How I Price My Speaking Fees (and How You Can Price Yours)

Yesterday, in my post on (almost) everything you need to know about speaking contracts, I said that talking about money can be slightly uncomfortable at best and gauche at worst, but also that money is what pays your mortgage, puts food on your table, buys cute shoes, and funds the building of orphanages. In the spirit of eating the frog, we're talking about pricing today in the second post of the Speak Splendid series, in order to get it out of the way up front. 

I am going to be ultra transparent and tell you exactly how I calculate my speaking fees. This may make some of you uncomfortable, so consider this a heads up if you want to click your browser tab closed and scroll through pretty images on Instagram instead.

Speaking fees in the wedding industry are often shrouded in mystery and, quite frankly, are usually numbers just pulled out of the sky.

In addition, most wedding conference or workshop producers don't have experience doing corporate event planning, so they don't necessarily know how to appropriately budget for their conferences or for their speakers. This can cause sticker shock, hurt feelings, and resentment for both speakers and conference producers alike. It doesn't have to be this way. 
 

Pricing Models for Speaking Fees

Some common pricing models that speakers in the wedding industry use include:

  • Loss Leader: This means the person will speak for free or for a non-competitive rate (aka so low others can't compete with it) in order to gain potential sales in another area of their overall business model.

    Examples of this would be a graphic designer wanting to get in front of potential new clients, a photographer promoting a new online course, or a wedding planner who has a book coming out.

    This can be a very effective way to build your speaking resumé, get your name out to the industry when you're in the launch years of your business, or strategically align with companies you want to work with.
     
  • Flat Fee: This is a flat number that the person is willing to speak at an event for. Usually these are increased each year, so a person's speaking fee for 2018 would be more than it is right now for 2017, which is more than what they were charging last year.

    Some people also have one flat fee for speaking engagements within their country and a different flat fee if the event is international. 

    Flat fees for speakers in the wedding industry typically range from $500 – $50,000+.
     
  • Per Person Fee: This type of fee is calculated by the number of attendees, so the price for speaking at a conference with 400 attendees will be more than an intimate retreat with 40 attendees.

    In a sense, this pricing model is similar to the concept behind royalties for book authors or residuals for TV writers and actors: the more people who consume the creative product, the more the creators of that product get paid. 
     
  • Hourly Rate: An hourly rate (aka billable hours) takes into account all the hours involved in preparing and delivering a speech: the time on stage, as well as any research, writing the presentation itself, practice and rehearsals, travel time to and from the event, etc.

    If preparing for a presentation requires a lot of time away from the work of your core business, an hourly rate can help you make up whatever money you're not making when you're unable to use that time for site visits or creating event design concepts.
     
  • Day Rate: For this pricing model, the speaker calculates how much a day of their time is worth, and charges accordingly. 

    For example, if a conference wants a speaker to be present for the full three days of the event, mixing and mingling with attendees, the speaking fee would be the day rate multiplied by three.

    Some speakers also include travel time away from the office, so a 3-day conference might be quoted a fee based on four or five days, depending on how long it takes the speaker to get there, door-to-door.
     
  • "Eff It, I'll Do It" Rate: This one is super controversial, but it gets used, so we'll talk about it: if a person really doesn't want to say yes to a speaking invitation, there is sometimes a price at which they're willing to say, "eff it, I'll do it."

    Here's an example not from a speaker, but of a wedding planner I know: After the planner fired a nightmare client, the mother of the bride called her and said, “We’ll pay whatever it takes to get you back, there’s no number too high, name your price.” 

    The planner replied, “OK, for all the BS you put me and my staff through, we’ll take you back as a client for a planning fee of $1 million.” 

    $1 million was this planner’s “eff it, I’ll do it” number for a crazy client she did not want. 

    An aside: I’m a capitalist, but if for every speaking engagement you’re quoting an “eff it” price, it may be a sign that you really just hate public speaking and should possibly explore another career path that brings you more joy and gets you paid a reasonable amount more consistently.

The pricing model you choose should be based on what best serves your business model. It is different for everyone, because everyone has different strategic goals.
 

How I Calculate My Own Speaking Fee

I use a per person fee, with a minimum, as well as protections for scope creep. Here's how that fleshes out:

I calculate the financial value of my content for one attendee.

  • This means that if one attendee implements everything I share on stage, how much money will it bring to their business in a given time frame?
     
  • I err on the side of being conservative in this estimate, and my time frame is generally one year. I then multiply that by the number of expected attendees. I then divide that number by 25. That number is my base fee.

