2 Simple Steps to Start Getting Paid to Speak

A little over 2 years ago, I discovered that people were getting paid big money to speak. I found out that NYTimes best-selling authors make at least $25K-$50K per engagement and Fortune 500 CEOs make $100K to $400K per engagement … for one talk!

I had been speaking at events and conferences for a few years at that point, but I wasn’t on either of those levels. I’d never been paid to speak at all!

I had gotten over most of my stage fright, and I wanted to know how to make some extra money on the side to bootstrap my business.

I asked other people how to make money from speaking — people who spoke even more than I did. I thought they’d surely have an answer for me.

But nearly every one said they didn’t get paid to speak, and that they didn’t know how. Some people told me I should probably hire an agent.

So I looked up agents…turned out most agents only work with — you guessed it — NYTimes best-selling authors or Fortune 500 CEOs.


I scoured the internet and books.

I came across some seminars for people who wanted to double their speaking rate, but I had nothing to double! I wanted to know how to make my first dollar.

I was really frustrated with the lack of literature and guidance. Finally, I realized I’d just have to figure it out on my own.

So at the end of 2012, I made a pact with myself: I was going to charge the next person who reached out to ask me to speak.

…rrring ring! It was the Wharton School of Business. They said they were hosting a one-day conference in SF and they wanted me to be on a panel.

I felt kinda silly asking to be paid for a panel where I’d probably be speaking for a total of 15 minutes. I also wasn’t sure how much to ask, as I had done little to no research. So I did a quick calculation and figured I’d need at least $30 for parking, $25 for lunch, and then another $20 just in case. I said, “Thanks for the offer, I’d love to speak on your panel, but I’ll need to be paid for my time.”

The guy on the other line said, “OK. How much?”

I responded with, “$75.”

“I think we can manage that.”

And that’s how I closed my first-ever paid engagement. I was thrilled!

After I got off the phone I realized, “What the heck am I doing asking Wharton for $75? It’s freakin’ Wharton!”

But instead of beating myself up, I gave myself a pat on the back for asking for what I needed and decided: next time, double it.

2 years later, I don’t make less than $5K-$10 for most speaking engagements (plus hotel and airfare), and my highest paying engagement has been $25K!

I’ve been paid to speak at companies like Fidelity, Principal Financial Group, SAP, Salesforce, Wal-Mart, and non-profits like Tampa Bay Technology Forum.

I ask to get paid because I want to deliver a stellar talk. Almost every talk I do requires 8–10 hours of preparation, not to mention travel, which is time away from building my business. I need to be compensated. People get that and are happy to pay me.

I do a couple pro-bono talks each month for organizations and causes I believe in, but my goal is to have 2–4 major talks each year.

If someone had told me 2 years ago I’d be making even $5K per talk, I wouldn’t have believed them, because that’s nearly half a senior engineer’s monthly salary for about a day’s worth of work!

It might be hard for you to fathom making $25K right now.

But it is possible. You can make your first dollar right away: here’s how.

Step #1: Always ask!

When the next speaking opportunity comes along, always start with the question: “Do you have a budget for speakers?”

(Sidenote: This question is most appropriate when an event organizer approaches you with an offer to speak. In the Confident Communicator Course, we teach how to get people to reach out to you.)

If they say no, don’t be discouraged; it often simply means that they need to go and find out whether they can pay you.

If they say yes, then you can dig into how they allocate their budget: travel, hotel/accommodation, meals, and speaker fee are common categories. Keep these in mind when you negotiate your overall price.

Some people will tell you upfront what they’re willing to pay speakers, but most will wantyou to throw out a number first. In negotiation, this is called setting an anchor.

I hate having to set the anchor, but often I do.

Step #2: Price yourself relative to their revenue.

My formula for setting a reasonable anchor has been to ask whether the event is charging attendees, and if so, how much are they charging and how many people will be attending the event. Multiply the two numbers together and you’ll get a sense of gross sales for the event. Then I’ll ask anywhere from 1 to 10% of what I think their gross sales will be. If they have sponsors, I push it close to 10%, because usually sponsorship is used to cover speaker fees.

To give you a ballpark, if I’m speaking at a Fortune 500, I typically charge at least 5 figures, especially if it’s for an internal event or keynote at a conference. For smaller conferences, I charge no less than $5k plus hotel and airfare. For those who cannot afford that, I’ll typically just ask for hotel + airfare minimum (unless it’s truly a pro bono situation).

Remember that you’re charging because it enables you to give a fantastic, memorable talk. The conference organizers want to give their attendees a great experience and raise the overall caliber of their event, and they have budgets to make that handsome.

A tip: It helps to send over sample of previous talks. Generally, people are unwilling to pay 4 or 5 figures if there is no record of you speaking and they’re hosting a high-profile event.

Start by valuing yourself, then make others value you!

I went from making $0 to getting paid handsomely. Make no mistake: I felt like a total noob at first. Once I figured it out, I taught others how to make money from speaking in much less time that it took me to learn it.

That’s why Karen and I created the Confident Communicator Course: to give you the unwritten rules of the public speaking world so you can join it comfortably.

We designed the course for you, even if you started out with little experience and stage fright like I did.

Now, if you’re struggling with stage fright I realize that getting paid to speak is probably the furthest thing from your mind. In the course, I’ll start by addressing your stage fright, because everyone, including the highest-paid executives, experiences it.

Then I’ll give you my proven strategies for getting paid to speak that I don’t share anywhere else, such as:

  • How to attract people to reach out and ask you to speak
  • How to turn those interested people into paid engagements
  • How to get paid $100, $1K, $10K, and more!

This course is an investment with a very clear ROI. You’ll be able to identify and share your expertise confidently, elicit opportunities from your audience that advance your career or startup, and get paid for your time and expertise when you speak.

Invest in yourself and enroll today!

Enrollment for the Confident Communicator Course closes today: Friday April 24, 2015 at 11:59pm PST. I’d be happy to answer any questions or concerns you have before then. Just send them to me via email: help@femgineer.com or giving me a call at: 408.676.9661