I was on a panel about public speaking recently and the topic of getting paid to speak came up. My answer: I do charge a speaking fee for most conferences I speak at. Ideally every person (full time, self employed) will be paid for speaking, but now that I’m a freelancer, it is imperative for me.
When I speak at a conference, I am committing to spending time away from traditional client work to prep a talk, practice a talk, travel to/from a talk, and give the talk. I’m super into math and formulas and I find that hard numbers allow me to figure a fair speaking fee. So let’s see how that works. If I say yes to an hour long talk, that can potentially break down to these hours:
- Email correspondence with conference organizer (info, travel plans, etc): 1 hour
- Prepping for talk (info, keynote design, research): 35 hours
- Practice: 5 hours
- Travel (including waiting at an airport, where I find it hard to do work depending on Internet/length of time): 5-16 hours
- Conference (multi-day): 16 hours
That can be a total of 73 hours away from paying client work. Now, let’s break this time down a bit. If it’s a conference I’d be interested in attending, then the 16 hours at the actual conference can be a draw because I can also learn things there, So we’ll take that out of our total hours and now we are at 57 hours. Let’s say you only say yes to places with direct flights, no time zone change. That will save us some time, so let’s chop 7 hours off of our time to get down to a nice even 50 hours.
Let’s do some more easy math and say your freelance hourly rate is $100/hour.
50 hours (talk prep, travel) x $100 (hourly rate) = $5,000 potential money missed from paying clients
If you are comfortable with charging $5,000 a talk. Great! If not, here’s how you can get that lower without selling yourself short.
It takes me a long time to prepare for a talk, so I try to give it more than once. So if I am going to give the talk 5 times this year, then we can lower that number:
35 (total hours prep) / 5 (amount of times I’ll use this talk) = 7
Our new total hours for this talk, will now be:
- Email: 1 hour
- Prep: 7 hours
- Practice: 4 hours
- Travel = 8 hours
We now have a total of 20 hours so our new speaker fee can be:
20 (total hours) x $100 (hourly rate = $2,000 speaker fee
Still feeling too high for you? How about only saying yes to speaking in places that you would want to extend into a vacation? With that in mind you can cut the travel hours out of your formula - since you’d want to go there anyway. Now our new total is 12 hours, at 100 bucks an hour, will be a speaking fee of $1200.
Do you think this conference might lead to client leads? Well then maybe you can knock off another 100 or 200, and ask for an even $1000. This formula needs to be tweaked to your liking, but I find when I put numbers breakdowns in front of me, this thing (speaking) that some of us picture as intangible, suddenly becomes more of a product you are offering.
How do you ask for this?
I love when someone emails me, invites me to their conference and says: “And we’ll pay you $2,000!” - I”m like sweet! Perfect! But that doesn’t always happen. So then what? Just because they didn’t mention a speaker fee in the initial email doesn’t mean they don’t have money to give you one. So at this point, you can write back and say “what’s the speaker fee?” - but since I’m not always comfortable with a response like that, since i worry that might be read as I’m only in it for money - when lots of times conferences are a labor of love - I like to respond with thoughtful questions that will fill out my formula. Here is a sample of what I will write back:
- How large is the audience?
- What is the cost of the conference? How many speakers are there?
- How long are the sessions?
- Are talks recorded?
- What is the speaker fee?
- Were you looking for me to speak on a topic I’ve already covered or create a new talk with original material and slides?
- Are there pre or post conference events to consider for travel planning?
If they write back and say the audience is 400+ people and the cost is $1000 a ticket and there is no speaker fee, I’ll respectfully reply that I can’t take unpaid days off from client work. This is especially amplified if they want me to create new, original content and/or if they will be recording and releasing videos of my talk on their site. From there, some people have said they understand and are sorry they can’t offer it and sometimes I’ve had people come back and either match what I asked or an offer close to it.
If they write back and say the conference will have 100 attendess and the cost is only $100 a ticket and it’s a place I really want to visit or at a conference I really want to attend, than sometimes I waive the fee, as long as they cover airfare, hotel, and travel expenses (such as cabs to/from the airport - that can be over $100 sometimes, and things like checked bag fees). Sometimes my boyfriend travels with me, and if they provide him a free ticket to the conference and an invite to the speaker dinner - that also is important to me. Conferences are expensive to run. I know that. So if they can’t pay a fee, how they handle the other details can be the deciding factors for me.
Lastly, I limit the amount of non-speaker fee events I’ll speak at a year, between 1-3, such as one local, one national, and one international. That way I have another formula that is easy for me fall back to when I am flattered by an invite, but realistically isn’t a viable event for my career or my accountants liking. And it is super awesome that anyone wants to hear me talk about things, so saying no to those is really hard, but this formula has helped me make smart decisions. Hope these ideas help you.
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(Thanks to the wonderfully awesome Chris Coyier for feedback)