It will cost you £500 not to attend this conference

by @edent | # # | 5 comments | Read ~513 times.

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted a free ticket to a conference about the health industry. The line-up of speakers looked pretty interesting, so I said yes. I speak at a lot of conferences, and sometimes it's nice to go as a guest.

Even though I'd agreed, the conference organiser started with the hard sell. The location was at a famous sports club (yawn!) and we'd get a behind the scenes tour (errr... not for me) and there would be a free cocktail reception at the end (I can think of better ways to spend an evening). And then she slipped in "of course, if you can't attend, we'll need to charge you a cancellation fee."

Hold up. What?!

"Yeah, it will be £500 if you don't attend. Unless you can supply us with someone of a greater or equal seniority from your organisation."

I'm not ashamed to say that I laughed in their face and told them that I'd never heard of anything quite so ridiculous. There was no way I was putting the NHS on the hook for £500 if I unexpectedly couldn't attend.

I get that conferences have fixed costs - but that's why they over-sell tickets to account for drop-outs.

If a speaker drops out, that can be disastrous for a conference. But it happens, and while a no-show doesn't get paid, I've never heard of them being charged.

I've been a guest and speaker at literally hundreds of events over the years. And I've never heard of someone being penalised for not showing up. Apparently, this is rife in healthcare.

Perturbed, I looked at the Terms and Conditions of all the other conferences that I was due to visit. I found another one where I'd inadvertently clicked through and agreed to a massive cancellation fee. Even worse, it had this clause:

Delegates agree to attend one-on-one business meetings and other group activities. You must attend all pre-booked meetings and sign the meeting registers. Non attended meetings will be charged at the full cancellation rate of £495 + £195 per non attended meeting.


Two pigs talking. "Isn't it great that we pay nothing for the barn?" The other says "Yeah and the food is free."

These conferences are - it seems - a paid opportunity for companies to connect with me. They pay heavily for a ticket and get to pick me out of a brochure for their sale-pitch pleasure. In return I sell myself for some canapés and a "glamorous" location.


I asked my network if they'd experienced this sort of thing:

See also this enlightening blog post from Andy Callow about the Healthcare Strategy Forum.

So, the next time you're invited to a "free" conference - make sure you understand what you're signing up to!

Of course, COVID-19 has meant that these conferences have all been cancelled.
I wonder if I can charge them a fee...?

5 thoughts on “It will cost you £500 not to attend this conference

  1. Wow. I’ll be checking the small print in future and declining any such speaking opportunities

  2. Not common, but I always check for it. All @netways conferences in Europe have such terms – fail to show up as a speaker and you’ll get charged the full ticket price, which can be quite steep:…

  3. Thanks for highlighting this. As a supplier (not one that has used these events) I would never think to ask whether delegates were in fact hostages!

  4. Ridiculous isn’t it? Got caught out on this many years ago – cue desperate attempts to get a colleague to go in my place. Never again.

  5. Years ago when I worked for the Law Society, I gave a talk on digital accessibility for law firms at a “conference”. They charged my employer, then tried to flog them a CD with my slides and a badly-recorded video of my talk.

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