If you’re an event planner, you’ve likely done some research into what types of fees a good marketing keynote speaker charges, and how to determine if you’re getting your money’s worth or not. I wanted to talk about fees from the speakers’ point of view (hi!), and also talk about some ways you can LOWER the fees that potential speakers may ask for.
First, understand that at least 90% of the posts you will read that discuss rates for speakers, are written by speakers. So every one of us is trying to put the best light on ourselves. We are highlighting our particular skills and accomplishments, and adding more weight to them, even if we don’t realize it. I’m doing the that as well, the only difference is I’m admitting it!
Before we talk fees and numbers, let’s talk about how to qualify a speaker. It can be confusing to select a speaker if you haven’t heard them speak. So let’s talk about what you should look for when selecting a speaker:
Experience. There’s no substitute for experience. The more a speaker has presented at events, the better they will be at their craft. Also, look for experience speaking at different types of events. Speaking at a user conference isn’t the same as speaking at a public conference and neither is the same as speaking at a private company event. Look for speakers who have experience speaking at similar events to yours.
Experience Speaking at Events In Your Industry. Speaking at an industry-specific event is completely different from speaking at a general conference. Attendees at industry events all come from a very similar background, and have very similar expectations for presenters. If you are vetting a speaker and they don’t have experience presenting at events in your industry, do they have experience speaking at any industry-specific events?
For instance, I have experience speaking at events in the following industries: Consumer electronics, apartment, financial, software, tourism, and likely a few more that I’m overlooking at the moment.I understand how the audience is different at an industry-specific event. BTW if you are a speaker, definitely pursue speaking at industry-specific events, they are quite interesting, and just plain fun!
Speaking Awards, Certifications, Books, Etc. These ARE important, but they aren’t necessary. I didn’t suddenly become a better speaker when my first business book came out. There WAS more interest in hiring me and it does give you a certain level of credibility, but these are often more for the speakers ego than they are a true signal of speaker talent. I’m not saying awards and certifications aren’t valuable, because they are. I also know many top notch speakers who have never won an award, who have never gotten a bureau to represent them, and who have never written a book. All these things are nice to have, but they shouldn’t be a requirement for speaking at your event.
Speaking Reel, Video of Past Presentations. Video of a presenter speaking is very important and can be very helpful in deciding what type of speaker they are. Just understand that speaker reels are highlight reels. Also understand that speakers are often at the mercy of events in deciding if they have professional quality video of their presentations. So the absence of video from the speaker should absolutely not disqualify them from consideration.
Testimonials. This is quite important in vetting speakers. If a speaker has experience speaking, but can’t provide you with testimonials, that means they either didn’t get any they want to share, or they didn’t get any. And to be fair, it could be that they simply didn’t get any, many speakers I know (myself included) are terrible about soliciting testimonials. You can always contact the event organizers directly and ask for feedback on a particular speaker.
Now, let’s discuss rates that speakers charge for different events
If you’ve researched the topic of how much marketing and business speakers cost or charge, then you know that you are typically given a range, that’s mostly based on experience. Inexperienced speakers are Pro Bono or charge under a thousand, and the rates go up from there, mostly based on experience.
The one thing I noted that’s missing from these lists is a discussion of how the type of event effects the rate charged. Here’s how to factor in rates for different events:
Virtual: If you are having a virtual event, you can typically expect to pay 20-33% less versus an in-person event. Maybe more. Most speakers don’t like to tell you that, but the reality is that presenting virtually means we don’t have to travel, and that alone is a time and cost-saving for us. So if you are asking for rates for both in-person and virtual, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount for virtual. They may say no, but you can definitely ask.
Public conferences: These can be anything from a social media event put on by the local university, to South By Southwest. In general, speakers will charge their lowest rates for public conferences and events, if they charge at all. We understand that typically, these events are on a tighter budget. Additionally, if it’s a bigger event where many of our friends and professional colleagues will be speaking and attending, seeing them will be a perk for us. So we typically will charge less for attending such events.
