Chip MacGregor

May 23, 2016

Ask the Agent: How much should I charge for speaking?


This question came in: “Ever since my book released, I’ve been asked to speak several times — sometimes at large venues, sometimes at very small places. My problem is that I don’t know what to charge when I speak. A flat fee? A sliding scale? Is there some guidance you can give me?”

This is a question we’ve talked about on the blog a few times. Happy to begin the conversation. Okay… start to think about creating a matrix for your speaking events.

Okay, I think the first thing you have to determine is your base pay. How much is your base pay for a one hour talk? For a beginner, it might be $100. I’ve worked with some big-name celebrities that were changing $10,000 for a one-hour talk. (Nice work if you can get it.) But let’s say your base pay is somewhere in the middle — let’s say yours is $500 for an hour, or $300 for a half hour. If you are offered, for example, $300 for speaking one time for 30 minutes to a small group, but it’s a conference and they also want  you to speak a few other times, you just have to map out the extra costs. Or say they want you to speak once to a large group for an hour ($500), then lead a workshop to a smaller group for ($300 to $500?), then sit on a panel ($150?). By thinking of your base pay and the number of times you speak, you can pencil out the fee pretty quickly.

Of course, it might take an entire day, and some speakers do a minimum daily rate. So let’s say you set a daily rate of $1000 — that makes it easy to know what to charge. And you have to fly to Atlanta to do it, you add in travel costs, so you can say to them, “That will be a thousand dollars, plus you need to fly me coach to Atlanta and put me up for two nights. I think we can do the whole thing for about $1600.” They offer you $1200… and you have to decide if it’s worth it to you. Does that all make sense? Good… once you understand the concept of base pay, let me give you a more in-depth way of thinking about speaking.

First, there are certain topics you speak about. (We’ll name those A, B, C, D.)

Second, there are lengths of time you can do each one — for example, let’s say you can talk about Topic A for 30 minutes, for 2 hours, or for an entire weekend retreat, but you can only talk about Topic B in a couple one-hour blocks of time, so you could do a one-hour or two-hour chunk of content; and Topic C is nothing more than a 20 to 40 minute casual talk.

So now you have some options… You’ve got A1 (30 minutes of Topic A), A2 (2 hours on Topic A), A3 (a whole day on Topic A), B1, B2, and C1, etc. Still with me? That starts to give you important ways to figure out the topic and time, which is nice if you’re talking to the event coordinator about the conference schedule.

Third, you need to consider how many times you speak. If they want you to just show up and give one speech, you simply tell them your base pay amount. If they want you to teach several workshops, you add up the costs and give them a number. If they want you for a weekend retreat, you have to think what your charge is for a weekend. (And if your base pay if $500 for a speech, or $1000 for a day, then spending a Friday/Saturday/Sunday with a group will probably be between $2000 and $2500, plus travel.)

But there’s something else I think you need to add into your equation, so fourth, you need to consider the venue. The bigger the venue, the more you charge. Many speakers have three tiers in their base pay — for a small setting of fewer than 50, a medium sized setting of up to 250, and a large or arena setting). Some only have two tiers, and some have a couple tiers and a special cost for a retreat setting.

So fifth and last, remember that you need to make sure they cover your travel expenses, housing, and meals, so you don’t have your fee eaten up by costs.

Still following all of this? Good. Now when somebody calls you to speak, you or your assistant simply asks a series of questions:

–how many times will I speak?
–for how long each time?
–on what topics?
–how big is the expected audience?
–and where is it?

Once you have those questions answered, it’s easy, because you have a plan you can use to help map it out. You just fill in the components, and you begin to see how much work is involved.

That’s the basics of how to think about charging for speaking. I hope you find it helpful. Once you know your base pay, it’s fairly simple: Topic + times + number + venue + travel = cost. 

Does that help? Feel free to ask me questions.

Oh… one last note: Holly Lorincz, who spent 15 years as a speech coach, wants me to add that when you ask about the venue, make sure you ask who will be in the audience and what the controlling organization considers the goal of the speech. Two good insights you might add to your list of questions!

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