Public Speaking Advice

How I Price My Speaking Fees

And how you can price yours.

Photo by    Jeremie Barlow

Talking about money can be slightly uncomfortable at best and gauche at worst. That doesn’t change the truth that money is what pays the mortgage, puts food on the table, puts our kids through college, buys cute shoes, and funds the building of orphanages. No matter our individual definitions of success, or whether or not we feel intrinsically motivated by money, we all need our businesses to make money in order to pay for the life we want to live.

At the risk of sounding gross, 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.

Speaking Fee Pricing Models

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 to 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 2020 would be more than it is right now for 2019, 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, meaning the price for speaking at a conference with 400 attendees would 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 trouble and drama 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:

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

    This means I start with this question: “If one attendee implements everything I share on stage, how much money will it bring to their business in a given time frame?”

    I choose to err on the side of being conservative in this estimate, and my time frame is generally one year – a reasonable amount of time for an attendee to go back home, implement what they’ve learned, and start to see some results.

  2. I then multiply that number by the number of expected attendees.

  3. I then divide that number by 25.

  4. The final end 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.

  1. 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 $5,000 wedding on top of what they normally book.

  2. $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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.)

    A Splendid tip: If you choose to use this pricing model and want to lessen potential 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 than it is to only see a big five-figure number on a page. The per person price also 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, such as 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 above, 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. It doesn’t work that way.

  • 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, gets entered in a spreadsheet on Google Drive, so I literally have years and years worth of data and measurable outcomes to evaluate. When an attendee from one of the Engage Luxury Wedding Business Summits I spoke at told me that my presentation changed how they pitched a corporate client and it landed them an 8-figure multi-year contract, I entered that into the spreadsheet.

    It helps to have all this info in one place so that I can easily reference it when I’m considering the value of my content (it also helps on days I feel down to read through and be reminded that what I do does help people in very real ways.)

  • 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 personal story, and it does tend to leave attendees inspired and motivated, it contains far less immediately actionable content. There is definitely financial value in the more inspirational-style speeches, since 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.

    A Splendid tip: If you tend to mainly give inspirational talks and find calculating attendee ROI difficult to do in a fair way, 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 with regard 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 the total amount of time you work on a wedding only 8-12 hours on the 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, The Knot, Google, or Yelp reviews they may have. I make notes in a spreadsheet. I study those notes.

    When I walk on stage, I know exactly who is in that room, what they do, their aesthetic, their point of view, as well as how they feel about pumpkin spiced lattes, their thoughts on the latest episodes of Ozark or Insecure, 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 bossy, unsolicited business advice based on the hours of Insta-stalking noted above.

    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 best how you are wired and what you personally need in order 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.

It is not greedy to charge money for speaking, just like it is not greedy to charge money for photographing a wedding or for designing invitations. It is a job, and if you choose to add it to your business offerings, it should be treated like a job. Choose a pricing model that works for you and charge appropriately.

Originally published June 2017

The Best Way For A Speaker To Get Asked Back To A Conference

As a keynote speaker, your client is not the audience. Your client is the conference producer.

With Gretchen Culver of    Rocket Science Events    at    Oh So Inspired    in Sonoma, California. Photo by Chloe Mackintosh of    Boxwood Avenue   .

With Gretchen Culver of Rocket Science Events at Oh So Inspired in Sonoma, California. Photo by Chloe Mackintosh of Boxwood Avenue.

As a public speaker, my client is not the audience. My client is the conference producer.

This may seem a little counterintuitive, but it's true. Educational opportunities are a dime a dozen these days, and most wedding pros don't have the budget to attend every single one. Because of this, every conference planner worth their salt keeps an eye on the competition.

This means that what conference producers need from me is that I deliver enough value to the audience that the attendees sign up to attend their event again next year. Not someone else's. 

My number one goal when speaking is to deliver enough actionable insight combined with enough inspiration that at least 25% of the attendees go home and actually implement what they learned. 

The implementation is where the attendees will earn their conference dollars back. When people consider where they spend that money the next year, they will opt for the conference that gave them the most value for their business, measured in dollars generated by executing on what they learned, not necessarily the one that offered the most Instagrammable moments.

The days of signing up for conferences because of FOMO are coming to an end. Wedding spending is down – even among wholesalers – and people have already begun to tighten their wallets. Wedding pros will spend their time and money at events that are both enjoyable and offer them a true ROI from a business perspective.

This means that if you're a speaker, your competition will also get more intense as conference producers look for people that don't just glam up a lineup, but bring financial results by driving repeat attendees.

Fortunately, getting people to remember what you said long enough to implement it is funny business. Literally. 

If one of your goals from giving a talk is to have people learn something, it's best to make them laugh. Scientific studies have been done on this: when people laugh during a presentation, they remember more of what was said. When people remember what you said, they are more likely to implement your advice and insights once they're back in their office. When people implement your insights, they make more money.

There’s actually a proven formula you can use: you want people to laugh at least once every seven minutes. So for a 30 minute presentation, you'll tell four jokes or share four insights in a funny way — this can include videos.