Now, if you are putting on a public event, you shouldn’t simply assume that speakers will speak for little or even free. We judge and value each event differently. For instance, a few years ago I was asked to speak at a very prestigious event. This would be a public event, but the admission rate would be 3-4 times that of competing events. I inquired about the budget for speakers, and was told the event didn’t compensate speakers, even specifying that no travel expenses could be covered. I politely declined. I was then offered to have half of my flight covered, and again I declined. I was reminded that this was a prestigious event and that being able to speak there would create great value for my business. I again declined, saying that I didn’t feel comfortable eliminating my fees, so that the event could maximize its profits.
Industry-specific event: These are open to the public, but the programming caters to only one industry. For instance, a tourism event would have tracks and sessions focused on content that’s relevant to professionals working in tourism. In general, speakers will expect to be compensated for speaking at such an event. At minimum, you should cover travel. As for fees, I think you have some wiggle-room here. Often, speakers will charge less to speak at an industry-specific event, because they understand the value of referrals for such events. For instance, almost every state has an annual tourism conference, and if you speak at one state’s event, that makes it easier to get referrals for similar events in other states.
User conferences and customer events: These are technically open to the public in most cases, but the attendees will be users, customers and partners of one particular company. Think of events like DellWorld or Adobe Summit. For these events, speakers will expect to be compensated in some form, or fashion. Often, speakers may work out a deal to also do some consulting or advisement with the company that would count as part of their compensation. Or they may simply agree to speak in exchange for the exposure and association with the brand and event.
Private company event or workshop: These events are private and for the company’s employees only. This can either be where one speaker is brought in to speak to the company, or it could be an event the company has created with multiple speakers. For these events, expect to compensate the speaker and often pay their top rate. If I give a two hour presentation to your company, that means only your company gets the benefit from my teaching, which will be customized to you. That creates far more value for your company, and my rates will increase as a result. This is a win-win for both the speaker and company, as the speaker gets paid the most and the company gets the most benefit vs attending another event where the speaker is presenting to a general audience. Customized content costs more for you, and also creates more value for you.
Rates You Can Expect to Pay for Speakers Based on Experience
So let’s finally talk numbers:
0-$500 – These are for speakers with little or no experience. Often, this is what you can expect to pay for local speakers at a smaller event. If they have no experience, its best to look for speakers who do, or look for people who have experience speaking, but not professionally, such as a teacher or college instructor.
$500-$1500 – These are speakers with some experience, who have gotten paid before and possibly even spoken at events like yours. This is often where you can find the best value in speakers, as a lot of these speakers are experienced enough to charge more, but haven’t started doing so yet. A cold, hard reality about the speaking world is that many speakers simply don’t understand their true worth. So they undercharge for the value they bring to events.
$1500-$5000 – These are speakers with a decent amount of experience, and who have a better understanding of their true worth. These speakers will also have some name recognition and a decent online following. This is the group that will start to drive ticket sales and are a known asset to any event.
$5,000-$10,000 – These are very experienced speakers, often professionals who are positioning themselves as being speakers moreso than consultants. They have often written one or more books, and may be working with one or more speaker bureaus. This is the group that you will often look at if you need a keynote speaker, especially for a larger event. They have high visibility within their subject matter area.
$10,000-$20,000 – Professional speakers. Have built up a portfolio of work speaking at top events, have likely written multiple books on the topics they speak on. Have a large following online and high name recognition. Their name alone drives ticket sales.
Over $20,000 – Professional speakers/celebrities. This group has such high visibility that people outside the business and marketing worlds have heard of them. These are typically keynote speakers and all marketing for the event will be centered around them.
Now something you might notice about the above rates is that they are a bit lower than you will see from other such lists. These rates are based more on the fees you could actually end up negotiating with a speaker, whereas I think some of the higher rates you see on similar lists on other sites are what the speaker would ask for. The above rates are more in line with the final rate agreed to by both parties.
