How to Negotiate Your Speaker Fee

Table of Contents

Introduction 

For many of us, public speaking is an incredibly important skill to hone, both professionally and personally. But all too often speakers don’t recognize the importance of putting boundaries around this skill. That’s why, when it comes to speaking engagements, it’s important to establish guidelines that protect your time, your energy, and your financial well-being. One of those major boundaries is your speaking fee. Are you interested in learning how to negotiate your speaking fee? If so, read on.

The first thing you need to know is that it is ok to negotiate your fee. You should negotiate your fee when it makes sense, so that you are receiving value in some way. 

Of course, even when deciding to do a paid gig, it‘s important to think of the gig in the context of your entire year. Thinking of it in the context of your entire business helps you to make better decisions about what gigs will ultimately help you to generate your desired income.

What is negotiation?

The basic definition of a speaker fee negotiation is a process in which two or more parties attempt to reach an agreement by exchanging ideas, information, and offers to find a mutually acceptable agreement. In the context of determining a speaker fee, negotiation typically happens via a dialogue (often remote) between two or more parties. It is used to reach solutions that all involved parties can agree to in an amicable manner.

Why negotiation is important in the speaking field

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that a successful speaking career requires boundaries. Boundaries help you protect your time, your energy, and your financial wellbeing, all of which are important pieces of the puzzle. Once you establish your boundaries and are willing to stand in your worth, it’s much easier to make decisions about the best gigs for you and move forward in your speaking career.

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Preparing for Negotiations

Starting off, it’s important to recognize the difference between donated and paid gigs. Generally speaking, donated gigs are those where the primary benefit is exposure and experience. While these gigs may be a great opportunity for those starting out in their speaking career, it’s important to remember that there is a limit to the amount of free gigs you should be willing to do.

Establishing a set number of free engagements – one or two a year – provides you with an easily-definable limit when it comes to talking about fees. Declining a free gig is made that much easier when there is a very clear metric in place to work with.

Determine Your Worth

How much should you charge to speak? Well, $1,500 is a good starting point for most speakers. Let’s say you’re speaking 2 times at an event. You’d charge a flat fee (~$1,500) for one talk and a little more (~$500) per additional talk. Your time and expertise are valuable so you should be charging as such.

The more times you speak, the more you should be paid. You’ve spoken between 11-50 times in your career, so you should be compensated for your experience.

Want to get a precise number for what you should be charging? Check out our speaker fee calculator here.

It is ok to negotiate your fees when it makes sense and you gain some type of value in exchange. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate the circumstances and determine which ones make it beneficial for you to negotiate. As Grant Baldwin put it on an episode of The Speaker Lab podcast on negotiating fees, “Don’t just discount the price just for the heck of it. Look for other ways that you can provide or they can provide potential value to you.”

When to alter your fee structure

Here are a few circumstances when it might make sense to reduce or alter the structure of your fee, derived from Baldwin’s podcast.

The first circumstance when you should consider negotiating is when you have multiple engagements or bookings. This way, you can reduce your fee in exchange for the client taking multiple engagements. Another circumstance is if there is less travel involved in your speaking engagements. For example, if you are able to give a speech via video conference, you could be open to reduce your fee in exchange for the client not having to cover your travel expenses.

One instance when you might consider negotiating your speaking fee is if it is a slower time of year for you. You may be able to negotiate a slightly lower fee in exchange for needed work during those slower times. Another example is if there is the potential for product sales from your speech or a conference. 

Suppose the client is willing to provide demo video footage of your speech. You can negotiate your fee in exchange for the client providing you with demo video footage. Another example is if the client is willing to provide referrals and recommendations. Baldwin said, “I would tell [the client], Hey, if I do a good job for you, then as part of our deal, I want you to introduce me to five other potential clients that would be a good fit for what I do that you think might be interested in booking me.”

The final circumstance is if you are speaking at a high profile event in your industry. You can negotiate a fee knowing that by speaking at that event, it will give you great credibility for potential future events.

Consider Your Audience so You Know What to Expect

What kind of audience are you looking at speaking to? Well, that will give you an idea of what budget they might have. Generally speaking, corporate and sometimes educational venues such as colleges and high schools pay speakers higher rates, while nonprofits and faith-based organizations pay less. Make sure you go into negotiations with a ballpark idea of what your audience pays.

The Negotiation Process

In episode 142 of The Speaker Lab Podcast, Grant Baldwin interviewed Liz Saunders about the role of sales in booking speaking engagements and how best to price yourself. Liz asserts that it is important to be confident in what you are asking for and to understand the elements of that value that you are providing. You must also remember to shut your mouth when you quote a fee and be ready to negotiate.

Negotiations involve variables, including time. Local speaking engagements may be more negotiable than far-off ones. The speaking industry is full of small ponds, with speaker rates varying. Don’t settle for less than your worth and don’t feel rejected if unsuccessful. Aim to get the value you need but be aware that it might not be a success.

Liz noted that if the event is local, she is more willing to negotiate than if she must travel a long distance to the event.

Establish Rapport

It’s important to remember that speaking is a relationship business. You need to start a conversation with potential customers and not try to close the deal on the first contact. There are several ways to find speaking gigs: Google searches, online advertising, speaker referrals, client referrals, live presentations, repeat business, showcases, social media and directories.

Do you have any mutual connections on Linkedin or in life with an event organizer? Anyone who can introduce you and refer you to potential event planners, clients, etc. is going to be a huge asset to your speaking business. The more you speak, the more it leads to other speaking opportunities. If you can mention that person in an email or call, they will be more likely to follow up with you about gigs.

Pitch Yourself

When you pitch yourself to the event organizer, make sure to do so confidently. As Saunders said, “When you quote your price, be confident about what you’re doing and remember that you have something that not only are you passionate about, but is going to bring value to their attendees or people that you’re talking to.”

And keep in mind that when it comes to speaking for free, as Melanie Deziel put it in The Speaker Lab Podcast on negotiating perks, “You have to ask yourself, is this worth my one free event a month or my two free events a year? And you have to look at it in the context of your entire scope of your year.”

Reach a Compromise

Liz warned that the speaking industry is full of small ponds, and what one speaker gets might be different than what another speaker receives. However, it is important to make an effort to get your value out of the engagement. Liz noted that even if a speaker is offered $5000 after pitching $10,000, it does not mean that the speaker should just accept a $5000 offer.

“There’s a lot of things that they can do on their end that can make up some of that value for you,” Liz said. “And the very succinct way that I put this is never give something up without making them give something up as well.”

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After the Negotiation

At the end of the conversation, Liz advised that speakers should remember that they offer something valuable. You should not feel like you are a failure if the result of the negotiation does not go in your favor. “It’s really tough,” Saunders said, “to disassociate the service that we offer with who we are because we are the product.”

As Deziel put it in The Speaker Lab Podcast on negotiating perks, “Remember that conversation that’s standing in your worth, that running a business is ultimately in service of your message and in service of your audience.”

Conclusion

So you’ve learned a little bit more about how to negotiate your speaking fee. Ready to go deeper?

On episode 142 of The Speaker Lab podcast, Liz Saunders shares her experience with booking speaking gigs and negotiating fees. She outlines a squeaky-clean sales call process, discussing how to adjust fees according to client priorities. Liz sheds light on the entire speaking industry, making this episode a big to-listen-episode for any speaker trying to determine how to negotiate. Check out this podcast episode to gain insights into booking gigs, negotiating fees and more.

Want even more? Check out our speaker fee calculator here. Happy speaking!

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