If you are running a user group or organizing a technical conference, one challenge you will face is finding good speakers.
The problem is compounded by the fact that most such organizations run on a limited budget. Many speakers are willing to freely donate their time because they enjoy presenting, they want to help out, and it increases their reputation. However, it’s not reasonable to assume these speakers will also be able to donate their own money to travel to your group.
Some areas don’t have a large pool of good speakers on which to draw. Even if you are fortunate enough to live in such an area, I still think it enhances local events to bring in some speakers from other areas.
Bringing in a speaker from another area costs money. Someone has to pay for transportation and lodging. Either the speaker will decide to donate his money as well as his time or your group will find the funding to make this travel possible. Fortunately, you have a few options.
INETA: For years, INETA has helped bring speakers to other parts of the country. Recently INETA changed their speaker programming, focusing more on helping speakers who travel within their own region. Currently, there are hundreds of speakers registered with INETA. This expanded the number of speakers, but decreased the maximum amount paid to each speaker. You can request an INETA speaker at http://ineta.org/Speakers/SearchCommunitySpeakers.aspx. I am a registered as a speaker with this program and I know many others also registered and I can tell that it does help to offset at least some travel costs.
Local Sponsors: Because user group audiences are a great target market for recruiters and hiring managers, you can often find companies willing to pay a speaker’s travel expenses in exchange for some free publicity and a few minutes in front of your group. Find out what companies are hiring or recruiting and make a few phone calls.
Evangelists: The job title “Evangelist” is a relative new one in the software world. However, many companies employ individuals as full-time Evangelists. Their job is to spread the word about the company and its technology – often by delivering technical presentations at user groups and conferences. Part of their performance review includes something called “reach”, meaning the number of people who read, see or hear their message. By inviting them to your group, you are increasing their reach. If your audience is in their target market, it probably won’t cost you anything. My experience is that most Evangelists are not focused on delivering a sales presentation; however, it’s worthwhile to verify the topic with the speaker ahead of time.
Speaker Programs: Many companies sponsor a select group of speakers who travel to user groups and conferences. While these speakers are not employees of the company, they do get some of their travel costs offset by the company in exchange for some publicity during the talk. This allows the company to reach a larger audience than they could using only their Evangelists. It also allows many speakers to travel to more events than they could afford on their own. I am a member of such a program - the Telerik Insiders - and it has been very beneficial to me and to Telerik. You can see a list of all Telerik Insiders at http://www.telerik.com/community/insiders.aspx. Several other vendors have similar programs.
These are some resources to find speakers and some ideas for finding funding for speaker travel costs. Don’t let geographic barriers prevent you from bringing the best speakers to your next event.