(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.


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.

If you're not yet a subscriber to ThinkSplendid.com and want to get the rest of the Speak Splendid series via email, you can sign up for free below. New posts are published weekdays at 4:45 am EST and automatically delivered to your inbox between 5 and 7 am EST. 

An abbreviated version of this post was originally published January 2015