For the sake of round numbers and simplicity, let’s say it’s a conference for wedding planners and the average planner in attendance charges $5,000 for full planning. The conference has 100 attendees and the producers want me to speak in a general session for an hour or less.

I’ve determined that if each planner in the room takes all the information I share in this particular presentation and implements it, they will book X amount of weddings over the next year.

For this example, let’s be ultra conservative and say it’s one additional wedding on top of what they normally book:

  • $5,000 x 100 attendees = $500,000

    This means that the value of my information to the entire room is worth $500,000. If every single planner sells an extra wedding at $5,000 each because of what they learned from me, they'll have collectively brought in an additional half a million dollars in revenue.
     
  • I then divide that $500,000 by 25. Why 25? Because on average, only 1 in 4 conference attendees go home and actually implement what they learned from any of the speakers.

    $500,000 divided by 25 = $20,000 total speaking fee
     
  • To get the per person fee, I divide the $20,000 total by the number of attendees.

    $20,000 divided by 100 = $200 per person

    This means my base fee that negotiations start at for that conference is $20,000, which works out to $200 per person.

    (You can also get to the per person price faster by doing the formula this way: $5000 divided by 25 = $200.)
     
  • An aside: If you choose to use this pricing model and want to lessen any sticker shock, include the per person price in your fee quote. It’s much easier for a conference producer to wrap their head around $200 out of every $3,000 attendee registration fee as it puts the speaking fee at less than 7% of each registration cost. 7% of a ticket sale is easier to swallow than just seeing a $20,000 number on a page, and allows them to think more clearly about their conference budget. 

As far as the minimum and protections for scope creep go, here is how I personally handle those: 

  • The initial fee agreed to and listed on the contract is the minimum rate, so if fewer people register than expected, the conference isn't entitled to a partial refund from me.

    Preparing a compelling and relevant presentation is my responsibility. Conference registration sales and marketing is their responsibility. 
     
  • As far as scope creep is concerned, if the conference decides to open its doors to more people after the contract is signed, I would be owed an additional per person fee (at the contracted rate) for every 25 attendees beyond the original estimate.

    So for the example we've been using, if a conference of 100 expected attendees ends up selling 125 tickets, I would be owed an additional $5,000, for a total of $25,000. ($200 contracted per person fee x 125.)

    Remember, the theory behind this model is that the more people who benefit from or consume the content, the more the creator gets paid.

    This also allows me time to do the extra homework now required by the increase, and protects against any potential bait and switch, like a conference quoting a lower attendee number in order to pay me less.
     
  • I chose to set the scope creep number at increments of 25 people because I felt that was fair to both myself as well as any conference producers.

    Using our running example, if the conference sells three extra tickets, I'm not going to bill them for $600. And if they sell 149 tickets, they still get me for the price of 125. No one likes to be nickeled and dimed.
     

How I Calculate the Financial Value of My Content

My numbers aren’t pulled out of the sky. When calculating the financial value of my content, I base it on a few things:

  • The expected audience for the conference and what level the attendees are at in their careers. I also consider which industry segments will be included in the audience. 

    In the example above, I used wedding planners charging at the lower end of mid-range pricing for flat rate, full-service planning. That is obviously not going to be the audience for every conference or workshop I speak at.

    Different audiences get different presentations because they have differing needs and differing business models. Which means my per person fee will be different for each conference.

    For example, an audience of bridal store owners who target the mass market with attainable price points for their wedding dresses (say $1500 or below) would change the calculations when it comes to what the information I provide would conservatively add to their annual revenue.

    Please don't click out of this post thinking I charge $20,000 or more for every wedding industry speaking engagement. That is ridiculous. 
     
  • I also determine the value of the content based on the feedback I get and the stories that previous attendees have told me about how their respective businesses improved because of what I shared from stage. 

    Every single piece of feedback I receive, verbal or written, is entered in a spreadsheet on Google Drive, so I literally have years and years worth of data and measurable outcomes to evaluate. 
     
  • I am known for giving presentations with a lot of actionable content that can be implemented almost immediately. I know how the strategies I share can change a person's business, which makes doing the math on it easier.

    My talks are typically not the ones with the story of my life tied to larger universal lessons that make people cry. While I am occasionally asked to share my story, and it does leave attendees inspired and motivated (and a few do cry), it contains far less immediately actionable content. There is definitely financial value in the more inspirational-style speeches as big ideas are born out of inspiration, but it is much more difficult to measure how that will affect specific financial change in an attendee's business.

    An aside: If you tend to mainly give inspirational talks and find calculating attendee ROI difficult to do fairly, a flat fee may be a better pricing model for you than a per person model. 
     

