t commit to anything yet, but I do have a few questions, if I may:

  • Unfortunately I’ve never used [TECHNOLOGY], so would it be appropriate to have me on the lineup?
  • You mention the event is pretty huge—4,000 attendees—how large would you imagine each session being? Presumably not all 4,000 people would be seeing each talk (you mentioned tracks), so how large is each audience expected to be (very roughly)?
  • You didn’t mention expenses (flights, accommodation, etc.), is the remuneration the free pass to the whole event?

Many thanks,

Hi Harry,

Thanks for the response! I'll do my best to answer your questions.

In regards to not using [TECHNOLOGY] — we actually like to bring in a few speakers from outside the [TECHNOLOGY] community for each track. I'm sure there's plenty of fascinating information you could share with our community. Sass is a hot topic, and many [TECHNOLOGY] agencies working on large-scale websites would probably love to hear your thoughts on scaling CSS and Frontend performance.

And yes, while the event is quite large... individual sessions are usually pretty evenly distributed in terms of attendance. Some session rooms can hold up to 600 people. I'm just taking a guess here from attending past [CONFERENCE]s, but I would estimate the average size of a session is probably around 200.

In terms of expenses — speakers are given a free ticket to the event (about a $500 value). Unfortunately travel and hotel costs are not included.

I hope these points help you form a decision. And as a reminder, session proposals must be submitted before the end of April.

Let me know if can do anything to help,


Hi there,

Thanks for your quick reply, but I’m afraid I will have to decline. If you will allow me to be quite frank:

For me to fly out to [LOCATION], find accommodation, and give a talk will cost me well into the thousands of pounds, and the week ‘away from the office’ would be an opportunity cost of somewhere in the region of £X,000–£Y,000.

Some quick, back-of-a-napkin maths tells me that, with some 4,000 attendees—and assuming they were all to pay just the early bird price—ticket revenues are expected to be upward of $1,600,000.

Your reimbursement to me, for flying myself out to deliver deliver a talk, is a ticket with a value of $500.

From these numbers alone, I’m sure you can see why I would have to decline.

As a token of our appreciation for agreeing to speak at our conference, we would like to extend a free ticket to attend this week long event, where you’ll gain exposure to an international audience.

At the risk of sounding somewhat big headed, I imagine the only reason the front-end track knew about me is because I already have exposure to an international audience. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to say that I actually stand to gain very little from this engagement (in fact, I would be making quite substantial losses), whilst the conference would actually gain a speaker at almost no cost to themselves.

This feedback is not meant maliciously, or even aimed at anyone in particular, but I did want to say it. I’m not sure how much, if any, of the above is in your control, but I hope the feedback is useful to whoever might need it.

I hope the conference is a huge success, and that everyone involved has a great time, but I’m afraid that I cannot be a part of it.

All the best, and hoping you don’t think I’m a huge a**hole,
Harry :)

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remy commented Mar 6, 2014

Alternative reply:

I agree to speak - but have to refuse the "free" ticket. Hopefully I'll be able to get through the door on the day and slip past your security and sneak on to the stage before anyone notices.

Assuming I'm successful, you'll hear me give an excellent talk on any topic of your imagination.

Or at least that's what I've penned and never hit reply to the same kind of emails over the years.

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Haha, thanks for replying Harry and sharing this, you did what I wanted to do (I got the same email) but never got the time. Also, I would've struggled to be as polite as you, these people wind me up so much. I felt so good reading this exchange!

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This is really good. So pleased that you described your reason for declining in such detail. I've been in this situation a number of times and think it's important that those conferences which pull in significant revenue also think about the real costs for the speakers.

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kimblim commented Nov 13, 2014

As someone who has thought about organizing a conference for a long time, but never gotten around to doing it, my question to you (and Remy, Lea and Phil for that matter) is:
Besides flights and hotel, what would be a reasonable speakers fee and what would influence that fee (new talk vs old talk, for-profit vs non-profit conf etc)?

Your answer could be a determining factor whether I get around to doing a conference ;) — in which case, you are now morally and legally obliged to attend and speak at ;)

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