How to Compensate a Speaker More at a Genealogy Conference

Having staffed our own booths at three difference conferences,&nbsp conference planners are overlooking a way to potentially compensate genealogy speakers, who happen to be authors,  more without significantly dipping into the conference’s limited budget.

I must diverge to whether a booth is beneficial to an author first and then return to the one overlooked option to increase the compensation of speakers.

Andy and I are authors, speakers, and virtual conference coordinators. Our product sales increase when we attend conferences than most other avenues of distribution. Unlike other Expo Hall vendors, we have few after conference sales. We have considered whether having a booth helps our bottom line or if we should focus on speaking and increasing our emailing list.

Andy and I staffed booths at the 2018 BYU Family History Conference, RootsTech 2018, and the 2018 Family Roots Conference. Meanwhile, we didn’t have an Expo Hall table at the 2018 Southern California Jamboree or the Texas State Genealogical Society Conference in 2016. We reached our breakeven at the BYU Family History Conference and the Family Roots Conference. You might have read how things didn’t turn out well for our booth at RootsTech. We reached our best ROI at Genealogy Jamboree and TXSGS.

In short, we broke even at regional conferences if we could minimize our overhead costs. We did poorly at the super conference, despite the larger crowd size numbers. We sold the most books when we didn’t have a booth.

Conference Planners, Please Pay Attention

At many non-genealogy conferences, the opportunity to meet with authors who have delivered a satisfying workshop is a treat for attendees. Several authors only have one or two books to sell, so a large booth is intimidating as a fan, but a table with an author, or two, is inviting.

The best way conference planners can increase the compensation of their speakers, who happen to be authors, is to offer slots in an author/signing station in or near your Expo Hall. Offer it as a perk for each session selected, you have the option of having an author signing session. (Not every speaker has booths, so you will likely have a manageable number who accept the perk).

The Jamboree Conference Organizers put minimal resources into this speaker amenity.

  • They set up a table near the Expo Hall away from class foot traffic.
  • They created a schedule for the signing.
    • Speakers received one timeslot per class session taught
    • Signings were scheduled immediately after the class, as much as possible
  • The planners provided the tax forms necessary to sell books at the event.
  • Provide enough time between classes that allow individuals to visit the signing table. (Super conferences might need more than one signing table stationed close to the breakout sessions where attendees attended a lecture).

Once the first session of the genealogy event begins, the planner’s job is mostly done. They need to resolve any instances of authors do not leave when their time slot ends. For the most part, that should be minimal.

Additionally, author signing tables assist in clearing our rooms quickly for the next speaker. Speakers say, “if you’re interested in me signing any of your books or you have additional questions, let’s go to the author signing table.” Attendees then follow the speaker to the signing area and either purchase a book or ask their question, but the class is now cleared for the following presenter.

Speaker / Authors, Please Pay Attention:

There is no guarantee that an author’s signing table will cover your ROI. You are responsible for:

  • Transporting product to and from the conference
  • Handle your own transactions
  • Collect the tax for your products services
  • Leave when your time slot is over
  • Deliver a homerun lecture that attendees want to purchase your book(s)

These challenges might present complications. Additionally, you can’t use your presentation as an entire sales pitch because your attendees won’t stop by your table.

As we’ve learned, when a class we teach is connected to a book we’ve written, there is a greater chance of making a sale. If we teach about DNA and have our scrapbooking books available, the former books sell out, and the scrapbooking books don’t sell well.

We’ve also learned about combo pricing and how we can sell more books when we have enough books that shoppers can create their own combo.

In short, just because a conference offers an author signing slot, as a benefit for teaching but not a cost, you are still the one who has to make the sale, not the conference planner.

Reader Response Requested:
Do you enjoy having book authors sign your copy at conferences?

Does it bother you that speakers try to sell to you when you go to a conference? Learn why they do it and what you can do about it. #genealogy #conference #rootstech

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.


  • Marian Wood

    Very insightful post. As an author, I appreciate the opportunity to have a table to sell/sign books for an hour following my speaking slot. Ideally, conference would have a “book store” available to sell books for all authors on all days of conference.

    As an attendee, I can’t always take time after a speaker ends to go get a book signed, because I don’t want to miss next speaker. My preference is to meet an author during lunch or another period that doesn’t conflict with presentations. That’s how I met you in person at RootsTech!

    • Family History Fanatics

      Thanks for sharing both sides of the coin. When I attend conferences and sell books, the majority of the sales happen right after I speak. The rest trickle in but those are few. I think it’s important for speakers to be available at lunch or another time period for anyone who wants to visit, which I attempt to be. As a business person, I have tracked the buying habits of attendees and there is a definite time they buy.

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