Other Things I Take Into Consideration

While I don't charge an hourly or daily rate for speaking, I do feel the number should be fair to the amount of time I put into a presentation.

A lot of people view speaking as less than an hour of work because they judge it by the amount of time you spend on stage. In reality, it’s so much more, and in my case more than the average speaker. Think about it this way: is a wedding only 8-12 hours of work day-of? Of course not.

Here's a little about the behind-the-scenes and energy required for every speaking engagement I take on:

  • I don’t give canned speeches. Every presentation is written for the particular conference or workshop I’m presenting at, with the specific audience in mind.

    When I say specific audience, I mean specific.

    I go through the entire attendee list ahead of time (yes, even for conferences with 500+ attendees) and look up every single person’s website and all of their social media. I look at any WeddingWire, Google, or Yelp reviews they may have. I make notes in a spreadsheet.

    When I walk on stage, I know exactly who is in that room, what they do, their aesthetic, their point of view, and how they feel about pumpkin spiced lattes, the latest episode of Scandal, and whether they prefer SoulCycle, Pure Barre, or Cross Fit.

    I prepare for a speech like it’s my job, because it is my job.
     
  • At the conference or workshop itself, I generally stay up late, hanging in the hotel lobby, letting attendees pick my brain as well as giving unsolicited business advice based on the hours of Insta-stalking noted above.

    As I mentioned in yesterday's post on speaking contracts, I know that part of the value conference producers see in me is the off-stage time I’ll put in with their attendees at their event. 

    As an introvert, I know I can only healthily do this if I leave alone-time margin in my schedule the day after an event ends so I can appropriately recharge. My fee needs to be a number that allows me to do this. If you’re an extrovert who draws energy from being around people, you may be able to jet off to an important meeting the next day, fully charged, and not need the alone time. 

If I priced myself low in order to compete on volume, I would burn out trying to meet my financial goals. I’ve burned out before. It is hell. The recovery process is long and hard. I’m never going back to that. 

This means that if I calculate a speaking fee and it comes in below a certain number, I turn it down. Both my well-being and my business model depend on this guideline. 

You know what you personally need to run at full capacity, so make sure your business is designed in a way that allows you to thrive not just financially, but emotionally, mentally, and physically as well.
 

More Money Talk

Over the next few days I'll share how you can calculate the financial value of your content and other things to take into consideration as you determine which pricing model is best for you as a speaker. I'll also talk about how to determine which speaking engagements are right for you and your goals.
 

In the Meantime, Here's Some Homework

  • If you haven't yet thought about what you want to get out of speaking, take some time to jott down your reasons for getting into it or why you hope to.
     
  • Next, get really honest with yourself and tally how many of those reasons may be driven by ego or FOMO and how many support your core business goals.

Having at least a loose articulation of these things will help you better navigate the Speak Splendid posts that are coming up.
 


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(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Speaking Contracts

When I first started working in the wedding industry, it was nearly impossible to find quality educational information. Facebook and YouTube didn't yet exist. There were a few paid private online forums in each segment of the industry, but none that spanned industry-wide. Conferences and workshops were hosted by professional trade associations and also divided by industry segment. It was out of this frustration that the blog here at Think Splendid became the first b2b blog for the wedding industry, with information publicly available for free. 

Needless to say, I am thrilled that today it's much easier to find helpful information for whatever segment of the wedding industry you work in.

Want to read wedding business articles online? Places like Sage Wedding Pros, Rising Tide Society, and the Carats & Cake weekly newsletter all have archives that run deep.

Prefer to listen during a workout, on your commute, or while editing wedding photos? Plug your earbuds into Bridal Bar Radio, Jenna Kutcher's Goal Digger podcast, or search iTunes for dozens more.

Want to attend a conference or workshop and meet people face to face? There are now literally hundreds to choose from, from intimate and hands-on like Oh So Inspired to luxe and lavish like the Engage Summits.

For the next several days, I want to talk specifically to those of you who want to get more involved on the teaching side, especially to those who speak – or want to break into speaking – at industry conferences and events. It's a series I'm calling Speak Splendid. 
 

Speak Splendid: Speaking Contracts + Agreements

First up is a topic many wedding industry leaders I talk to always want help with and one that can seem intimidating: speaking contracts and agreements. 

When it comes to the details of a speaking engagement, the best way to handle things is to spell it all out in your contract. If you are choosing to speak for free, I still recommend having a written speaking agreement. This helps prevent miscommunication and hurt feelings later on.

