How to Set Your Public Speaking Fee

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One of the questions I’m asked most is what my speaking fee is for any given event. I don’t often have a “stock” answer. Why?

This is a more complex question than we might initially think. What’s really being asked of us are two separate questions:

  • How much value do we bring to the event? (from the conference point of view)
  • How much is that value worth to us? (from our point of view)

To answer these questions, we must first understand speaker value.

The Value of a Speaker

In the world of conferences and events, there’s a “holy trinity” of value factors that make an event valuable: audience, sponsors, speakers; I learned this first from Jeff Pulver and Chris Brogan.

  • Audience: the right audience is valuable to sponsors and the event. The audience must include at least some target customers who might buy products and services from sponsors, as well as afford the event’s ticket prices. A great roster of speakers can attract a valuable audience through speakers’ individual networks and promotional efforts, as well as their knowledge.
  • Sponsors: the right sponsors bring in the money needed to run an event. Without sponsors, an event can’t grow or even afford to pay its speakers. A great roster of speakers provides prestige to the event and reassurance to sponsors that the event is credible.
  • Speakers: the right speakers bring value to each other. A great roster of speakers provides a community for the speakers to network and learn from each other.

The role of speakers is to provide credibility, networking opportunities, and reach. That’s the value that I and many others provide. Our speaking fees scale with the value we provide: the more credibility, networking, and reach we bring, the greater a fee we can command.

How to Value Your Speaking Role

The next logical question is, what’s the monetary number on the value a speaker provides?

I recently attended an event with these ticket prices:

  • 150 attendees at $3,000 each: $450,000
  • 5 top-tier sponsors at $25,000 each: $125,000
  • 10 middle-tier sponsors at $12,500 each: $125,000
  • 15 low-tier advertisers at $10,000 each: $150,000

The event grossed $850,000. The hotel hosting the event cost approximately $150,000 for space, catering, labor, etc.; this particular hotel chain’s event costs average $1,000 per attendee.

If we re-examine the holy trinity, attendees don’t generally show up at a conference to hang out with sponsors. Attendees come to hear speakers. Thus, the portion of the proceeds above — $450,000 out of the $850,000 gross — is what the speakers are principally responsible for.

Let’s say this event had 20 speakers in total. Deduct the cost of hosting the attendee — $1,000 per person for this hotel chain — and speakers would generate a net revenue for the event of $300,000.

Each individual speaker is responsible for generating $300,000 / 20, or $15,000 in attendee revenue.

That’s the cap, the ceiling of what you can reasonably ask for as a speaker in this example, because the profit from sponsorships/ad sales is directly dependent on the event’s sales team and not you, and they are solely entitled to that profit for their work. Event attendees cost money, and without those expenses there would be no event for us to speak at. Thus it’s reasonable to ask for a percentage of the net revenue for attendees as a fee.

Obviously, there are many mitigating factors in this equation. The more speakers there are, the less any one speaker’s contribution to the overall attendee population. The same event with 40 speakers would mean each speaker would only generate a maximum of $11,250 in attendee revenue. All speakers are not created equal, too; some speakers command a higher fee because they bring in more attendees than others.

How to Increase Your Speaking Fee

Re-examine what speakers do for events. We provide value through our knowledge — the reason audiences attend. We also provide value through our reach, how many members of our audience we can convince to attend the events we speak at.

To increase our speaking fees, we must pull one of those two levers — knowledge or reach. We improve the value of our knowledge through continued self-improvement; however, from an event perspective, we improve the value of our knowledge through accessibility. A speaker who stays at an event for more than just their speaking slot is more valuable to the event. Consider offering packages as part of your speaking fee, such as:

  • Breakfast/lunch/dinner with you
  • “Office hours” / 1:1 short consultations
  • Separate Q&A periods
  • Book signings (if you have a book)

Any of these activities helps to justify a higher fee because our knowledge is available to the conference’s attendees for a longer period of time.

We improve the value of our reach through the growth of our own personal brands. I don’t create a weekly email newsletter or daily social media and blog posts purely for the fun of it (though it is fun). I operate these channels as part of my personal brand to increase my reach and engagement, which I can then offer to conferences for additional speaking fees. Conferences and events can purchase advertising in any of my content channels to boost attendance.

Your Speaking Fee is Your Choice

Your speaking fee is at your discretion. Offer fees commensurate with the value you provide to an event, and understand the economics of events to understand how much the event is likely not to offer. Using the example above, if the event netted $10 per attendee instead of $2,000 per attendee, we could not ask for more than a percentage of that and expect to receive it.

Say yes to events which offer an equitable exchange of value.

Say yes to events which don’t pay if you believe you’ll obtain equal or greater value in other forms.

Say no to events which take more value than they give.

I hope this explanation of how to set your speaking fee is useful and helpful to you if you’re considering a speaking career.



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Originally published at Christopher S. Penn Blog.