The Problem With Blogging Conference Speakers


The problem with blogging conference speakers is that we expect them to be experts on a particular topic and most of the time they aren’t. We sit in our chairs and hope that at least one member of the panel will be able to shed some insight and distill their words of wisdom and oftentimes it doesn’t happen.

It doesn’t happen because they aren’t experts in the field. They don’t necessarily know more than you do about blogging and how to be successful at it. Sometimes they are far less capable and talented than you are but the difference between them you is that when the call for speakers went out…they answered.

They stood up, raised their hands and said that they would fill a time slot. Bully for them and boo for you.


You can call this Digital Envy if you wish. Blog Envy is real and every time I write about it I receive a ton of feedback. In part that is because bloggers love to talk about blogging but this isn’t about that. This is about my frustration with conferences that require a substantial registration fee to go hear people who aren’t experts in the field speak about it. I can’t say that I blame the speakers for volunteering their time. If you are trying to build a name for yourself this is one way to do it. You gain good exposure and you obtain a new line for your resume.

My grandfathers would have told me that this is all narishkeit and they are probably right. Narishkeit: (nar-ish-kite) foolishness (a nar is a fool) Why should any of this matter to me and is there a real reason for me to care.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Teddy Roosevelt “Citizenship in a Republic,”Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Old Teddy, he of speak softly and carry a big stick fame is correct and I am duly chastised. It is easy for me to poke holes in the fabric of the conference, to complain, critique and comment upon the shortcomings. It is harder to answer the call for speakers with a 500 word essay on what I want to talk about and why it would be a mistake not to include me in the line up.

And the beauty of hindsight is that it allows me to say that it was a mistake not to solicit a spot for BlogworldLA. I could have done so and I didn’t and I take responsibility for that but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that there is a problem with speakers. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that some people are filling space nor does it mean that I am envious.


There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Essay on Self Reliance- Ralph Waldo Emerson

And lest you think that I take myself too seriously I would have asked the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain to open up for me. I would have told them to play the theme to Shaft and then walked up, cool as can be and begun speaking.

Or perhaps I would have opted for this one

And with a little bit of luck and some hard work I would have shared words that would have moved you. There are stories that I could have told and slides that I could have shared but it is not going to happen this time around and the only one to blame for that is me.

But that is the beauty of blogging. The chance to share our triumphs, failures and teaching moments with ourselves and our readers. We only get so many somedays so the best we can do is make tomorrow today.

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  1. bobWP September 23, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Wow, a lot of great conversation here and insights. As a speaker that hasn’t hit the so-called “big-time” yet, just a couple of thoughts on quality, etc.

    First, being paid. I’ve gotten some smaller payments as a speaker and well, that’s a tough call on how you scale them or pay evenly across the board. I think that a lot of variables fall into place, especially the size of the conference.

    And as far as quality, well, I just am glad I’m not the one to have to pick speakers. You can go by their pitch, their rep, past presentations, qualifications, etc, and still not be guaranteed. I’ve seen a lot of the big names give crappy, uninteresting presentations, and on the other hand, some unknowns have blown me away. And there a fine line between quality information and entertaining. Again, I’ve seen many of bigger speakers give so-so info, but they kicked-butt on the entertaining part. You walked out of there feeling good, maybe with a smile on your face, but damn if you had anything of use to take away.

    Conferences generally cost big bucks to attend, especially when it involves travel. As speakers, we just need to make sure we are delivering good content and keeping in mind that it’s for the attendees and not ourselves.

    • bobWP September 23, 2011 at 7:28 am

      Oh, and BTW, I love the videos. I really think they should have done the Shaft soundtrack!

    • TheJackB September 23, 2011 at 8:35 am

      @bobWP Hi Bob. Welcome to the blog. I am not a professional speaker but I have given many presentations to groups of all sizes But if I were I would certainly be interested in being compensated for my time.

      The question of how to scale that is an important one too, but that is a different sort of discussion. In a somewhat related but tangential issue the parent bloggers talk about compensation quite regularly.

      It stems from being “hired’ by brands/agencies to promote their products on our blogs. Sometimes there is a push from brand/agency side to view the “exposure” as being adequate compensation.