Aside from all the legal jargon that an attorney can help you with, below are some things that should be included in your speaking contract. Sometimes some of this information is included in a rider, but within the context of wedding industry conferences it's usually included in the main portion of the contract itself. Most of this I learned the hard way through 18 years of getting paid to speak publicly, so you'll want to grab a cup of coffee and settle in – this one is long:
 

Speaking Fees + Payments

Talking about money can be slightly uncomfortable at best and gauche at worst. However, money is what pays your mortgage, puts food on your table, buys cute shoes, and funds the building of orphanages, so we're going to eat the frog and get this part of the conversation out of the way first. 

  • Your contract should include your speaking fee (I'll talk more about how to come up with this number over the next few days) as well as payment details and due dates.
     
  • Some conferences, mostly in the photography segment of the wedding industry, require that speaking fees be paid by a third-party sponsor. In this case, your contract should cover how that fleshes out: do they match you with a sponsoring company or are you responsible for finding them?
     
  • Other conferences don't pay speakers or only pay their keynote speakers. This business model is understandably controversial, but it is what it is, and you have to decide whether speaking for free at a particular event is a strategic loss leader for you. In some cases it can be (here are my thoughts on saying yes to free without getting taken advantage of) and in other cases it doesn't make sense. Saying no isn't a knock against the conference and it doesn’t mean you’re “above it” – it just means it’s not right for your business goals at this point in time.

    If you do say yes to working for free, you should still have a contract (or at the very least, have it all bulleted in an email so that it’s in writing) outlining what’s included in your “yes” from both you and the conference. 

    An aside: if you turn it down, is there someone you can recommend instead? Maybe a colleague you trust who is looking to build their speaking resumé or for whom the exposure would be beneficial? Wherever you can, always give a referral with your “no.” Just because it’s not right for you doesn’t mean it’s not perfect for someone else. Generosity wins.

  • You'll also want to include what other financial aspects are covered by the conference (travel, accommodations, meals or per diems, waived event registration, etc), along with what gets prepaid by the event host, what gets reimbursed, etc.
     
  • If you travel with a business associate or spouse/partner, you'll want to have in writing what financial aspects the conference will cover for them, if you've negotiated any. 
     

Project Scope + Expectations

  • You'll want to include details of the presentation itself: How long are you speaking for? Does the session include Q+A? How many sessions will you be participating in? Are you presenting alone, with a partner, or on a panel? Will you be presenting in a general session or a breakout session? What's your topic? Do you need to relate the content to an overall conference theme?
     
  • Which events within the conference are you required to be at and to what extent? This includes any meals, welcome and farewell parties, sessions by other speakers, etc. 

    For many conference producers in the wedding industry, paying a speaker also includes an expectation that attendees will have reasonable access to you for conversations. It is super annoying to fork over thousands of dollars to attend a conference or workshop only to find that the speakers you wanted to meet and get to know hole up in their room away from everyone whenever they’re not on stage.

    If you’re expected to speak and be present at an event for several days, take that into consideration when calculating your speaking fee.

    (It’s also not cool to hide away if you said yes to speaking for free. You’re the one who said yes. Treat it like a paid engagement and get over yourself. I say this as an introvert.) 
     
  • Any pre-event details and deadlines should be outlined: By what date do they need to send you the attendee list? When are your slides due to the conference producers? When are any handouts due? 

    Some conferences tie final payment to delivery of your slidedeck, to ensure their speakers aren't cramming the night before or phoning it in. These deadlines are typically 14 to 30 days out from the event date. 
     
  • Be sure to outline whether or not your presentation can be recorded, and if so, what that recording can be used for, and where it can be distributed.

    Most conferences will record all of the sessions so they can edit in a soundbite from your talk for future marketing videos. Some record the entire presentation with the intent of selling it as part of an educational offering on their website. If this is the case, you'll want to iron out if an additional licensing fee is required, whether you'll receive a profit share or royalties, etc. Usually this will require a separate, signed agreement. 
     

Travel + Accommodations

  • In addition to the financial aspects of travel listed above, you'll also want to detail travel requirements where applicable, including preferred airlines, seating requirements, scheduling preferences, etc. If the conference is in a different location from the hotel, who is responsible for getting you there? If you're super tall, you may need to specify that a rental car be a certain size. 

    A personal example: I need to arrive at least the day before I speak. Flight delays and cancellations are outside of everyone's control and I'm not willing to risk missing a contracted engagement because not enough margin or time was allowed for the unavoidable to occur.
     
  • If meals are covered, include any dietary restrictions or allergies. This includes Kosher, Halal, vegetarian, vegan, Celiac gluten-free, nut allergies, etc. Your propensity to land in an emergency room because of a soy allergy is something the event producers legitimately need to know. Your preference for a Paleo lifestyle is information you can keep to yourself.
     
