If you're Jim Collins, it's $50,000 per hour.
If you're Bill Clinton, it's closer to $100,000 per hour.
If you're a best-selling author it's $20,000 per hour.
If you're an average author it's $5000-12,000 per hour.
If you're not that well known it's still $2000-5000.
And there's everything below that fee.
The question does arise: How can you justify asking for big speaking fees?
The answer is simple. Though you may speak for just one hour, in reality it's about three days worth of effort. If you're just making the same speech day in and day out and don't care a whit about your speech, then you don't need much more than a couple of hours preparation.
If on the other hand you're slightly pedantic about improving your speech, then it's more than likely that you're going to spend at least 2-3 hours tweaking the presentation, and at least three-four hours practicing so that it seems you're not presenting at all.
Three-fours of practice is not unusual for top performers
Tennis players will practice the day before the tournament (even though they are playing 250 days in a year). Athletes, chess players, even rock stars will spend several hours practicing on the previous day—and possibly on the day itself.
I've presented The Brain Audit dozens of times, and could easily present to you if you woke me up from my sleep at 3am. But I will still practice for at least 4 hours. This is not because I'm afraid of an audience, or because I don't know my material. Rather it's because practice makes the presentation appear as if the presenter is not presenting, but just speaking.
So that's just practice time
There's also other time involved. Like travel time. And recovery time. On average it's more than likely that one hour of speaking is going to clear cut three days of your life. One day for the practice and tweaking of the presentation, another day for the presentation itself and all the travel etc.
And a third day just getting back into the swing of things (and possibly travel back to your home/office). What seems like a single hour is quite easily three days. And that's three days when you could be creating a book, or seeing clients or doing something very productive and possibly very profitable.
So does that mean you never speak for free?
I spoke free almost all the time when I was just starting out. And not only did I speak without charging a cent, but I'd often travel 100 miles or more to be at an event at 7am and find out that just three-four people (yes that was the entire audience) showed up. But that was my agenda. I wanted to learn and so I picked events where they would have me speak, and frankly I learned a lot by doing these events. And I may still speak for free, if it's a favour for someone or because I feel strongly about things.
But I won't buy into the non-profit story any more
I have spoken at events where the organisers will say that they're a non-profit or not-for-profit organisation. And guess what? The event organisers pay full fare for the venue. Full fare for the catering.; full fare for the audio equipment; full fare for the airline tickets, fuel costs, car hire, taxi fare—and pretty much everything you can dream of. And that isn't the end of their expenditure.
Call me cynical, but I've seen money being blown up elsewhere as well. I've then been invited to dinners (post-event dinners) where the event organisers will spend a few thousand dollars patting themselves over dinner and fancy wine. And of course there's justification for all those expenses. All those expenses aren't free.
But they will want you to speak without any charge. And I won't do it any more. Have I done it in the past? Sure I have. Will I do it again? No I won't. They either pay my fees or I don't go.
You may or may not have that option
You may need to get in front of an audience to get better at speaking. You may need an audience to create future clients. You may need to get the credibility so that you can then charge better prices/ have different terms in future. It may be logical to speak free now so you get dividends later.
And this is where my rule comes in.
I have a rule that goes like this:
I will speak if I can either travel to a place I haven't been, or reach an audience that I may not have reached, or if I can sell to an audience. For instance, when I last spoke in Chicago, it met two of those criteria.
I was able to reach a new audience and also sell to the audience. That event generated no speaking fees, but got me sales of over $20,000. However, my methodology of selling is not the endless pitch. It's different, but that's a whole different story.
The question here is how you’re going to make your decision how much to charge. And if you’re going to speak free, then what are the conditions under which you’ll speak without charging the organization.
And the answer is based on the rule below.
1) Are you travelling some place nice and “exotic”? (Even if it gives you a break, it may be worth it).
2) Are you reaching an audience that will then become clients? (You need to evaluate this very carefully and not be whimsical in your evaluation).
3) Can you sell to that audience? (When I say, “sell”, it's a logical extension of your presentation, and not a pitch).
There are reasons and dividends for most speaking engagements
But know what those dividends are in advance. Question why you're doing what you're doing, and if it still makes sense, then go ahead with it. If you must speak free, then so be it. If you must charge a small fee, then that's ok too. But ideally you should be charging full fare, because frankly everyone else is getting paid in full.
Once you decide what you want to charge, stick to the fee.
And stick to the rule.
Michele Miller says
Excellent post, Sean! A number of us have been having a discussion about this lately, and you laid it out beautifully. And I couldn’t agree more on the non-profit subject. Thank you for an excellent post.
Sean D'Souza says
Thanks Michele. Nice to see you here.
Larry Prevost says
Great post, Sean. The rule of thumb I’ve heard from a couple National Speaker’s Association members is to have 45 minutes of prep time for every minute you are on stage. That’s pretty close to three days, or depending on your point of view, a little over a standard work week.
Way too many people see a one hour presentation and think that it’s easy money. They don’t realize that the presentation is only the tip of the iceberg. Professional speakers work their tails off putting this stuff together and they should get paid for their ability to sort, collate, and deliver information in a way that engages the audience.
Thanks again for bringing this point home.
Ian Carter the Caller says
I’m a ceilidh (barn dance) caller and frequently encounter a similar situation.
The vast majority of my gigs are for private events, such as weddings and birthday parties, and I give the client a first-rate three-hour performance. Always for a fee (the only exception being close friends and family).
However, bookers very rarely take into account:
• the years of practice it’s taken to get this good at what I do
• the hours of preparation that have gone into producing the music (all played and recorded by myself)
• the trial, refinement and retrial of calling techniques and patter
• the skill of being able to judge what will and what won’t work with whatever audience I meet at the event and tailor the programme to suit
• the time spent packing the gear into the car, driving to the venue to arrive at least an hour before the attendees, setting up the equipment, breaking it down afterwards, packing it into the car again, driving home (there’s never any overnight accommodation, even if we finish at midnight), unpacking the car, stowing the gear safely before being able to unwind and eventually go to bed
• refreshments! My assistant and I do actually get hungry and thirsty while performing.
And then they often expect a reduction on the (already way too low) fee if all they want is an hour’s performance rather than the full three.
On second thoughts, I might just take up public speaking!
Ian Carter the Caller (find me on YouTube)