How much should you pay for a speech?

October 27, 2015

It’s the wild wild west when it comes to speaker prices. It can range from free up to over $250,000. So how do you know what’s the right cost?

I’ve been speaking for years, and I use a mix of speaking, workshops, consulting and products. I’ve done everything from a free hour to help out a friend to charging $45,000 for a comprehensive full-day presentation, workshop and follow-up support.

Here is the range and what it means. Let’s go from top to bottom:

$150,000 +
This is the Bill Clinton level. It’s like getting the chance to see Elvis while he’s still alive. I heard he once walked in late, not even knowing the audience and he still had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand… While this rate sounds a bit ludicrous, I spoke to an organization who hired him and they said it was cost effective because of how much money they raised through the Gala he attended.

$75,000 – $140,000
This is the Seth Godin level – very famous and strong speakers. I saw Seth speak in Las Vegas and he takes the audience through his entire journey of thinking across his books, so it’s like getting a massive education in marketing (and he makes it very funny). You can use my guide at the end of the article to figure out if it’s worth it, but either way, at this level you’ll get a very engaging experience.

$35,000 – $70,000
I would call this the risky zone. At this rate you’re getting famous authors, former business leaders or even current CEO’s of great companies. They can charge this much because that’s what their time is worth to them and they have strong brand names associated with them. Whether or not they’re a great speaker is where you roll the dice. I would make sure to watch many of their videos and ask for a reference. Don’t assume they’re great just because they’re expensive.

$20,000 – $30,000
I consider this the sweet spot. The speakers at this level are not necessarily a brand names themselves. Instead they serve the best brands in the world (make sure to look at their client list and past speaking engagements). Also, speakers at this level speak often enough to master the craft but still build in time to develop new content and stay up to date on the field.

$5,000 – $10,000
This is the bargain zone. And like any bargain you could either be totally thrilled or end up wishing you had spent a little more to get a way better result. This is the rate you’ll see for newer speakers or speakers who live on the road and do a very high volume of speeches every year. Sometimes you can get a high-end speaker at this rate if they happen to be in your city and can easily drop by.

There are many scenarios where a speech can be free, some great and others highly cautionary. When I managed a company at Zappos there were great speakers who offered to speak for free to simply participate in the Zappos culture and and be part of the culture wave. Of course it’s rare to have such a strong brand, but you can still offer an experience that could be tempting. Early in my career I spoke for free in Malaysia because the company took me on their team vacation and also gave me access to a mastermind of successful entrepreneurs.

I would be wary of speakers who want to speak for free because they are selling something at the end. Again, some of these speakers can be great, but others have objectives other than serving the specific needs of your organization or audience.

Things to consider when you’re selecting your price range:

1. What is the actual value?
In other words, if this speaker actually made your problem go away, or generated X dollars in additional revenue, or aligned all of your people… how much is that worth to you?

2. What’s the per head cost?
What’s great about a speech is you get to educate and inspire an entire audience at one time. So if you have a a company of 5000 people and you hire a $50,000 speaker, you’re only paying $10 per person for their education and growth. Also, consider a full cost accounting of your event. What is the real ROI on the food, or a fancy hotel conference room vs. a highly impactful experience?

3. What is the entire experience?
There’s a big difference between sitting and hearing lecture for an hour and having an experience that forever changes their world. There opportunities to get interactive and dive in.  I’ve found that the most powerful experiences combine content, interaction and team-building. Ask your speaker what kind of experience they can create for your audience and what the result will be.