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7 Factors to Consider with Free v. Paid Public Speaking

Speaking at events for "free" is more valuable than you think, and here's seven reasons why.
7 Factors to Consider with Free v. Paid Public Speaking
Image credit: STEEX | Getty Images

Public speaking can be a lucrative business depending on the value you bring to an audience. Often, people have asked me what it takes to be a speaker for profit. Occasionally, I get asked how much I get paid as a speaker. Well, I am here to tell you -- sometimes, not very much… but there are reasons for that.

“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” —Napoleon Hill

The goal of speaking before an audience is not as simple as delivering a speech in your niche and getting paid a sum. There are boundless opportunities that come with speaking other than just receiving a check. When you have not yet established yourself as a speaker, you may consider speaking for free or at a very low cost to increase exposure. As a seasoned speaker, forgoing a speaking fee can reap tremendous rewards both in revenue and new opportunities.

Here are some reasons to consider how to best maximize your compensation, the next time you have an invitation to speak.

Looking for New Clients  / Fishing in New Ponds

Whenever you speak, you should be looking for new clients. I have always looked at free speaking gigs as a way to generate new leads. You may not be able to directly sell your product or services from the stage, but when you gain exposure to new audiences, the bigger play for you is to land what I would call a whale client. When you get out there, the speaking fee is not the prize, landing corporate contracts or landing multiple clients is what you should be after. What if you find somebody that would pay you 10 times your standard speaking fee as your new client? You can easily cover your ‘losses’ and consider that a win!

The key to this being a winning scenario is to really know your audience ahead of time. Get to know who the attendees and other speakers will be, especially if you are going to sell a product or service from the stage. It is important to know the potential of the audience before deciding to speak -- and certainly before forgoing any speaking fees. Ask the event promoter for insight, and do your own research as to the type of association or group you will be in front of. You could end up landing the biggest contract of your career.

Adding Value Can Win You the Gig   

While other speakers are battling with event promoters over price, by adding value to an event, you will be invited to speak without having to compete at all. Using this strategy, I got the gig I was after almost every time.

You see, event promoters have tight budgets that they must follow. If you agree to speak inexpensively or for next to nothing – you automatically look better to the sponsor. The trick to monetizing the situation, so that I am profitable regardless of my fee, is to add value to the event.

For example, if an event says that they have a budget of $5000 to buy a speaker, you can come in and say that you can do it for $2000 if they will buy 250 copies of your book. You may make close to $5,000 with the two combined, but now you look awesome to the event organizer because their attendees get the experience of a great speaker AND they each get a copy of the book, which feels like an unexpected gift to them. To the promoter, this is a huge win because they only have so much budget. It becomes a win-win situation for you and the event organizers which sets you apart from other speakers.

Perception of Profitability

Being profitable by speaking for free or at a low-cost really depends on your angle from the event. If you consider growth as profitability, there are endless angles on what you can gain out of speaking for free.

Space for Training and New Content   

You can utilize your speaking engagement as training -- you can record yourself and play it back to improve your skills. Essentially, you are reinvesting into developing yourself as a speaker. Personally, I have taken opportunities to speak as a way of creating updated content and to test out the response. I have then turned the speech into content -- from highlights of the PowerPoint, to articles and social media posts.  You can also leverage the experience as content to create your next book.

Cross Selling

This plays into whether you have a new book, a new consulting service or a new program. You want to maximize every opportunity to improve your network and fill your programs. Being free from requiring a speaking fee allows you to consider all the avenues that you are looking to fill and look at speaking as an investment in marketing your other enterprises. It is a chance to tap into new leads and new projects you may work on now and in the future.

Sampling to Potential New Leads

You can also invite other event organizers that you are courting to come with you and see you live. When I speak, I always look to ask a local promoter or an event organizer to come and see me speak because I know that once they see me present, they can see the potential for their audience and they are sold!

Free Doesn’t Mean Taking a Loss

Most speakers do not consider that getting paid as a speaker doesn’t only mean you get a speaking fee. By thinking big-picture and considering the many ways you can garner compensation and revenue when speaking, you will have more opportunities available to you. Make sure you have ironed out all details in advance with the event promoter or organizer. You do not need to cover your losses when you speak for no fees; you just need to evaluate how you utilized your time. So, consider speaking for free at future events; the upside is, when done selectively, you may make more in the long run.

A Note From The Editor

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