Should you Pay to Speak at a Tradeshow

Hi there,

I have been a bit of a lurker but plan to change that. I thought I would start with what might seem to be a controversial question.

With Confex coming up (which sadly I have to miss this year), I was reminded of the two tradeshows that have approached me about speaking at them … only to be told that because I was a supplier, I would have to pay for a stand if I were to speak.

What do you think of this “pay to play” mentality? I have actually written a blog post, where I try to give an honest account of it. I do wonder whether it is anything more than a good way to sell more stands. We have all seen those sessions that are attended by three people, one of whom only wants to find the toilet, and we have also seen those talks that are obviously poorly hidden sales ploys. Might both be a symptom of pay to play?

Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Here is the post link, if you are interested:



Hi Jonathan

Interesting one! So in this case the only people speaking were those from suppliers with stands? Do you know if there were speakers who weren’t suppliers and whether they had to pay for a speaker slot?

I definitely agree it’s a challenge to prevent the quality of sessions declining/becoming sales pitches.


Hi Jonathan
Thanks for posting and for making it off the lurker benches!

Seems a bit of an odd tactic for selling stands. I’ve seen sales teams bundle in a speaking opportunity to get a stand sale over the line but not approaching potential speakers to then try and sell stands to. I would only agree to this if I was considering exhibiting anyway and thought it might work well for my business.

Hi Melissa and NIck,

I guess what narked me was that it wasn’t actually a rule for everyone. Buyers, those with big names and event managers were there on the stage at previous shows without having to pay yet the sales managers of both shows told me that suppliers would have to pay for the privilege.

While I totally get that people don’t want to be sold to, part of me wonders whether making supplier talks pay to play actually makes it more likely that people will be sold to. Much better, surely, to cherry pick services that people will want to hear about and choose the best speakers you can in those areas, whether by invites or a call for proposals.

It seems to be part of a wider trend of some shows seeing suppliers as cash cows or generally treating them poorly. I am hoping that it is limited to a few shows and now industry-wide.

Have you seen this around?


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No, I’ve only seen it as an element of added value when trying to sell a stand to a client who just needs an extra bit of encouragement to book. @DaniellaKuner Have you come across this?

I think it’s dangerous ground. Those paying for stands should be allowed to apply to speak but not given the automatic right - it should depend on the quality of what they want to present. Alternatively, you could create an exhibitors’ stage where it’s clear the sessions are “sponsored”.

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Yeah, I think this is my concern as an attendee as well. With pay to play, you know people will be selling like mad. I think it is much better that speeches are there purely on merit or clearly signposted as sponsored.

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Just had an interesting conversation about this with @DaniellaKuner She pointed out that some people try to gain exposure for their company at trade shows by offering to speak rather than investing in buying a stand as a cheaper/easier option so the “pay to play” option is a decision by organisers to protect exhibitors’ interests. Many organisers don’t allow non exhibitors to sponsor or take advertising in the showguide for the same reason. However, there’s a difference between that and approaching people to speak then asking them for money. If the sales team have done their homework then they will know the potential speaker they’re calling is a supplier so I think they should be just up front about it and outline the different ways someone can be involved in the show and why it’s a great opportunity from them. The potential speaker/exhibitor can then decide whether to participate.

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