When you speak at an event, you’re providing a service. You shouldn’t have to provide that service for free. Find out what these people did to get paid for speaking.
How much did you get paid for your last speaking engagement?
Did you even get paid at all?
For many, the answer is a resounding “no”. There’s no shortage in the number of speaking opportunities out there. But so many of them offer no payment for your services.
Even some of the most prestigious organisations and institutions don’t pay their speakers. Perhaps they assume that you’ll get something valuable from your association with the brand. The exposure could certainly lead to more speaking opportunities.
But that doesn’t mean much if you’re not getting paid. You can’t build a speaking career on exposure alone.
If you’re considered enough of an authority to speak for somebody, you’re valuable enough to get paid.
The world’s top speakers understand this. People like Tony Robbins earn thousands from a single speaking engagement. Former United States president Bill Clinton regularly commands $250,000+ or more for speaking.
There’s money out there for speakers. You just need to know how to get it. These tips and stories from people who get paid to speak can help you.
Tip #1 – Have the Courage to Ask
Femjineer founder Poornima Vijayashanker made a startling discovery early in her speaking career.
Her research told her that top speakers can earn up to six figures for their speaking.
Yet she’d never received payment for a single speaking engagement.
She reached out to other speakers and found many of them were in the same position. She thought about getting an agent. But then she found that most agents only work with bestselling authors and Fortune 500 CEOs.
These were the people that were already getting paid for speaking.
Vijayashanker realised that she had to go it alone, so she made a promise to herself. She would ask for payment when her next speaking opportunity arose.
That opportunity came with an invite to speak as part of a panel for a Wharton School of Business conference. Vijayashanker wanted to take part and may have even done it for free.
But she’d made a promise to herself.
Vijayashanker tallied up the costs associated with taking part. Then, she sent her response: “Thanks for the offer, I’d love to speak on your panel, but I’ll need to be paid for my time.”
She only asked for $75.
The Wharton School of Business said that they could cover that fee and Vijayashanker learned a valuable lesson.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get paid.
Today she asks in excess of $10,000 and companies pay it.
Think about how this story relates to your own speaking career. Are you waiting around for people to offer payment when they offer an opportunity?
If so, you’re less likely to receive payment. Vijayashanker saw her speaking career take on a whole new dimension when she developed the courage to ask for payment. You can do the same.
The next time you’re offered an opportunity, ask the question. You’ll find that many organisations will happily pay you for your time, within reason. And you’ll have taken your first big step into paid speaking.
Tip #2 – Learn How to Negotiate a Price
Vijayashanker offers some more advice when it comes to setting your fee.
You may have an idea of your value. But the organisation you speak for also has an idea of the price they’re willing to pay.
Most importantly, most will want you to set a fee. If you get this wrong, you may lose the engagement.
Vijayashanker recognises the danger of pricing yourself out of the opportunity. She says that a simple formula helps her to set a reasonable price.
“My formula factors in any admission charges for attendees, and how many people will be attending the event,” she says.
“I multiply those two numbers together to get a sense of gross sales and ask anywhere from 1% to 10% of those gross sales”
You don’t have to use her formula, but you must understand her point. Every organisation is different. Some have massive budgets for speakers, whereas others may not have even considered paying you.
Price yourself appropriately and you’ll stand more chance of getting paid.
Tip #3 – Offer Something of Value
Let’s look at the story of Harry Walker to demonstrate the importance of offering value.
Many consider Walker to be one of the early innovators in the speaking industry. During the 1960s and 70s, he created an agency that represented a number of influential speakers of the time.
Most of these speakers didn’t get paid before joining Walker.
The reason that they started earning is because Walker offered something different to audiences. In his terms, his speakers offered “mind stretching programs.”
His son boiled this term down upon Walker’s death in 2002.
“That meant instead of talking to Coca-Cola executives about bottling—which is what they used to hear about—talk to them about what's happening in the world,” he says.
Simply put, Walker’s speakers offered something of value that the audience couldn’t get anywhere else. They weren’t telling them things that they already knew. Instead, Walker’s speakers provided insight that could inform a company’s decisions. A company like Coca-Cola could use these insights to create more effective marketing campaigns.
The speaking industry has evolved since the 1960s and 70s.
But the concept of offering value remains the same.
If you don’t have something unique to share with others, you’re not going to get paid.
Think about what makes your speaking special. Your story has a unique value, as do the emotions you get people to feel when you speak. Your experiences offer value and you need to project that to your audience.
Invite people to your speeches or share video of you in action to show the value that you have to offer. As long as you can give your audience something unique, you’re more likely to receive payment for your efforts.
Tip #4 – Diversify
Sam Johnson is a tenured professor at a university in the United States. He’s also not too keen about sharing his place of work or his real name. Sam Johnson is actually a pseudonym, but that doesn’t mean that his advice doesn’t carry value.
Because according to Sam, he gets paid about $60,000 per month for speaking.
In 2016, Sam wrote an article for Chronicle Vitae in which he spoke about how he gets paid to speak. In that essay, he brings up the topic of diversification.
“…The key to earning a good income from speaking fees is being able to talk about more than one topic,” he says. “The more speeches in your repertoire, the larger your pool of potential clients.”
You may think that you only have your own story to share. And that is the crux of all of your speaking.
But every story has many facets. There are so many different angles that you can approach your speaking from. You also have a range of experiences to draw from.
Use all of that to diversify your speaking. Show that you’re more than a one-trick pony and you’ll make yourself a more desirable speaker. The more people that you can speak for, the more likely you are to get paid.
Tip #5 – Search for Events
Don’t wait for speaking opportunities to come to you.
Go out and seek them on your own.
You’ll often find that you can find further work in your audience. An audience member who you impressed with your speech may want to use you themselves. And they’ve seen your work first-hand. They know what you can do and will be more willing to pay for your time.
But what about those who are new to speaking?
In this case, Google is a great friend.
First, make a list of all of the topics that you feel comfortable speaking about. You may have specific areas of expertise that your story relates to. Figure out what you can offer before you start your search.
Let’s say that you live in Sydney and your speaking centres on entrepreneurship. A simple Google search of “Sydney entrepreneur conference” offers the following results:
These are all conferences where you might be able to speak. Better yet, there’s a list of related searches at the bottom of the page that will show you more potential search terms.
Be proactive and start getting in touch with any that you may be able to offer a service to. Speak to the event organisers, show them what you can do, and remember Tip #1. Always ask for a fee.
But it all starts with being proactive and making a list.
People can go many years of speaking without earning a single dollar. They keep waiting for the right opportunity instead of doing something about it.
Don’t fall into that group.
Being proactive nets you far more than you may realise. Search for organisations that could use your services and ensure you have something unique to offer. Create a diverse range of speeches that let you appeal to the widest possible audience.
Most importantly, have the courage to ask for payment.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to get some help along the way. Speakers Institute can help you to hone your story and ensure you show people your value. Try doing the following to get started: