©2015 by Linda Seward
I have been giving talks to quilt groups for many years. Generally, I have met wonderful, enthusiastic people and been given a warm and appreciative reception. But not always. In 2003 I wrote what has since become a notorious article entitled Let’s Put the ‘Guest’ Back into ‘Speaker’, where I gave some suggestions about how to treat the person coming to talk to your group. I’ve just re-read it, and it is still relevant today, so perhaps my editor may wish to re-run it in a future issue for those of you who weren’t members of the Guild in 2003. Anyway, there has been a lot of chat lately on social media about prices that speakers/teachers (henceforth referred to as tutors for brevity) are charging for talks and workshops, and I have been asked to bring up the subject in an effort to clear up a few mysteries surrounding pricing and the hiring and/or cancellation of outside tutors.
Let’s talk about pricing first. The days when we can expect to pay someone a small fee for coming to speak to a group are over. Those who are just starting out might charge less just to get experience, but if a group wants a professional who is going to provide a stimulating talk and/or workshop, it needs to pay for it. Consider the amount of work that goes into giving just a one hour talk: The presentation must be written, checked and rehearsed to ensure that everything works and makes sense. If actual quilts are to be shown, they must be packed carefully so they aren’t damaged. Items for sale must be gathered and packaged. The venue needs to be located. Time must be allowed for travel and setting up, so even a one hour talk means carving out a window of at least 3-4 hours, often more, depending on traffic or train times and distance. I spend 6-8 hours preparing for and travelling to every one-hour talk—that is the equivalent of a full working day. So when a price for a talk is given and rejected because it is too high, groups must realize that they are not merely paying for one hour but also for time and experience. The same goes for workshops. (And it is particularly humiliating to be queried about a fee when already at the venue, which happens all too often.)
Those who are in charge of booking tutors for talks and/or workshops know that they need to operate about a year in advance to secure the person and date that they want. It is then up to the group to ensure that the lecture is well attended and the workshop is filled through publicising the event and encouraging members to take part. Again this needs to be done well in advance, as we are all busy these days and schedules fill up before we know it. However, it is not unknown for groups unable to fill a workshop to cancel with little notice. Tutors depend on the income from the classes they have fitted into their schedule. If that is suddenly taken away at short notice, that slot will be nearly impossible to fill, with a substantial loss of income. Because this has become such a problem, some tutors are asking groups to sign a contract when they are hired. This binds the tutor to the job, but more importantly, protects the tutor from financial loss due to cancellation. I encourage tutors and groups to use contracts—this is in everyone’s interest.
In order to get the cheapest rate on travel fares, tutors often need to book months in advance, in which case, it seems only fair that the group pre-pay the fare. Then, if the class is cancelled, the tutor is not out of pocket. And, of course, mileage should always be paid if a tutor is driving; the standard rate for mileage is now 45p per mile, which can add up if the tutor is driving a long distance. Tutors realise that this is a big additional cost, which is why many prefer to combine several talks and workshops in one trip, spreading the cost around. This makes sense, but it also puts the tutor in an even worse bind if someone cancels in the middle of the tour. Some tutors supply kits for their workshops, which entails a significant outlay of both time and money. If the workshop is then cancelled or numbers are low, the tutor is seriously out of pocket.
I haven’t even gone into what it feels like personally to get a cancellation or speak at a poorly attended talk. It can be really depressing and humiliating. Of course, the shoe is sometimes on the other foot and some tutors cancel at the last minute or just forget to show up. I have been known to get up and talk at some meetings when the speaker hasn’t turned up! Thankfully, this happens rarely.
I don’t want this to turn into an ungracious rant because most of the time, groups are lovely and treat their tutors beautifully. But it’s in everyone’s interest to p(l)ay fair when it comes to hiring tutors so that everyone is happy.