Speaking of lower rates, lets now talk about some things you can do to lower the rate a speaker will charge you, or eliminate it completely.
How to lower or eliminate the rates that a marketing keynote speaker charges
This is the part that most speakers don’t want you to know, but there are absolutely ways to lower or eliminate our rates.
Before we begin, understand that every speaker you have for your event should be compensated in some shape, form or fashion. This is non-negotiable. What IS negotiable, is the form in which that compensation will take. If you are creative, you can often find a way to compensate the speaker, and also lower the amount of actual cash you have to pay them.
Here are some ways you can compensate a speaker without paying them
1 – Provide professional headshots, pictures or video of them presenting. This is a great perk for the speaker if they don’t already have headshots or video. What you can do is offer free passes to a local photographer or video production expert in exchange for them agreeing to provide speaker pictures or video. I’ve worked with multiple events that have offered similar deals and it’s usually a win-win for the speakers and photographers.
2 – Work with sponsors and have them provide items of value to speakers. This can be a great way to lower the cost of compensating a speaker from the event’s end, while still providing the speaker with items they value. For instance, let’s say a company that makes audio equipment is sponsoring your event. You could have the sponsor provide each speaker with a top of the line podcasting microphone. This would be of value for the speakers, and also be of value to the sponsor to have their products going into the hands of the speakers, who are likely to be influencers in their own right.
Another way you could get creative is to sell an event sponsorship, and as part of the package, the sponsor gets a free on-site 15-minute consultation with certain speakers. This creates additional value for the sponsor, but can also create value for the speaker, as they could turn that 15-minute consultation into a larger project with the sponsor.
3 – Offer a speaker multiple engagements for a lower rate. If your event will have multiple events a year, you could offer the speaker the chance to speak at more than one event, for a reduced rate. The amount of reduction you can expect varies according to the speaker and their schedule. but it isn’t unreasonable to expect at least a 10-15% reduction in rates for scheduling multiple appearances. Maybe more depending on the speaker and their availability.
4 – Approach a speaker about speaking at multiple events in the same city. Let’s say I’m speaking at CES in 2022. If you had an event running in Las Vegas at the same time, you might be able to get me to come to your event while I am in town. If nothing else, you could likely eliminate travel expenses, since I would probably already have those covered.
5 – Approach local speakers. Any time I can drive to a speaking engagement instead of fly, that’s a plus in my book. For instance, let’s say I have two speaking events, one is in Los Angeles, and the other is a 30-minute drive away. The LA trip will take three days. One day to fly out, one day to present, and one day to fly back. The local trip can be done in one day. Assuming both engagements were the exact same otherwise, I would likely charge 10-20% less for the local event. Plus the organizers for the local event wouldn’t have to pay for my travel.
6 – If the speaker is a published author, buy copies of their book instead of paying them to speak. This is quite common. Instead of paying for me to speak at your event, you buy 200 copies of my book. Then I do an autograph signing after I speak, and when you sell tickets, you make sure the attendees know that they will get a signed copy of my book included with their pass.
7 – If your event has well-known speakers or subject matter experts, offer speakers the chance to connect with them. This works better at very large events. Let’s say I am a marketer with a sports branding podcast. I am approached about speaking at a sports marketing event that will feature the CMOs of both the NFL and NASCAR. Let’s say I tell the event that I need $5,000 to speak at their event. The event counters with an offer of $2,500, but they will give me 30 minutes to interview the CMOs of the NFL and NASCAR, and additionally, all speakers will have access to a 30-minute open Q&A with keynote Richard Branson. I might just take that lower amount of cash, in exchange for access to the CMOs and Sir Richard Branson.
So those are some ideas for how you can lower or eliminate the amount of actual cash that you pay speakers. If you are smart and creative, you can often find ways to compensate speakers without strictly paying cash. It doesn’t always work, but it can work often enough to make it worth your while to try.
Now, I wanted to close by addressing something that’s troubled me for a long time as far as the value that the speaker creates for events.
