Public speaking can net big money. New York Times best-selling authors can rake in $25-$50,000 per engagement and sought-after Fortune 500 CEOs can earn six figures -- all for one talk.
I made this discovery around two years ago. At the time, I had been speaking at a number of events and conferences, but had never been paid. Given the time the events required, I wanted to learn how to make some extra money to help bootstrap my business.
I began my research, and reached out to people who spoke even more than I did. But their answers were disappointing. Most weren’t getting paid either and some suggested that I hire an agent. But when I started by research, it turned out that most agents only work with New York Times best-selling authors or Fortune 500 CEOs and I was back at square one.
I realized I’d just have to figure it out on my own. And I started by asking to be paid. At the end of 2012, I made a pact with myself: I was going to charge the next person who reached out to ask me to speak.
That next person happened to be the Wharton School of Business. The school was hosting a one-day conference in San Francisco and they wanted me to be on a panel. I felt silly asking to be paid for a panel where I’d probably be speaking for a total of 15 minutes, but the event would cost me at least $30 for parking and maybe $25 for lunch and take me from my work. I said, “Thanks for the offer, I’d love to speak on your panel, but I’ll need to be paid for my time.” Then I asked for $75.
“I think we can manage that,” he said.
And just like that I had my first-ever paid engagement. I did ask myself, briefly, what the heck I was doing asking Wharton for $75. But instead of beating myself up, I gave myself a pat on the back for asking for what I needed. I decided that next time, I double it.
Two years later, I’ve been paid to speak at companies like Fidelity, Principal Financial Group, SAP, Salesforce, Wal-Mart, and non-profits like Tampa Bay Technology Forum. I don’t make less than $5-$10,000 for most speaking engagements. My highest paid engagement netted me $25,000. Depending on the event, my fee is in addition to hotel and airfare.
I ask to get paid because I want to deliver a stellar talk. Almost every talk I do requires 8 to 10 hours of preparation, not to mention travel. People understand my time is valuable and are happy to pay me.
While I do a couple of pro-bono talks each month for organizations I believe in, I aim for 2 to 4 major talks each year. If someone had told me 2 years ago I’d be making even $5,000 per talk, I wouldn’t have believed them, because that’s nearly half a senior engineer’s monthly salary for about a day’s worth of work. It’s possible for you to make $25,000 a talk, too. Here are some first steps:
Step #1: Always ask! When the next speaking opportunity comes along, start with the question: “Do you have a budget for speakers?” If they say no, don’t be discouraged. It often means the organizers need to find out what’s possible. If they say yes, then consider the costs you might incur, keeping in mind costs for travel, accommodations, meals and your time.
Step #2: Price yourself relative to their revenue. Some groups have set rate for speakers, but most will want you to throw out a number. In negotiation, this is called setting an anchor. I hate having to set the anchor, but often I do. My formula factors in any admission charges for attendees, and how many people will be attending the event. I multiply those two numbers together to get a sense of gross sales and ask anywhere from 1% to 10% of those gross sales. If they have sponsors, I push it close to 10%, because usually sponsorship is used to cover speaker fees.
As an example, if I’m speaking at a Fortune 500 company, I typically charge at least 5 figures, especially if it's for an internal event or keynote at a conference. For smaller conferences, I charge $5,000 or less (plus hotel and airfare). If a group cannot afford that, I'll typically just ask for hotel and airfare at a minimum.
Step #3: Show your worth. It helps to send over sample of previous talks. Generally, people are unwilling to pay 4 or 5 figures if there is no record of you speaking and they’re hosting a high-profile event. Have a site ready with a page touting your recent engagements with links to any footage. The better your platform and expertise and speaking record, the higher chances you’ll have to command larger and larger fees.
Remember that you’re charging because it enables you to give a fantastic, memorable talk. The conference organizers want to give their attendees a great experience and raise the overall caliber of their event, and they often have budgets to make that possible.
I went from making nothing to earning five and six figures. Make no mistake: I felt like a total noob at first. However, once I figured it out, I started share the knowledge, even teaching others in my Confident Communicator Course. But it starts with you having the courage to ask for what you think you’re worth.
Now I want to know, do you currently speak in public, and have you ever asked to get paid to speak? Tell me in the comments.