I personally follow the seven minute rule for larger laughs and then, because I have a dry sense of humor, tend to sprinkle “throw away comments” in between. These tend to be less broad and some people in the room will get them and some won’t. A word of caution here: be very careful with sarcasm. Even if it's clear to you that you're being sarcastic, it doesn't always translate well in large group settings and often comes across as arrogant instead.

Laughter is also bonding. It makes the people in the room feel like they’re in something together. It gives them a sense that the conference fostered community. This is good both for them, and of course for the conference producer, as a sense of community and belonging causes people to come back.

Selfishly, it also feels good for you as a speaker. When you’re on stage, it’s motivating to hear people laughing because it shows audience interaction and helps remind you that at least some of what you’re saying is landing.

Here are two quick tips for writing humorous content:

  1. Know who is in the room. Go beyond "wedding pros." Ask for the attendee list ahead of time and do some research. Something funny to people working in the wed tech start-up scene (currently the fastest growing segment of the wedding industry) will not necessarily be funny to a group of caterers or stationery designers.

  2. Never, ever plagiarize jokes. Do not copy a joke from Twitter or Instagram. People make a living from joke writing, especially comedians who use Twitter as a way to get in front of TV showrunners and hiring managers. Stealing a joke is no different than someone stealing your photo or knocking off your design and taking credit for it. Copyright and good manners still apply, even if it's just 280 characters.

Laughter is the best medicine. It's also — assuming the rest of your content is good — one of the best ways to get hired again.

The original version of this post was published January 2015.

What To Wear As a Public Speaker: 13 Tips for Dressing So That People Will Listen

As a public speaker, your audience will decide if you are worth listening to within the first three seconds of you taking the stage. Not the first three seconds after the first word comes out of your mouth — the first three seconds of you walking on the stage.

How you look when you're giving a presentation matters — whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s fair or not, whether you think it’s sexist or intellectually stunted or unspiritual or shallow. Your personal opinion on the subject does not change how the human brain functions.

If you want people to take the content of your presentation seriously, you need to look put together and professional. Most of the tips I'm sharing here apply to women, but a few apply to men as well:

1. Get your hair professionally blown out or learn how to do it well yourself.

2. If you’re presenting with heavy stage lights or being filmed, consider professional makeup. This isn’t vain — lighting translates skin pigment differently.

3. This is one I learned from studying music growing up: if you are sitting on stage, or are sitting on a stool for a panel, the audience can see straight up your skirt if it is not just-above-the-knee-length or longer. People may be too polite to say something about it to you, but they will talk about it.

4. Pack a back-up outfit. I unfortunately learned this the hard way: I had picked up a new dress from the dry cleaner, threw it in my suitcase while still in the plastic wrap, only to discover a few hours before my presentation the next morning that the dry cleaner had shrunk it. I put it on, stood in front of the mirror and burst into tears. I looked like a sausage. With all the stores closed and no other options, I had to wear the now-too-small dress. I was mortified the entire day.

5. If your outfit or suit gets wrinkled in your luggage, have the hotel you’re staying at professionally steam or press it for you (keep costs like this in mind when you're calculating your speaking fees) or bring along a travel steamer. Hotel room irons can be sketchy.

6. Travel in something you can also speak in if your luggage gets lost (including carry on suitcases that may get gate-checked). Always carry your makeup in your personal bag. This ensures you won't be stuck giving your presentation in athleisure wear or scrambling to create an appropriate outfit from the hotel's lobby shops. As a bonus, when you dress better for flights, you get treated better by the airlines.

7. If you wear a lavaliere or countryman (headset) microphone and you're wearing a dress, try to choose a dress that has a zipper so that the mic pack can be attached to the back of your bra strap. A quick note here: you may need to give the event planner and the AV team an advanced heads up that this is how you wear your microphone. AV pros who have worked in TV will have no problem with this as it's the professional standard. AV pros who work mainly in hotels tend to be a bit squeamish with this.

8. Respect your audience and adopt a "When in Rome" mindset. If you are speaking to a more conservative group, you may want to skip a sleeveless top in favor of one with sleeves.

9. If you tend to be nervous when you speak, consider wearing high heels instead of flats for your presentation, especially if the stage has hard flooring. The sound of your heels clicking on the stage sends a subconscious signal of power to your brain, boosting your self-confidence. This self-confidence boost translates into better stage presence and a better presentation.

10. If you are wearing heels, walk the stage beforehand to see where the tape seams are or if they’ve decorated it with a type of carpeting your shoe will catch in.

11. Unless you’re speaking outside on the beach, flip-flops are not appropriate.

12. Your clothes don't need to be expensive, but they do need to fit you. Have them tailored if necessary or consider Rent the Runway if the number on the scale and the size on the tags of the business outfits hanging in your closet are currently in a fight. (Definitely speaking from experience on this one.)

13. No chipped manicures. It doesn't matter if you DIY'd your nail polish or had it professionally done, just make sure your nails look tidy. (Sylvia Weinstock explains her take on this here, in the way only she can.)

Originally published January 2015