How Much Should You Charge For A Speech?

Paid Public SpeakingProfessional speaking can be a highly lucrative business.  Because it can be, it is also highly competitive.  It’s not easy to break into the ranks of the best-paid speakers, and the expectations are very high for those who do.

Where do you fit in?  I’ve posted many times about how the speaking business works and how to create a career in it.  This post is about fees.  How much should you charge?

The answer is complicated because of the interplay between your status – how well you’re known, how much demand there is for your speaking – the budget for the event, and a third aspect you might not have thought about:  the perception of quality.

Here are some markers that will help you think about it.  I’m assuming we’re not talking about free speaking, speaking for “honoraria,” speaking for expenses or travel, or the like.  That is a huge part of the overall speaking marketplace, but not my subject today.

1.  If you charge less than $10K per speech, speaker bureaus won’t be very interested in you.  That’s because they take a percentage of your fee, and once we get below $10K, that percentage gets too small to be worth it.  There are honorable exceptions to this rule of thumb, but it’s an important break point to think about.  Speaker bureaus control an ever-shrinking percentage of the market, but they’re still an important part of the paid speaking world.

2.  The fee you charge becomes a perception of quality – and that’s the most important aspect.  A typical conference budget for 500 people and two days is on the order of $1.5M to $2.0M.  A keynote speaker as a line item in that budget is less than a coffee break.  So the actual amount you’re charging is not that big a deal to the conference organizer.  It is a big deal to you.  So don’t be too ready to cave when the person on the other end of the phone says, “We’d love to have you speak, but we don’t have any money.  Can you speak for a free pass and expenses?”  What they mean is, in my budget I’ve allotted $X and don’t want to shift money around because that will mean chicken instead of steak on the first night.  Your fee is a proxy for quality to the conference organizer and the world, so it’s important to set a number that’s high enough – and not ludicrous.

3.  New York Times bestselling authors can command $40K and up per speech.  If you don’t have a bestseller, or moral equivalent, than you need to set your fee somewhere south of that number.  How far south depends on demand, celebrity, etc. – and that perception of quality you want to establish.

4.  You should establish a set fee for expenses.  It’s difficult and time-consuming to get your travel expenses refunded after an event.  Organizers are often slow to respond, especially if the event loses money!  So create a set fee for travel, and announce that as an addition to your speaking fee:  “I charge $17.5K per speech and $1.5K for travel east of the Mississippi, $2K west, and $10K overseas.”  That’s just a hypothetical; your experience will vary.   Oh, and invoice for a 50% deposit before the speech.  That’s a good check to see if the conference has the money.

5.  Or you could become a politician.  A recent article detailed the fees certain politicians charge for speaking.  They are substantial.  Bill and Hillary are right around $200K.  Al Gore is a relatively modest $100K.  On the Republican side, George Bush comes in at $110K, and Dick Cheney $75K – $100K.  I guess he can’t charge more than his former boss.    

What you charge is a complex calculation involving your status, your demand, and the quality you want to project.  How have you made the sums come out?  I’d be delighted to hear your experiences in the tricky world of paid public speaking.

Comments

  1. says

    Yes! A highly complex calculation. Also involving (for me, at least) things like the size of the audience, length of the program, degree of involvement (am I tailoring or customizing existing content?), amount of interaction (straight speech versus seminar-like interaction vs. full-on workshop) and other things. People accustomed to a consultant’s hourly rate will question the price for a speech but, of course, it’s not about the time spent delivering it, it’s all the time and intellectual property that went into developing it and the ultimate value it delivers. All that to say, I find giving clients options, including extras like books or coaching, is a way to arrive at a price that works for everyone.

    • Nick MorganNick Morgan says

      Hi, Rob — Great points, thanks for adding them in. All the items you mention are going to part of your calculation; you just need to be careful not to discount too much As you so rightly say, it’s the time and intellectual property, not the hour on stage.

  2. says

    Hi Nick
    What if you don’t have a book on the NYT best seller? What if you weren’t a well known, highly paid CEO? What if you aren’t a politician, or a professor at a recognized school with a publishing connection ?
    I suspect that the large majority of speakers are in the middle, somewhere between speaking for free/expenses and the narrow , high paid realm of some level of celebrity.
    Like actors, singers, politicians, it takes a lot for an unknown person with a message, to get to the A level.
    The million dollar question is how one rises above the crowd and commands big audiences and big fees without celebrity ?And along the way ,what can an aspiring speaker expect to make , the ladder of fees, as one keeps climbing and does the hard work of getting out of average and into the big leagues? What is THAT experience?
    Perhaps a new reality show ,Speaking With The Stars would help ?!
    Betty