      I would imagine that this takes place as well in speaking. “Bob, we can’t pay you but we can tell you that speaking at our conference will expose you to thousands you couldn’t reach as easily etc.”

      Ultimately you are correct. If you don’t provide value to the attendees you hurt your own future.

  2. AmandaMagee September 22, 2011 at 11:43 am

    This was incredible. I do think the problem is as much in lack of time/money to schedule speakers as it is audiences expecting the silver bullet. As to @DannyBrown ‘s point about bringing their A-game, I think that goes back to this same equation. Let’s push each other, strive toward a more significant experience and see what forcing the model to evolve does for us all.

    • TheJackB September 22, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      @Amanda_Magee@DannyBrown Hi Amanda. Expectations are important and realistic expectations are critical. We are on the same page about pushing each other to create a better experience.

  3. JudyDunn September 22, 2011 at 8:30 am

    You have started quite a discussion here, my friend. And that Roosevelt quote is one of my all-time favorites.

    My other half, bob dunn , is speaking this year at BlogWorld LA. So I see that they are trying to diversify and get some new people in.

    I like the point @Marcus_Sheridan made about the pay differences among headliners and the unknowns. Having said that, while I understand that the A-listers sell the tickets, I think that it would show other speakers that they are valued if they got even a nominal fee (we called them honorariums in the education business). Interestingly enough, his pay is zero for LA, but he’s presenting at a writer’s conference here in the Pacific Northwest and they are paying him a nice speaker’s fee AND picking up his hotel costs.

    And @DannyBrown , I can relate to what you say about the quality of the content. I think part of the problem is that the session descriptions aren’t, well, “descriptive” enough. 80+ percent of the sessions I attended at BWE last year didn’t give me any new information. They seemed to be geared to beginners. So I think it’s crucial that, if we are paying that much to attend, we are challenged in our thinking and come away with new ideas.

    Just my opinion. Thanks again to @TheJackB for this enlightening post. And for expanding my vocabulary with “narishkeit.” : )

    • TheJackB September 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

      @JudyDunnbob dunn@Marcus_Sheridan@DannyBrown Hi Judy. It is good to see you here. Once upon a time I worked in a marketing department and did a lot of event planning. Our GM used to love to try and dazzle the people who came in with a ton of information.

      However he didn’t like details so he would come up with a list of 20 things that should be covered and then hope that someone fleshed out the details. I have wondered from time to time if the conferences suffer from this because it really does feel like they have spots where the body exists but there is no skeleton to support the structure.

      It seems to me like there is a market for conferences/courses on “advanced” blogging/social media techniques. But it would certainly have to be well thought out and would require more effort/preparation than some of these other programs.

      Anyway, feel free to use “narishkeit’ in your conversations- it is a great word.

  4. FawnKey September 22, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Love the post.

    As a frequent conference speaker (including many blogging and internet conferences), I have to take exception to the generalization that all conference speakers are terrible. Many are great. However, I HAVE seen enough bad ones to know why that generalization exists, and I appreciate you address the topic.

    However, I did 100% love the Teddy Roosevelt piece you included, and used it on my own blog post today. ( )

    Thank you!

    • TheJackB September 22, 2011 at 11:26 am

      @FawnKey I don’t think that all speakers are bad. The root of the problem is that the conference organizers often don’t have the time/resources to properly vet some of the speakers who attend.

      I know some very fine writers who are terrible speakers. If you give them pen and paper they can produce magical works but give them a microphone and you have the cure for insomnia.

      Teddy Roosevelt has a some great quotes. It is worth looking him up.

  5. FawnKey September 22, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Love the post. As a frequent conference speaker (including many blogging and internet conferences), I have to take exception to the generalization that all conference speakers are terrible. Many are great. However, I HAVE seen enough bad ones to know why that generalization exists, and I appreciate you address the topic.

    I did however 100% love the Teddy Roosevelt piece you included, and used it on my own blog post today. (

    Thank you!

  6. DannyBrown September 21, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I think it works both ways, mate. Conferences need to sift through their speakers for better quality (if necessary), and speakers need to bring something different that they haven’t spoken about before. And that includes online.

