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How To Protect Yourself As A Conference Speaker

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September marks a month I’ve been waiting for, for a long, long time now: this week, I’m headed up to the absolutely beautiful Camp Wandawega to speak at Camp Wed. Camp Wed was one of the first creative conferences I heard of back in the days when I was still at the firm, doing calligraphy on the side, so it’s a bit surreal to be heading there as a speaker now.

Of course, no matter how excited I am, my legal mind is wired to always look at a situation and assess the potential risks and liabilities involved. Making sure that my role as a speaker is protected (legally speaking) came as naturally to me as buckling on a seatbelt when I get in my car.

What risks can occur as a speaker? While it’s, of course, impossible to list every potential scenario, conference speakers can generally run into issues in two main areas:

  1. Mismanaged expectations between the conference hosts and the speaker (of course, these can generally be prevented with a solid contract)
  2. Impermissible use of the content you present by an audience member (i.e., someone lifting your presentation and publishing it somewhere under their own name).

Here’s a peek at what I do to protect my content as a speaker:

  1. Ensure that the conference hosts and I are on the same page.
    • Of course, what I mean is this: do I know exactly when I’m speaking; when I’m to arrive; when I’m to leave? Are there specifications on how much I’m expected to be available for attendees? For example, what happens if I want to go to bed early, but some of the attendees want to stay up and talk until the wee hours in the morning? Am I expected to stay up with them? More than that…just what will I be doing for the conference hosts? Am I going to be breaking down tables at the end of the night, or setting them up at the beginning of each day?
    • What if I have travel issues on the way? Can the hosts hold me in breach of contract if I am late arriving?
    • What happens if I get sick, and can’t present, or worse? For that matter, what if I just change my mind and don’t show up?
    • What about my presentation itself. How much can I pitch my products during my talk? How long should my talk last? Do the hosts have the right to edit my presentation?
    • Are all of the standard contract provisions included? Ie, a waiver or amendment provision? Force majeure, in case weather throws off all our plans?
    • Who owns the copyright rights to the work I’m creating? In other words, can they reproduce what I present?
  2. Protect my content as it’s being delivered
    • This is a tricky one; so much so that I almost didn’t write it in this list. Yet, also the most important.
    • I put a copyright notice at the bottom of any tangible, “hard copy” document that will be handed out to the attendees. This just puts everyone there on notice that I do, in fact, claim ownership to what I present.
    • I begin my presentation with a verbal note saying as much. It doesn’t need to be abrasive or mean; but I explain to everyone that what I’m presenting is my own intellectual property, and I don’t want to dilute my rights by not claiming it as such and that I also don’t want anything to get lost in translation if it’s shared later on.

At the end of the day, it’s important that any conference speaker does their due diligence before even arriving at the conference itself. The vast majority of potential issues that arise can typically be cleared up with a strong contract prior to even arriving at the contract itself. Aside from taking those preventative measures, a conference speaker would be wise to be clear about what can be shared from their presentation from their audience.

 

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