53. The Value Addition Model at events is broken

I’m going to write something a bit controversial. And even worse, it’s not something I have a good solution for, but it’s nonetheless a problem that I see again and again. It’s about contributions, value and motivation.

My claim is that the Value Addition Model is broken. But what does that mean?

I’ll try to explain, but it’ll be a little inelegant!

Premise: There’s a conference about experience design, which is a subject that’s relevant to me – and also something I’m interested it.

  1. I am a “normal” participant. I choose to pay and go, or I choose to stay away. The choice is pretty simple, though of course influenced by many factors (money, time, relevance, etc).
  2. I get offered a chance to contribute with something small, that I find interesting. Maybe I am asked to hold a workshop or talk.
  3. I get invited to make a bigger contribution. A keynote. A session involving everyone. Something big.
  4. They ask me to be an organiser. I get responsibility, but also influence, and maybe even my name on the event.
  5. I’m asked to do something that I find boring, but can do. Do the dishes, clean the toilets, move chairs, etc. This also happens. ;)

There are variations, of course, but these five are common when it comes to conferences in my world.

In #1, I’m obviously paying! Me being there might create value for the event, if other participants find me interesting, but that’s about it. If the event works as it should, I get something out of it. Knowledge, experience, network, whatever.

In #2 it’s easy to see how I add value. Again, assuming it’s something I know something about! My lectures on larp design are worth more than my lectures on Spanish cuisine.

In #3, I am obviously adding quite a bit of value. Maybe I’m even doing something that really defines the event. Potentially, at least.

#4 is also quite clear cut. I’m part of making it happen! Of course, I’m adding value, and I’m even doing something interesting.

#5 is the most clear. Here I’m working directly for somebody else’s vision. As long as the visionaries use my skillset properly (no Spanish cuisine here, either!), it’s a value addition.

So far, so good.

In #1, everyone will agree that I should pay to participate. Unless, it’s a free event, of course!

With #2, many people I know will feel that there should be a reduced price due to the fact that the contribution has value.

#3, these people will say, is crystal clear. As a minimum, I should get my costs (transport, food, lodging) paid. Some money would also be fitting.

When it comes to #4, there should also be compensation involved. Whether it’s a salary, fame, risk-based profit share or something else, most will agree that doing the work ensures a part in the spoils.

For #5, there’s zero question. There are many ways to compensate people, but some kind must be involved. Even if it’s not money or goods, but a great experience, something needs to be there.

And here’s where it gets tricky, and where I have skilled friends who I feel are slightly hypocritical. ;)

Because while I go to #1 events when I find them interesting enough, it’s much easier to get me to a #2 event. And a LOT easier with #3. #4 is more complicated, and #5 is simple.

If you want me at your conference, giving me the stage is the best way to get me there. That way, I can contribute, and I like that. I can also build my “body of work”, create new contacts and train myself.


I’m not sure I’d pay 10,000$ to go to a TED conference (or whatever the price is). Would I pay 10,000$ for a ticket that included a six-minute speaking spot on one of the main stages?

Hell, yes!

In fact, I’ll pay more for an event I’m interested in if I get a stage. Especially if it’s a big stage. Yes, even if I “add value”. Probably doubly so.

There are many reasons for this. Some simple, some complicated. The important thing is that it’s true, and it’s not only true for me.

I also know that when I’m organising events, this weird conflict produces some bizarre results.

“Will you come to my event as a participant?”

“No. It’s too expensive.”

“What if you could come at a discount?”


“Fair enough. I won’t try to convince you.”

“Let me do a keynote speak, and then I’ll come.”

“Cool. That’ll be great.”

“Now I’m doing a keynote, then you have to pay for my travel, and I want to attend for free.”

“If that’s how you see it, fair enough. Then, no thanks. The offer of a discount still stands.”

“But I want to do a keynote speak!”

“You can’t both set the price and make the decision. It doesn’t work like that.”


I’ve tried that enough times to know that there are people I shouldn’t ask.

But isn’t this problematic? Am I advocating that people shouldn’t charge money for their contributions?

I honestly don’t know. I just know that you have a bigger chance of getting me to your event if you give me the stage. If you also pay, it’s of course even better, as I need to pay rent, but unless you’re paying well, that isn’t the deciding factor.

Of course, this only applies to stuff I really want to do. Stuff I’m ok with doing if someone pays me, but wouldn’t think twice of saying no to… that’s different. ;-)

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store