Most speakers don’t promote the events they are speaking at, they simply promote the fact that they are speaking there. I think this is incredibly short-sighted, and as speakers, we should do better to help ensure that the events we speak at are rousing successes. It makes the event look good, and that makes US look good to be associated with the event.
Years ago, I was invited to speak at a marketing event for the housing industry. An industry that I knew nothing about at the time. I checked the event website and saw all these speakers with specific experience within the housing industry.
My immediate thought was, “These people have no idea who I am, or why they should listen to me.”
So for the next six months, I immersed myself in their space. I went out of my way to connect online with people who would be attending the event. I talked to them, I found out what type of content wanted from my session. I promoted the event endlessly, I engaged with any and all attendees I could find.
Over the course of the months leading up to the event, I got to know dozens of attendees that would be at the event. Most of them agreed to attend my session as a result of getting to know me on Twitter especially.
The event arrived. I was attending the session before mine, and the hotel ballroom was about half full. It was a pretty big crowd. I was told the speaker was a ‘fan favorite’ and had been speaking at the event for years. The audience knew him and loved him. I was getting worried my session was going to bomb as I was an unknown.
His session ended. Mine began. Something unexpected happened. The room filled up almost immediately! Then people started lining up along the back wall. The event organizers hurriedly ran in with more chairs rushed in from outside to try to accommodate more people. I had to wait 10 mins to start my session as we tried to make room for everyone that wanted to squeeze into the room.
All of my engagement and promotion of the event and my session for the last 6 months had paid off handsomely. I had gone the extra mile to engage with attendees about my session and the event, and it drove excitement and attendance.
I stayed at the event after I spoke and at one point I was walking down a hall and one of the attendees approached me and started smiling as she did. She came up to me and said “I’ve been attending this event for years, your talk should have been the keynote. It was that good!”
It was one of the best and most satisfying compliments I had ever received in my speaking career. But all of that was made possible because I went out of my way to engage with attendees leading up to the event at which I was speaking.
I don’t think enough speakers do that today. I think most speakers promote an event simply to promote themselves as speaking there, and that’s it. Then they show up for the event, speak for an hour, and immediately leave and jump on a plane either home or to the next speaking event.
Speakers, we need to do a better job of being partners in the success of the events we speak at. We need to invest the time to engage with attendees BEFORE the event, and then stay at the event and engage with them AFTER we speak. Granted, it’s not always possible to stay at an event after you speak.
But it IS always possible to do your best to promote the event and to engage with attendees in the weeks and months leading up to it. That drives excitement for your session, it drives excitement for the event.
I think as speakers we sometimes forget that one of our key jobs is to make the event organizer happy. We need to make them look like geniuses for hiring us. Putting in a little extra work can go a long way.
So let me wrap up this post on speaker fees and how to pay less. Here’s your key takeaways:
1 – Experience is the most valuable asset a speaker can have, and more experienced speakers will almost always ask for more. They can afford to charge more, and usually they deserve it.
2 – Always compensate your speakers. Never ask a speaker to speak for free, the speaker should always receive some compensation. Maybe it’s not cash, but their time and expertise has value, and you should respect that.
3 – Assume rates are negotiable. Do your homework on the speaker and you can typically make a much better offer that creates value for them. Many speakers will offer reduced rates for virtual events, but you shouldn’t expect it.
4 – If you are creative, you can often work with the speaker to compensate them in ways other than cash. You usually cannot completely eliminate a speaker’s cash fee, but if you are careful, you can often find ways to compensate the speaker in forms other than cash.
5 – When you approach the speaker, ask them what they will do to help promote your event leading up to the event, and if they will be available to stay at the event after they speak. Ideally, the speaker will bring this up themselves, and offer to both promote your event and engage attendees prior to, and during the event.
If you need a speaker for your event, you can learn more about my services here. One note: For any event from October 1st on, I am only accepting speaking at in-person events. I will likely begin doing virtual events at some point in 2022, but for now I am concentrating on in-person events only.