When you venture into the world of professional speaking for the first time, deciding how to set your fees can be daunting. There are no hard and fast rules for speaking fees, but there are some strategies that can help you decide how to set your professional speaking fee.
First, you should know that professional keynote speakers often earn $10,000 and up for a single keynote speech. Influencers and celebrities can command $25,000 and up. Past presidents and top celebrities like Brené Brown generate well into the six figures. International speakers can command even higher fees than they would receive in the U.S. For example, a keynote speaker who charges $10,000 in the U.S. can charge $12,500 to $15,000 in Dubai.
Keep in mind that a keynote speaker is different from a breakout speaker. At a conference with concurrent breakout sessions, speakers covering those sessions are typically unpaid, though there are always exceptions. They may receive free conference admission in exchange for their time. The keynote speaker, however, is most often compensated.
If you want to command top fees for keynote speeches, you will need to develop keynote-level presentations, which are different from breakout sessions. Breakout sessions are often educational and tactical, while keynote speeches tend to have an inspirational component. Even speakers who cover technology can weave inspiration into their presentations by showing the audience what is possible or what the future holds.
Why Keynote Speakers Command Top Dollar
Engaging a room with a compelling keynote speech involves more than just the hour on stage. Speakers spend years cultivating their skills and developing compelling presentations. Most customize their presentations to the audience. After booking an engagement, you will have several conversations with the host to learn about the needs of the audience, the expectations, and deal with the logistics. You may be asked to grant permission to film your presentation and make it available to attendees of the event. (When this happens, always ask for a copy of the video for your own use.)
You will also have to travel to the event. It may take you a day to travel across country, spend a night in the hotel, and then a flight back the next evening after the event. That is two days of time you can’t get back. An international engagement could take three or four days of your time. By the way, travel expenses are often billed separately and in addition to your speaking fee.
If you’re seeking top dollar as a speaker, you are most likely to get the best rates from big corporations hosting large events. They will always have deeper pockets that nonprofits, smaller organizations or colleges. Again, there are always exceptions, but corporate gigs tend to offer the highest compensation.
Corporations also have an expectation for keynote fees. If you quote a price well below your competitors, they may question how experienced you are or the value you will bring. When playing in these big leagues, you will need to show up with big league pricing.
Fees for Smaller Venues
You can also speak at events hosted by nonprofit organizations, schools, colleges, religious organizations, trade associations, etc. The fees for these events are often lower, ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. And this is only applicable if they have a budget! Some won’t compensate speakers at all.
Local chapters of national organizations and other smaller venues may offer a stipend ranging from $100 to $1,000. For monthly meetings held by trade associations, service groups like Rotary Club, church events, chamber of commerce meetings and similar types of small events, speakers are often expected to speak for free.
Should You Speak for Free?
If you’re entering the professional speaking field for the first time, you may want to speak for free as much as possible. This allows you to gain experience and practice at becoming a better speaker. And you never know where free speaking opportunities can lead. Attendees may want to introduce you to other organizations or the companies they work for.
For authors, speaking for free offers an opportunity to promote your book. Typically, event speakers are promoted to the entire organization prior to the event, giving you and your book exposure with the whole group, beyond those who attend live. And after you dazzle an engaged audience, you will certainly sell books at the end of your session. You can also sell related products and services, such as consulting, coaching or workbooks. Some speak-for-free speakers can earn more than keynote speakers if they have enough products and services to offer for sale and know how to deliver a powerful presentation.
Speaking at Virtual Events
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many events have moved online and are being delivered by Zoom or other conference technology. While we all hope that life will return to normal with time, and events will resume as usual, I suspect many hosts will stick with the online format. The good news is speakers are still being paid for online presentations. Some hosts are offering lower fees, but keep in mind you don’t have to travel.
And if you want to raise your personal value with event hosts, why not pitch the idea of virtual events, workshops or training sessions? These can be quite profitable, especially when you help facilitate the event in addition to serving as the talent.
How to Set Your Speaking Fee
Now that you understand the industry, you should be better prepared to quote your speaking fee according to the opportunity. Here are some tips to help:
- As a new speaker working with a smaller venue, you may start by quoting $1,500 to $3,000.
- If you are aiming at large corporate events, they may question your experience if you quote your fee too low. I recommend quoting a minimum of $5,000.
- Travel expenses are typically paid by the host separately from your speaking fee. However, if they are working within a budget, you can offer to bundle in the travel fee if it makes sense.
- Another negotiating point: Your books. Always ask if the host can buy copies for attendees. Supplemental materials like books often come from a different budget category and can easily be added to your contract. You will want to offer a bulk discount for books—at least 25% off the retail price for 50 copies or more.
- Selling books can be another negotiating point. For example, of you quote a price of $5,000, but the host lets you know their budget is $3,000, you can ask if they could purchase books over and above the $3,000 fee, creating a win for all.
- When discussing a speaking opportunity with an event host, ask this question: “What is your budget for the speaker?” Many will answer openly, which can help you set your fee accordingly.
- If you’re not aware of the host’s budget and they ask for your price, you could say something like this: “I typically charge $3,000 plus travel expenses. Does that work within your budget?” This will cause the host to respond and let you know if their budget is lower, and then you can decide if you want to negotiate.
- Remember, you can always negotiate down, but you can’t negotiate up!
- Hosts are used to negotiating, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
- You can make concessions when needed. I once quoted $5,000 for an event, but then the host informed me their budget was just $3,500—with no extra funds for travel expenses. The event was just an hour flight away in a city where I have friends, so I was happy to accept $3,500 and bundle in the small travel expense. They also allowed me to sell books at the event. It was a win for all.
You Can Do This!
If you want to earn those big fees, be sure to work on improving your presentation skills, study keynote speakers on YouTube, and continue developing your craft. You may want to join Toastmasters or hire a speaker coach. With enough time and effort, you can build a fun—and potentially lucrative—career as a speaker.
Whether you aim to command $10,000+ for keynote speaking gigs, want to tour the college speaking circuit and earn around $5,000, or you are happy with speaking for free, there are endless opportunities available for talented speakers.
For more information, download our free report: How to Break into Professional Speaking.