From colleagues, friends, and folks I follow on Twitter, I’ve been hearing a question pop up with some frequency. It usually sounds like this:

How much should I charge to give a conference talk remotely?

I could be wrong — and I’m prepared to be wrong! — but when I see this question, I’m reading an implication that a remote talk is somehow worth less than a talk that’s delivered in person. Now, I would never, ever presume to tell someone how to approach matters of payment. But if it’s at all helpful to anyone reading this, here’s how I personally think about this:

In pre-pandemic times, I’d charge a flat speaking fee, plus travel expenses to cover my flight and hotel. Obviously, travel expenses don’t apply right now. But my speaking fee hasn’t changed, as giving a remote talk doesn’t require less of my labor. I still spend the same amount of time, energy, and stress writing a new talk. And the actual delivery of the talk — the presentation itself — isn’t materially different from what it was before.1

That said, many remote conferences have started asking speakers to deliver prerecorded talks, instead of giving a live talk remotely. Those recordings are then assembled by the organizer, and played for attendees on the day of the event. In my experience, delivering a good prerecorded talk to an event organizer does require more work. My workspace needs to be rearranged to be presentable to an audience, I’ll often need to do multiple takes, and then I’ll top it all off with some (hopefully light) video editing. At the moment I’m charging the same fee for a prerecorded talk as I would a live remote talk, but I could see that changing in the future.

Now, I’ve heard tell from a few colleagues that some events have asked them for a reduced fee. I’m very, very sympathetic to how hard this year has been for conference organizers, taking their entire business model online on very short notice. And if it’s an event I’ve worked with before, and they’re facing a genuine budget shortfall amidst a worldwide pandemic, I’d personally be inclined to negotiate a bit.

But those considerations aside: the world has changed a lot this year, but the work I’m being asked to do hasn’t changed. As a result, my speaking fee has remained the same. Maybe yours should, too.

  1. In fact, I get…more stressed? Giving a live talk remotely, to an audience I can’t see or hear, has always been harder for me. Stage fright is real, but I find I really, really miss the energy of the folks I’m speaking to. (In addition to, you know, everything else I miss right now.)