    If there’s something I can read on your blog, and then you talk about that same thing at a conference, why should I waste my money on that conference? As someone who spoke at BlogWorld in New York, and seeing the cost top out at just under $5k when all was said and done, it’s not something I’d do again (though for more reasons than just cost).

    Additionally, I think this crap where speakers aren’t paid is out-of-date. Conference organizers bring you to their event for a reason, so they should at least pay flights and accommodation. Or, scrap this idea of “Keynote Speakers”, since they often know less than some of the “lesser speakers”, and are peddling the same speech they were touting 18 months ago.

    Have a cap; pay all speakers the same; and make sure you expand the line-up from just the same old names at the same old conferences.

    And maybe then, more speakers will start bringing their “A game”. Just a thought… 😉

    • TheJackB September 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      @DannyBrown Danny, can’t say that I disagree with anything you wrote. I have a hard time understanding why some of the speakers mail it in. I wouldn’t want to stand up in front of my peers and look foolish.

      If they understood marketing better they would recognize that a “live performance” is where you can expand on the themes/discussions from your blog. You could take an entire post and with a little work turn it into a great speech.

      And the conference organizers in their efforts to try and be the best just screw themselves by finding placeholders and fillers to talk. Much more can be done and it is about time that it happens.

    • Marcus_Sheridan September 22, 2011 at 7:18 am

      @DannyBrown Strong stuff DB, as always my friend. In many way, I agree with you here. In others, not as much. I think often times conferences spend so much on the Keynotes that everything else suffers because of it. It’s a tough balance, because sometimes ‘keynotes’ bring in the numbers, but once you hear them speak, you’re left wondering, “What the heck???”.

      Regarding paying speakers the same, I don’t think that is possible. I say this because if a person has been speaking at an event for 3 or 4 years let’s say, and people attend that show specifically to go to his/her session, then that person should be paid accordingly, more than the newer speaker that maybe doesn’t make the conference any more appealing.

      Personally, I don’t have an issue with not getting paid in certain occasions, but only if there is a good chance of residual opportunities/jobs/gigs that will come from it. I’ve done 3 important free events this year, all because the folks didn’t really know who I was. From those events, I’ve now gotten 5 paid opportunities, so they’ve been worth it.

      So I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes we have to plant the seed, and put in the time and work, and hope for a harvest.

      But then again, there are conferences that take advantage of speakers…which is a shame. Others are all political and ‘spoil system’ based, not about talent.

      Either way, good thoughts all the way around.

      Jack, I do hope you’ll speak in LA next year. I’d love to hear you yap.


      • TheJackB September 22, 2011 at 11:30 am

        @Marcus_Sheridan@DannyBrown I hear what you are saying about speakers. It is almost like a chicken versus egg thing. Some very good people are fighting to be heard/seen but until they get some playing time no one really knows how good they will or will not be.

        One of these days I’ll throw my name in the hat. I am not shy by any means, but I am conscious of where I am at and who I am speaking in front of. On a personal level I don’t mind being goofy but professionally I prefer to be taken seriously.

    • FawnKey September 22, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Very good ideas! @DannyBrown

  7. CarolSchiller September 21, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    So delighted to see the word narishkeit show up in a blog post. Made my day!

  8. CarolSchiller September 21, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    I am so delighted to see that someone grew up with parents (or grandparents) who use the word narishkeit.

  9. subWOW September 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Although I am weary of self-promoters and the consummate sales people amongst us, I cannot help but admire their guts? bravery? lack of self-awareness? (Sorry, had to throw the last one in) Good luck when you decide to throw your name in the hat. Park that self-awareness back at home and go for it!

    • TheJackB September 21, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      @subWOW Some of them definitely suffer from a lack of self-awareness but there are plenty who don’t have that particular excuse. Some of the people may be weak in their knowledge base, but I give them credit for good public speaking skills.

