Getting Paid as a Professional Speaker

A few months ago I was at a network meeting and we were giving our 30 second pitches. The guy before me said he was a “public speaker.” When it was my turn I said “I’m a professional speaker, which means I get paid to speak.”

Big difference, in my mind, between a public speaker and a professional speaker.

A friend sent me an email about getting paid to speak … here is parts of the email and my responses:

>> [This is in regards to someone who is] the author of a best-selling book.

>> she was bemoaning speaking engagements she does being free.

Free isn’t all that bad – there are times, and reasons, to do free.  For example, if you have a method to get email addresses of people in the audience you will build a prospect database…

>> She was saying that corporates that she speaks to always put really strict constraints on her talks/presentations.

If she has a problem with it, and she isn’t getting value out of the opportunity, then she has to say NO.  SHE has the cookie… it is her decision to agree to speak.

>> For instance, she can’t sell her book

Most books sold in the back of the room make very little money anyway.  Assume she gets $10/book (which is not usual – especially if she didn’t self-publish) and she sells 100 books (that is not easy to do) – she gets a mere $1,000 … not much money.

>> or any product at the end

There is a lot of opportunity to make money on non-book products… does she have high-margin products that she could sell?  If so… (read on :))

>> and she has to pay her own way to get there and she gets no fee etc.

It sounds to me she is making bad business decisions.  No fee, no opportunity to sell and she pays expenses?  What does she get out of the engagement… does she get “her name out there?”  That doesn’t put food on the table.

>> … I remember you a few years back now when you said that you’d just gulped, added a few zeros to your speaking engagement fee and they accepted it without blinking.

My first paid speaking engagement was priced at the same price I charge right now. I doubled my rate for a while but that was because I was getting over-booked… I went back to my normal rate once my schedule calmed down.

I did, however, get solid advice from Andy Sernovitz to triple my rates – not necessarily my speaking rates … but I love the advice for various reasons.

>> So I’m thinking; how is there such a difference?

It is a matter of her saying: My fee is $x,xxx plus expenses, and then quietly waiting for a response.  If they say no, that’s fine.  Her time is valuable and I’d argue that one speaking engagement eats up at least four hours of her day.  She can’t do that for free.  If they want to negotiate down she has a business decision to make… which she can do on a case-by-case basis.  But speaking for free, especially if she is a best-selling author, is a great disservice to her capability, knowledge, experience, etc.

>> Is it the groups that you speak to are different corporate groups than her?

I don’t know where she is getting asked to speak but I’ve gotten fees from places/organizations that others said don’t pay.  SHE has the cookie… she has to make a business decision. She has to respect her abilities, and what she brings to the table, enough to say “my time and experience merits $x,xxx,” and if they don’t want her for that then that is fine – she can work on other revenue-generating projects and pass up an opportunity to lose money.

>> Why would she get nothing for her talks and you can name a price?

Because she hasn’t figured out how to name her price, and say NO if they don’t pay a certain amount.

>> I’m just curious how you have obviously been able to get it to work for you, but not her.

Without knowing more about her situation that’s my guess… it is as simple as stating a fee without flinching and then waiting, quietly, for the response.

>> Do you think this is odd?

No.  I think many people do this because they are excited that anyone would listen to them in the first place and they are proud to have an audience.  But you do that a few times and then wonder why you do it for no money…

Another common thing, unfortunately, is speakers who will do it for a couple hundred bucks.  No one is making a living on a couple hundred bucks…. speakers who say they are raising their rate to a couple hundred bucks are still in the “I work by the hour” mode, and they don’t appreciate the power of the message they (can) give.

NOTE: I don’t know if she’s a great speaker or a boring speaker… which could have an impact on her getting jobs…

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