It used to be that if someone took the time to send a nice invitation to me to speak at a conference, I'd take them up on it. When I first started speaking publicly, I'd often do it at my own expense, picking up my own airfare and accommodations. After about a year and a half of doing that, I started asking conference directors to pick up travel costs and it was fine for a while. On a rare occasion, I'd actually get a fee from a conference for appearing, but that was the exception, not the rule. Since the interactive marketing biz has picked up again, there seems to be a breed of fly-by-night conference companies that don't specialize in dealing with our industry. They simply latch on to whatever's hot in a particular industry and start organizing a conference around it, hoping to attract sponsors and attendees along the way. Doesn't matter the industry or the area of expertise.
Let's just say I feel burned by a couple of these companies, and I'm starting to get tired of people asking me to fly across the country on my own dime so that I can get "more exposure and business" for myself. If you know me, you know that lack of exposure really isn't my problem. I tend to participate in these conferences to do something positive for the industry and to share some ideas with other people in the interactive and marketing industries.
It's telling when a conference company you've never heard of before asks you to speak without a fee and pushes back on covering the cost of your travel. Steer clear. In the future, if I haven't heard of the conference or the company putting it on, the new policy is that they'll have to pay me a fee and cover my travel costs. Nothing extravagent. Just enough to make sure they're serious and they won't end up canceling the show or doing a half-ass job.
Of course, if it's an established show like Ad Tech, the iMedia Summits or any of Mediapost's shows, I'm in without reservation. These conferences have proven track records, reputable companies behind them and one knows what to expect.