  10. AnnImig September 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    You really do have to make your own opportunities. But I understand your frustration. I think BlogHer has done a good job of bringing more experts as the years go on. One challenge is that a lot of experts in their field know nothing about blogging, so to find people versed in both and “our community” is a challenge. As years go by their will be more and more blogging experts. I also believe that there is value in listening to and learning people’s experiences even if they don’t qualify as an “expert” and are instead more of a peer. Go for it next time, Jack!

    • TheJackB September 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      @AnnImig Hi Ann. I have a lot of respect for those who make their own opportunities and applaud them for it.

      I sometimes wonder if the conference organizers ever look outside of their little circles to find people. If you look at the list of speakers and attendees we see a lot of the same faces time and time again.

      I think that a better job can be done of plumbing the pool of potential candidates. Anyhoo, one of these days I’ll accept the offer or submit an app and we’ll see what I think about the other side.

  11. NancyD68 September 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I have a good idea. Lets make our own blogging conference! Requirements for speakers will be that they must share useful stuff or be entertaining. If they are neither, they can meet my friend Mr. Slugger. 🙂

    Bill can greet everyone at the door. He knows everyone anyway! I think if we can’t join ’em, we should beat ’em! 🙂

  12. bdorman264 September 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I got a double post here, was that planned?

    All I can say is don’t be a hater because they not only invited me but they are paying my air fare and lodging. Just because they wouldn’t even give you bus fare because you are LA, you really don’t need to take it personally.

    Both of the ukulele performances were pretty cute.

    I would go to BlogWorldLA if it was free, but I’m cheap like that. I would go to meet some of the people in real life but I’m not sure what they could tell me about blogging other than keep working at it, that I don’t already know.

    I think you should have put in your app, but then that would have blown the whole witness protection thing you have going on and you would have had to resurface in Philly or something with the name of Bob or Bud or Rocky.

    • TheJackB September 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      @bdorman264 The double post is the poor lovechild of late night posting and exhaustion. I thought that I had fixed it and clearly didn’t. That is entirely my mistake and proof that given a little time I can always find a way to get in trouble. 😉

      Those ukulele performances crack me up. Good times. We should have hooked you up as one of the speakers and then they might have helped pay your way.

      Actually my witness protection name is Upshaw Eagle Lanier but don’t tell anyone.

  13. John Garrett September 21, 2011 at 8:57 am

    SHAFT!! (just had to get that out)

    I’ve never attended one of those events so I guess I never thought about it. I just figured going would be more of a social event than anything, since most of the speakers probably wouldn’t say anything too far afield of what they’ve already written on their blogs -and if they did it would just make its way ’round the blogosphere anyway.

    But heck, if they’re filling up space with people who don’t know what they’re talking about, I’ll just go ahead and slide in there myself -look for me at the next big conference! 🙂

    • TheJackB September 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

      @John Garrett That is a fair assessment and there is much to be said for meeting people in person. That face to face interaction offers a lot and the opportunity to ask questions is invaluable.

      But like I said to Joanne, I can’t say that every speaker is useless but some are questionable.

  14. Joanne Cipressi September 21, 2011 at 7:49 am


    I recently went to an Inbound Marketing event and I can relate to where you are coming from. There was no new “information” for me there. Lots of reminders and some things that I did not agree with as well. As a blogger, a social media manager and a life coach…I have the experience to give the majority of those talks. But, what I love about these conferences is watching these speakers and the different styles they have. I learn much from their delivery and how comfortable they are on stage. They all are inspiring to me in one way or another. I also enjoy the networking that happens. I love people and building connections is fun, as well as rewarding in various ways. Hope you apply to the next BlogWorld on the East Coast. I would love to see you there! 🙂

    • TheJackB September 21, 2011 at 10:57 am

      @Joanne Cipressi Hi Joanne. I think that you make a good point about speaking styles and how we can learn from that.

      I don’t think that every speaker is bad or that there is no new information exchanged but there is always some fluff involved and that is an issue.

      Blogworld NY could be a lot of fun. I will keep everyone posted.

  15. EugeneFarber September 21, 2011 at 6:50 am

    There is no language like Yiddish to describe something so beautifully :). I wish I would have learned it from my grandparents.

  16. BruceSallan September 21, 2011 at 5:18 am

    I can’t wait to come to your Ukelele performance JB!

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