Negotiating Speaking Fees: The Speakers View


picture-130.jpgman-teaching.jpgRecently, on the Genealogical Speakers Guild list I posed some questions about speakers fees. I was curious about how flexible speakers were on their fees, knowing that a good one hour lecture represents and investment of 50 hours work -time that could be used serving paying clients. And thus a four lecture seminar means a 200 hour investment. At $25 per hour thats a $5000 investment. Speakers were asked if they would barter for part of the fee. I was surprised at the large number of respondants who reduced fees, and how few mentioned bartering for some of the fee. But its the desenters, the speakers who would not budge on fees that made most sense to me.
Donna Moughty , a friend, colleague, and a fine genealogy educator, based in connecticut wrote,

“I typically will not adjust my fee…I don’t think it’s fair to
charge different rates to various groups. Once that is done, the
word does spread and everything becomes negotiable. My experience
has been that most organizations can meet my fee. They may be
reluctant at first, but typically will get back to me and book a
date. When someone says they cannot pay what I charge, I thank them,
and ask that they keep me in mind for the future or for an annual

The cost of developing a lecture is high, as previously discussed
and I also have to maintain a digital projector and computer (I
recently spent $370 for a replacement bulb for the projector). With
travel time (I have a flat fee for a lecture but I do charge mileage/
expenses) it’s hard to justify a lower amount considering that I
could use that time for client research and make considerably more
than on a lecture. If I were to reduce my fee in order to get repeat
business, then I’ve set a precedent and am losing money each time.

Donna was not the only person who spoke up for not rediucing speakers fees. The famous fellow blogger DearMyrtle writes,

“I do not discount my fee though I do offer my services for free to the local
genealogy society. As a result of this policy one society in the region
promptly gifted Ol’ Myrt with a lifetime membership. However, they continued to provide a small honorarium, to defray the travel costs.

Generally, if one doesn’t discount fees, the societies then consider such a
speaker for a larger annual event, which is usually a fundraiser for them.
It’s a win-win. With a larger audience there is the potential for the
speaker to sell more of his/her books.”

In negotiating, like teaching, silence is an important tool. Educators learn to pose a problem then shut up while the learner works things out. It takes patience. Patrick Lee learned how to use this in negotiating. In a recent issue of SpeakerNet News, Patrick Lee, a professional seminar speaker commented,
Recently, a group wanted to hire me but said they had only 60% of my fee in their budget. There was a short lead time, the date was available, the event only 60 miles away, and the client a prestigious one. Once upon a time, all of those things would have induced me to accept what they offered. Instead, I asked what they had that might make up the difference. We discussed what advertising or promotional services they might offer that could equal the missing 40%. During our next conversation, they raised the amount offered to 80%, but we didn’t reach an agreement on what the extras might be. We agreed to settle it the next time we spoke. When that time came, the meeting planner said, “We’ll just pay your regular fee.” Lesson: They found the money even when they said it wasn’t available. For me, cash is still better than “free” advertising in a medium I wouldn’t choose on my own.

There are some other strategies. Here’s one. Rather than reduce fees, increase value of offering. Paula Stuart-Warren , one of my favorite genealogy lecturers, used to offer a half-hour after dinner speech as an add on to her four lecture seminar. I used to offer to lead a discussion with the executive on a society management issue.

Click here for ideas on bargaining with speakers.

Click here for more thoughts on adding value rather than reducing fees.


4 responses to “Negotiating Speaking Fees: The Speakers View

  1. Ken,

    Aren’t there other considerations here? For instance, it may take 50 hours to develop a talk, but won’t you give that talk a number of times at different venues to unique audiences? If you gave it at 10 venues without much modification, then the cost/earnines ratio is now 50/10 rather than 50/1.

    If a speaker does not have other genealogy income, then they aren’t “out” the 50 hours to prepare a talk. They did spend 50 hours developing the talk, but the loss was doing their own research, reading the news, watching TV or spending time with their spouse.

    Is 50 hours the “accepted” time it takes to develop a one-hour presentation? I haven’t timed my own preparations, but I’m probably in the 15 to 20 hour area. Perhaps my talks aren’t as high quality, or maybe I work faster than the average presenter.

    My 2 cents — Randy

  2. Randy,
    To sell a lecture ten times takes some considerable marketing effort. Few are given multiple times without investing more time after each performance. Each performance needs rehersal. I must have 10 lectures only given once or twice.

    50 hours represents research, writing, producing and rehersing. Its typical of many gen speakers

  3. Randy,

    Reusing a lecture is a given. It’s rare that I would develop a lecture that I can only deliver once (although I have done it for NIGR and the APG PMC). I would also add that some lectures take considerably more than 50 hours to create. In addition, each time the lecture is delivered it needs to be updated, the syllabus material needs to be reviewed, the website links checked, all of which is time consuming. Even if it takes an hour to update, an hour to deliver, an hour to travel to the destination and back (more likely 3 – 6 hours of travel time), arriving at least a half hour early and staying to answer questions a half hour after the presentation, you’ve got a minimum of four hours tied up in each presentation not including the amoritzation of the original development time. As much as I love to lecture, I need to look at the costs and if an organization cannot pay my fee, respectfully decline as I can use that time more effectively doing client research. (This is a business for me, not a hobby.) In addition, as Ken pointed out, the cost of marketing must be figured in…printing of brochures, mailing costs, etc. It’s a business decision…accepting a reduced fee and thinking that I’ll recoup in volume is not a good business decision.

    That’s my business plan and 2¢.


  4. I think this logic is flawed. Speakers are in this business to make money. Speaking is not an hourly wage job and calculating the cost per hour makes you a blue collar worker. Not that there is anything wrong with that but speakers are not blue collar. Speaking is a service not a commodity. When you lower your fee you set a precedent that you will provide your services for less and when people see you as a commodity they will then try to negotiate for a lower fee (or find a cheaper speaker). Look, what makes you valuable is your unique insight and ability not how many hours you prepared. Now you have to ask yourself how much are you worth and are you willing to cheapen yourself. A good speaker has a lifetime of wealth to offer not just 50 hour of prep time. New speakers charge less because they are learning but as they increase their knowledge and insight they raise their prices. Another way to look at it is as levels. Each level has a value. Define those levels and those financial values and once you feel you have reached the next level stay with that fee until you advance to the next level. How do you know when you are ready for the next level? When the ripples of your splash into the speaking field begin to reach the distant shores of the next level they will begin contacting you. The real challenge is to know when this is happening and be prepared to rise to the occasion, both mentally and fee wise. As far as myself…I never barter unless it is something I REALLY want. Money is always better 🙂

    Well, that’s my take on this and I wish you all well in your speaking careers…


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