Note: names, genders and event titles will remain anonymous – to save face and preserve everyone’s ego.
Sometime mid-2009, I was invited to speak at a local trade industry conference. The pay for a 2 hour session was less then $1000. Without much hesitation, I accepted the offer because money was tight – everyone was still reeling from the 2008 recession and I was certainly feeling the pinch in my early entrepreneur days.
Sidebar: If you go to CAPS or NSA meetings – most members will tell you it’s all rainbows and unicorns ALL THE TIME. They’ll tell you times are good and they’ve never been more busy. Take their platitudes with a few spoonfuls of salt. Of course, they want to portray a sparkling image of success while behind the scenes – they’re in the same boat as everyone else, with a VERY rare exception.
By this point in time, I spoke at about 10 or 15 events for various fee amounts, most of the time averaging around the $1000 mark. My content, experience, theories were still taking shape and my presentation skills were slowly evolving. I was slated to speak at 2pm and came early to see the other speakers, including the keynote – who happened to be a successful speaker from the area.
10 minutes into their speech – fireworks were going through my mind! Content-wise – their speech seemed like a spin-off of two or three well known books on customer service and self-development – NOTHING NEW! Presentation wise – the slidedeck incorporated clip art, color gradations and way too much text per slide. Delivery wise – it came across as if they’ve done this exact same speech hundreds of times already. Every pause, story and laugh carefuly scripted and almost robotic sounding. Overall – Maybe (and a pretty big maybe), this speaker was just a little better then I.
If THIS is what a keynote sounded and felt like, I wondered what their pay was… so I asked. After the conference wrapped up, I spoke to the organizers and through a candid and honest conversation I found out their fees were above the $5000 mark.
THAT DAY – I doubled my fees. They’ve steadily increased since then as my speaking skills improved and my work started getting picked up by universities and media such as Forbes and Connected for Business. So, how would you go about doubling your fees?
How to increase your speaking fees (a step-by-step guide):
Frame the conversation – As a relatively novice speaker, you can initiate contact by saying that you’re new to the profession and would love to glean some insights from an experienced speaker. Since pricing can be a sensitive subject – when the conversation sways in that direction, consider asking about a range they charge rather then specifics.
Go to some of the conferences happening in your area – Get a feel for some of the other speakers. What is their delivery like? What kind of topics are getting attention? What kind of content do they share? Is it actionable? Ask some of the people around you how they felt about the presenter.
Find and talk to event organizers – This can be a bit tough as they’ll likely be running around like crazy trying to keep everything on track, but you can strike up a conversation with some of the people at the registration desk in the morning and ask if it would be all right to connect by e-mail or phone the next day? Organizers tend to be a bit more relaxed with details (I know this because I often serve on speaker selection committees) and you may be able to find out their criteria for hiring speakers and average budgets.
Make connections after you speech – If you have a chance to speak, make sure to chat with a few audience members before taking off. Ask them how they felt about your presentation, how they feel it was compared to the others. Pick out two or three folks who seemed engaged during your speech. Most of the time, people will try to be nice, but ask for honest and direct feedback. Tell them you’re looking to improve and grow your speaking practice so honest feedback will be most useful. Never accept unsolicited feedback by the way – it’s mostly for their own benefit rather then yours. You choose who to ask – and ask them.
Make absolutely certain to provide value – The age of feel-good and motivational speakers is over. Audiences want to hear actionable ideas they can implement in their own lives or businesses. It’s great that someone can make us feel good, but so can a comedian or a good book. We want performance tips, emotional intelligence guidelines or a life strategy framework. Don’t be the cheap, filler entertainment – strive to be the shining cornerstone of the event by providing value to the audience.
Increase your fees – in the incredibly wise words of Alan Weiss – “if you want to increase your fees – increase your fees!“. We often get stuck and down on ourselves. Speaking fees as as much a function of your own confidence as they are of your content. Chances are, right now, that you have better ideas, concepts and delivery than someone making more then twice your fees. Grow some balls and ask for a higher fee [tweet this]. If absolutely necessary, you may have room to negotiate later, but right now set that bar higher for yourself. This concept had a profound impact on me – the quality of my speeches improved tremendously when I set higher fees and so did the quality of the buyers.
I hope that helps! if you have any additional thoughts or ideas, I’d love to hear them and possibly include them in upcoming articles. Just post in the comment section below. Now increase those fees!