when i have questions about why something is, i try to examine people's incentives and doing this i've found I can usually figure things out. with this in mind, here's a speculative perspective to why dev conferences are expensive.
why do speakers speak? The most attractive speakers are super busy with their projects, and they're the most visibly good at what they do so they're at the tip-top compensation. Speakers speak because it gets them visibility - it helps them recruit, it helps them network, it helps build their company brand.
Ever notice how the speakers always have private speaker-only lunch rooms, and speaker-only bar events? Its because the speakers have less interest in networking with the masses. Being a speaker is a decent signal for being among the highest value people in the room. the speakers want to network with other speakers.
Altruism is a motivator, but I speculate, much less of one. If you're speaking at conferences "for the good of the people", you're probably not busy enough, and it will slow down as you become busy, unless it also provides something you need. so as a speaker grows his credibility, he tends to become less interested in the actual conference, perhaps a bit jaded even.
Why do tickets cost much? Most tickets are expensable. The market for headliner speakers drives competitive comp. A first-class venue in vegas will draw a bigger crowd, even if its just people who want to party for a week. More tickets = bigger conference.
No actually. I don't. I speak at a fair number of conferences and I have had that experience a grand total of once.... and it felt very strange and "wrong". I remember several of us talking about how weird it was that we were isolated from the rest of the folk by the conference organisers (this was a French conference - maybe they generally do it differently there).
Occasional a single speaker dinner maybe - but that's it.
Most speakers are people too, you know. :)
It may depend a lot on the kind of event to which you're going--but certainly within the Free/Open Source conference world (from community- to corporate-organised events) my experience* is that most speakers don't see themselves as "above and separate" from attendees.
While events might have a speaker room it's generally used to grab a quick snack, stash some gear, find an organiser, make last minute presentation changes or as a quiet spot to get some work done in the middle of the madness. :)
And generally a speaker-only dinner or bar event is created by the event organisers as a token of appreciation for the speakers.
> the speakers want to network with other speakers.
In general the speakers want to network with anyone interesting/useful, speaker or not.
1) If you enjoy or don't enjoy a presentation please give concrete feedback. Either in person or via a conference feedback mechanism. It really helps to know what's working and what needs further improvement. And it's a good first point of contact for networking.
2) Apply to become a speaker! Start from somewhere small (or not) and go from there. It's too easy to convince yourself you've got nothing people want to hear. A few years I started with speaking at a local evening event in a town in New Zealand--this year I'll be speaking and running an extremely well received workshop at OSCON for the third year in a row.
* Blatant plug:
If you are going to be at OSCON (the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Oregon) in July and want to learn how to get started with the Arduino consider attending my "Get Started with the Arduino - A Hands-On Introductory Workshop" http://www.oscon.com/oscon2012/public/schedule/detail/23941. In the previous two years we've introduced about sixty people to the awesome & fun world of Arduino. It's also been one of the highest rated tutorials at the conference for both years which makes me think I must be doing something right. :)
Also, if you're interested in creating Android accessories with the Arduino you should also check out my "Arduino & Handbag: Create Android Accessories Without Android Code" presentation: http://www.oscon.com/oscon2012/public/schedule/detail/23946
And apparently if you use this promotion code you'll get 20% of registration for the conference: OS12FOS
/end blatant plug :)