    • Nick MorganNick Morgan says

      Hi, Betty — thanks for the comment. If you are in the middle space you’re describing, as of course so many people are, then you need to develop three assets: a great speech, a great book, and a great community. I’ve posted on each of these a number of time; just search our site on “speaking business.” A little more on community: to get speaking requests coming to you, you must develop an online community of like-minded people who share your passion for your idea. There are a number of ways to do this; it takes time and energy. It also takes some clear thinking about your brand as a speaker, what marketing you can/will do as a speaker to get the word out, and then, again, how you’re going to energize that community that you’ve identified. At Public Words we help people design these brands/marketing/community plans. What we’ve learned is that it takes energy and patience to reach your “peeps” because the world is so information-saturated already and there’s a lot of competition. But it can be done.

  3. says

    Great article Nick. I wanted to share a trick that worked for me. Instead of giving a 45min speech, like most others do, I’ve experimented with adding a workshop component to my sessions. And this can be far more lucrative.

    How it works is that I work with the organiser to deliver a keynote speech, followed by a deep-dive 90min session for up to 30ppl, from the 300-500 who attended the speech. And for this, I charge per attendee – anywhere from $900-$1500/person. That’s at least $30K on top of speaking fee, which I can the keep low for xonference organisers. Have you seen this model, or variations, work well?

    • Nick MorganNick Morgan says

      Hi, Shashank — thanks for the comment and the great suggestions. We do indeed often work with clients to create additional “products” to deliver around the speech, because the opportunity for a longer relationship (and an income stream) is considerable. Some clients prefer just to do the speech, it should be said, but if you want more in-depth relationships and have the bandwidth for them, they represent a huge opportunity.

  4. says

    Thanks! Another way of thinking about this might be “value to the organizer.” Having a well known keynote speaker draws people to sign up. If the registration is $2,000 then the conference organizer might think in terms of “If I pay this speaker $20k (versus some other one who will speak for free) how many more people will be drawn in? Looking at my fixed and variable costs, am I better or worse off?”

    • Nick MorganNick Morgan says

      Hi, Colin — thanks for your comment. Indeed, every organizer must do a cost-benefit analysis that involves the drawing power of a keynote speaker v the cost….If you (as a speaker) know your worth, you can bargain more sagaciously.

  5. says

    Nick,

    Helpful post(!!)

    One thing that some speakers do (and many speakers bureaus suggest) is charge more depending on the distance away from a speakers home. For example, I’ve seen some USA East Coast speakers rate cards that work like this: North America East of the Mississippi $20k plus $2k travel allowance. North America Wast of the Mississippi $25k plus $3k travel allowance. And rest of the world $35k plus $10k travel allowance.

    Thoughts on this approach?

    David

    • Nick MorganNick Morgan says

      Hi, David — thanks for your useful comment. Yes, I’ve seen that kind of ‘geographical’ pricing and it makes a great deal of sense. Speakers should plan on getting to the event the night before the speech, so the further away you are, the more time it’s going to take (and the more you should charge). And the reverse of that is true: if you get a hometown gig, you can think about discounting it to some extent, for the convenience. (And I heartily agree with the travel allowance idea rather than trying to get reimbursements, as I said.)

  6. Melinda says

    I am very new to public speaking. You could say it fell in my lap. I was asked by a local no profit to give a 10 minute speech to around 700 people. I was terrified, but I made it through and got a lot of good feed back. We raised of 4 times our goal and convinced a corporation that had never done so, to sponsor one child at each of hundreds of childcare centers. It was a huge and emotional success. It was more gratifying than I ever imagined. As a result I received a call from said corporation’s COO to speak at one of their corporate events for around 2000. I am thrilled and never thought I’d be speaking. I guess my question is; how do I take this new found passion further? And how do I decide what to charge? I was offered compensation and asked for $300. After talking to a few people I have learned that I grossly short changed myself. I’m okay with it for now, but if the opportunity presents itself again I want to be prepared. And again, any advice on steps I can take to get a toe into this as a career would be helpful.

    • Nick Morgan says

      Hi, Melinda –

      In the short run, you need to start taking the steps (one by one) that will establish you as a professional, able and deserving to be paid appropriately. That means first an online presence (website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest — in some mix that works for you). That online presence should present you, your topics, your third-party praise, as well as images of you speaking. Then, create a video that gives viewers a quick (7 minutes or less) of you, your speaking, your topics, etc. Those are the short-term steps. Long-term, once you’re ready, check back in with me. Good luck!

  7. Lucienne Nicholson says

    Melinda’s post and your reply to her are very helpful. I am exactly where she is right now. Public speaking fell on my lap and I am finally taking it seriously as more and more opportunities keep coming my way. I will follow your advice to create an electronic presence.

    Thank you

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