An email that came out last week is causing a bit of buzz and consternation within the workers' comp “speaking community”. It was sent by Stuart Ruff, Vice President Events and Education for RIMS, the international “Risk Management Society” that produces the largest annual risk-centric conference in the country.  The email, published yesterday by friend and fellow blogger David Depaolo, informs potential speakers that henceforth, they will be required to buy a full conference pass in order to be able to speak at RIMS, albeit at a savings of $795 over what the unsuspecting plebes in the audience will pay. Some of us have concerns that this shift in policy will ultimately hurt the quality of content at that conference.

Not to mention it is an extraordinarily cheap maneuver.

I speak at a fair number of events around the country every year. Policies vary widely when it comes to speaker management at these events. Some conferences will pay speakers for their time and expertise. Some reimburse travel costs while others comp a hotel room. Others, like RIMS in previous years, do neither. From a speaker's perspective, the size and scope of the conference as well as the benefit of appearing at the event will determine their interest given the relative perks. However, very few conferences actually require a speaker to pay for admittance when they are being asked to contribute to the event with their time and knowledge. It is almost without exception a common practice to comp speaker registrations.

And that is the way it should be. When people are required to pay for performance, the ability to prevent the “mid-presentation sales pitch” will be almost impossible to stop. After all, there is a big difference in attending a session put on by a dynamic and knowledgeable speaker, and one where they were just willing to shell out $500 to get in front of the audience.

RIMS is not the only organization to take this step towards sponsored session presenters. There are a few other events around the nation where “pay to play” is the rule of the land. While RIMS is (right now) just requiring speakers to pay for admission, a few conferences only allow companies that are sponsors to present at their gatherings. While I have several objections to that scenario, the greatest one is the fact that this financial arrangement remains largely undisclosed to attendees. That is highly deceptive.

As for RIMS itself, they have been expanding their sponsorship horizons in recent years. RIMS is a not for profit entity, yet it appears over the last few years we have seen them focus increasingly on finding ways to boost their revenues. Starting a few years ago elite sponsors were allowed space in the convention area to set up their own event center where they offer meeting space, meals, and educational sessions. Some think the result of that has been a noticeable decrease in traffic in the expo hall, as these large sponsors pull people into their private areas.

Add to this that hotel rooms at RIMS are almost always more than other events, and you start to develop an unflattering picture as to where they are headed.

“Pay for play” is a bad thing when the stated focus of an event is to educate and inform. It shifts priorities and draws in less than qualified participants who are more than eager to pay the price to promote their wares. RIMS is scheduled to be held in Philadelphia again next year. I already had serious concerns about attending based on the last time they were in that city. I wrote in 2012 that not only did the hotel community financially rape attendees, they appeared entirely unprepared to host an event of that size.

I don't know why RIMS is taking this action now. Perhaps they have increased liability costs from a couple poorly thought out opening reception debacles. Based on the fact that presenters at RIMS now have to pay for the privilege, I think I may sit this one out. I watch enough commercials on TV.


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