  • Also outline hotel requirements: do you need a private room or are you okay with sharing? Does the hotel need to have room service or a restaurant on site? Is there a certain star-rating the hotel needs to meet in order for you to stay there?

    I was once booked for a wonderful event but put up in an ultra-sketchy hotel. A friend who lived in that city immediately came and picked me up and gave me her guest room for the rest of my stay. Lesson learned: a requirement that the hotel not be inspiration for an episode of Law & Order was added to my contract.
     

Brand Protection + Promotion

Your contract should not be one-sided: it should protect both you and the event host. This includes how both of your businesses are protected and promoted in regards to brand positioning.

  • You'll want to include details on how you will be promoted as a speaker as well as how you will promote the conference on behalf of the event host. Will they get a dedicated Instagram shout-out to your 100k+ followers? Will you be included in promotions or just listed on the website? Are you willing to appear on a panel with speakers with whom aligning your brand could harm your reputation? (Guilt by association is unfortunately real.)
     
  • Some tricky waters: if you are not comfortable aligning your brand with a Trump-owned property, and a conference venue has not yet been selected when you negotiate your contract, talk to your attorney about how to include a clause that allows you to break the agreement should the event end up being booked at one. This is obviously a touchy topic with many different (and valid) viewpoints, but at the end of the day, you know what's best for you, even if it's not the same decision a respected colleague might make. Your contract is meant to protect you, so make sure it does.
     
  • If a conference is paying you to speak, they have every right to ask that their investment not be diluted by potential overexposure of you as a speaker. Often they will add expectations and limitations on where else you can speak in a given geographical area within a certain time frame. This protects them from decreased registration sales because a potential attendee got to hear you at a less expensive event a month prior.

    If you said yes to speaking for free, then I personally do not believe this clause is fair as it could prevent you from accepting a paying speaking engagement – and again, that money is how you pay your bills. Not everyone shares this opinion, but it's something to keep in mind as you negotiate and determine whether a speaking opportunity is the right fit for your business goals.
     
  • You'll also want to include expectations of confidentiality with regard to business processes, trade secrets, etc. For example, to protect themselves from being copied, many conferences require that you agree to not replicate any part of their event.
     

AV + Technical Details

This is sometimes included in a technical rider and includes everything both the AV team and you need to know to appropriately prepare for your presentation.

  • What is your microphone preference? What are the details of the presentation software, lighting, screen and lectern placement, confidence monitor, aspect ratio of their projector? What are your equipment requirements?
     
  • How will the room be set up? What will be included? If using a television instead of a projector, will it be set so that people sitting in the back can comfortably see the screen?

    Any room set for more than 20 people gets a microphone. Professional event planners will know this, but today many conferences and workshops are hosted and produced by people who are not planners, so it’s wise to include this in your AV requirements.

    This part may seem diva-ish, but it's not. You have an obligation to deliver a compelling and relevant presentation. The conference has an obligation to set the room in a way that their attendees can comfortably learn. If an attendee can't see the screen or is embarrassed because they are a bit hard of hearing, the feedback they give will always pin the blame to you as a speaker, not to the conference producers to whom it actually belongs. Someone not being able to hear you should not prevent you from booking future speaking engagements. Smooth this all out ahead of time in your contract.
     

Legalese

There are obviously the standard legalese parts of a contract that you will need: cancellation terms, limits of liability, what happens if someone is in breach and how that gets handled, etc. This is all stuff that an attorney can help you with.

If you don't have an attorney, there are a few who specialize in working with wedding professionals, including Annette Stepanian, Mary Herrington, and Christina Scalera. Some even offer downloadable contract templates that you can purchase. 
 

You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.

This goes both ways. The conference hosts have every right to ask for certain things and you have every right to say no and vice versa.

In an industry that values community over competition and where we are often personally friends with the people we collaborate with, having contracts in place is not an unnecessary formality, but rather something that protects not only your business, but your relationships as well. Who wants to lose a friend because of unclear or miscommunicated expectations?

This is why spelling out expectations is so important. A contract gets everyone on the same page and prevents assumptions that can be hurtful or damaging.


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An abbreviated version of this post was originally published January 2015

Storytelling as Marketing

A client doesn't hire you just because they heard your story.

A client hires you because they believe your story will help make theirs better in some way.

Stories drive marketing and stories are what sell, but make no mistake: when it comes to these things your story is never really about you.

If you want your storytelling to succeed, try a little less me, a lot more here's how your life can be easier/simpler/better/more joyous/more memorable.


Originally published July 2011