So you’ve started a speaking career, booked your first gig, and you get an email asking for a speaker contract. What do you do? What should be included in your contract? How much should you charge? What is a “speaking agreement” and is it different than a contract? How do you handle deposits and travel costs? In this post, we’ll give you some tips on how to write a speaker contract. For answers to these questions and more, read on.
What Should Be Included In A Speaker Contract
In episode #6 of The Speaker Lab Podcast, Grant Baldwin walks through what should be included in a speaker contract. First of all, Grant said, “I actually don’t like calling it a contract. I think a contract sounds intimidating for a lot of people, so we internally refer to it as a speaker agreement or a scheduling agreement.” Once you get booked, you can send the agreement to the event organizer.
Keep your contract short and simple. The simpler your contract, the faster clients will sign it and pay you. Ideally, your contract will be set up so you get your money for each performance before you even step on stage.
It’s good to have a template agreement on file, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every gig. In some situations, bookers will want to use their own agreement and that’s okay. The key is that you get it in writing so that everyone is on the same page about when and where you are speaking, how long you will speak for, and how much you will be paid.
Depending on the gig, sometimes you can send off an agreement and you’ll get it right back. Other times it takes weeks and sometimes months to get it back.
So what is inside? What should be included? Here’s how to write a speaker contract:
How to write a speaker contract:
- Include all of the event details: the event date, the name of the event, the location, who the host is, what their contact info is, and just some of that like really basic stuff.
- Write down the program details: exactly what will you be providing? E.G. “Grant Baldwin will be providing one keynote for 45 to 60 minutes on this date at this time.”
- List what your speaker’s fee will be, as well as to whom they need to make checks payable. Whether that’s to you or to, I recommend that you should have a separate business account for your business finances, and so it should generally go toward the business account and not to you personally.
- Detail your travel. There are basically two ways to handle travel, all-inclusive and separate. If it’s all-inclusive, the travel costs are included in your speaker’s fee. Otherwise, you would invoice a separate amount to the event organizer after the event.
- Outline the deposit structure. It’s pretty standard for speakers to ask for a 50% deposit due upon the contract or the agreement acceptance, meaning when you sign this agreement and you send us a 50% deposit, then it basically confirms the date for you.*
- If the event organizers will do audio or video record it, delineate whether you want a copy of that.
- If applicable, include a line about product sales. This could say, “we may sell product at your event.” You can include a line that there will be no revenue splits from that selling product.
- Outline the cancellation and refund policy. For Grant Baldwin, basically, if it’s within 45 days, then he is going to keep the deposit paid to him, plus any expenses for travel, etc. You can include contingencies for illness, acts of God, etc. if you would like too!
*A note on deposit structure:
In rare cases, clients like government organizations can’t pay that till the event happens, and in those cases you can require full balance paid at the time of the event. Be super, super clear that at this time of the event, the balance is due, as opposed to billing a few weeks later.
The contract can be used both as an agreement and as an invoice. Some organizations and groups say, will you send us an invoice? But this agreement can double as your invoice and show the total amount that’s due.
Do I need a contract rider?
Have you ever heard those crazy stories about musicians who would include ridiculous requests in their riders, like Van Halen and their brown M&M clause? Ever wonder exactly what a rider is and if you need one? Can you request a specific seating style at your speaking gig? Should you include your rider as part of the contract, or separately? Do most clients read and remember riders?
While you don’t need to go the Van Halen brown M&M route, a speaking rider is still a good idea. A rider can include how you want the stage, lighting, and microphone to be set up for your maximum comfort on stage. On this episode of the Speaker Lab Podcast you can hear Grant Baldwin explains more about what a rider is, why you should have one, and why sometimes those ridiculous requests have a good reason behind them!
What to include in a contract rider
What Grant includes in his rider, and what you should you include in yours, is simple.
In a one-page document, Grant includes his microphone preference (e.g. a wireless, hands-free mic, or an over-ear mic). He also puts in preferences for staging and lighting setup. In Grant’s words, “for me personally, I prefer a well-lit stage. I don’t like spotlights. When you have a spotlight on you, it’s really, really hard to see the audience. I don’t like that; I tell them in the rider that we don’t need a podium. I like having the house lights up a little bit so I can see the audience.
The third thing that Grant will put in there is a seating arrangement. He prefers a theater-style setup, so no tables, and no seating behind him while he speaks. This stands in contrast to a theater-in-the-round where your back is always to someone.
The fourth thing that Grant will include in a rider is a quick note about his resource table. “Sometimes I’ll sell books or products after an event,” Grant said in the podcast about speaking riders. “So we ask them for a table outside the room where we can meet people and sell products.”
The last things Grant asks for are two room-temperature bottles of water. In a nod to Van Halen, who requested M&Ms backstage with all the brown ones removed, if this clause is fulfilled at the event, Grant will know that the event organizers actually read the contract and rider all the way through. “I know that if they say, hey, here are the two bottles of water,” Grant Baldwin said, “then I know they’re probably gonna be paying attention to some of the other little things that we ask for.”
Where to include the speaking contract rider
Now, where should you include this document? While some speakers include it as part of their contract, and each item that is included on the rider needs to be initialed or signed, or the rider itself needs to be signed and sent back with the contract, Grant doesn’t do that. Instead, he just sends it as a separate one-page attachment with the contract.
Your rider won’t always be read
Keep in mind: Realistically, most clients won’t read or follow through on what you ask for in your rider. Just because you put it in your rider doesn’t mean that is going to magically happen. If you book an event six months out and you send them that rider, there’s a decent chance that that client will read it then, and then just forget about it.
“Half of the events that I speak at actually follow through on what we have asked for in the rider,” Grant Baldwin said. “Maybe in fact, maybe even less than that.”
To keep that to a minimum, you can add a clause at the bottom of your rider for the client to be sure to share this document with their production company.
There is a fine line when drafting a rider between making requests that will help you to give your best talk possible and being needy or demanding. As a speaker, you should be just as good off stage as you are on stage, meaning that if you’re a great speaker, but you’re a pain in the butt to work with, you’re not gonna get booked. So it’s fine to ask for a few things to help set yourself up for success, but don’t get carried away with it.
Don’t ask for things that you can take care of yourself. So if you need dry roasted almonds and an imported glass jar backstage before you speak, then be a freaking grownup and bring a Ziploc baggy with your freaking dry roasted almonds.
So you’ve learned how to write a speaker contract. Want to go deeper?
In this episode of The Speaker Lab Podcast, Jane Atkinson of Speaker Launcher breaks down how to navigate the ins and outs of speaking contracts. She discusses why you should create a boilerplate contract and how to do it. She also talks about what goes into a good speaker agreement, the must-haves and opportunities for being creative, and where we can go the extra mile for our clients. You’ll hear about some of the uncertainties in the business and how to build in opportunities to add value and keep gigs on the calendar despite challenging times!
Still want more? Check out Episode #171 of The Speaker Lab Podcast, “What You Need to Know Before Signing a Speaking Contract,” here.