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Dollars and Sense

Rationalizing a speaker’s price tag

Tonya Hofmann

By Tonya Hofmann

All events, even virtual ones, are demanding and stressful. And,they’re expensive. When setting budgets, event planners inevitably focus their attention on which speaker to engage and what the price tag will be. Working within a finite budget can force planners to narrow the field and make a simple dollars-and-cents decision. Thankfully, the market for speakers is always changing. What was seen as a dollar choice only a short time ago now involves more sense.

In the past, many speakers had an “employee” mindset. A planner would contact them, negotiate the fee and travel expenses, book the time and the topic, and then have little interaction until the event. Speakers were paid for their time and their expertise and rarely offered anything extra. The “employee” attitude is still common with some celebrities, CEOs and sought-after speakers whose time is very limited.

Most of today’s professional speakers have a more entrepreneurial mindset. Their goal is to create momentum and interaction, and their highest accomplishment at any event is to have done that well. Such speakers work with event organizers on marketing and promotion to help create excitement about the event, and are sometimes involved in attracting attendees, vendors, sponsors and even other speakers to achieve this goal. Well-delivered presentations at well organized events earn name recognition for the speakers, get their message heard, drive sales and opportunities, and build their reputation as forces for true change.

Like everything in today’s market, speakers’ fees are negotiable. The challenge is to figure out how to create a win for both the speaker and the event. While fees range from $0 to thousands, under certain circumstances, even the most popular, sought-after speaker may speak for no or low fees. Working within your budget, you will have to decide how flexible you can be in your negotiations with prospective speakers. Open minded and creative negotiations about fees can result in a fresh new approach that will benefit all parties.

Some speakers’ fees will just have to be paid in full; the more popular speakers will have less time open on their calendar.  To secure someone you absolutely must have, agree to the fee up front. You can always throw in other options for marketing benefits as bonus items for them to say, “Yes.”

Whether you negotiate or pay in full, there is more value in today’s speaker contract than a fee, airline ticket and hotel. Big-name speakers can add great marketing to your event. Use their name, head shot, bio, titles, videos, etc. to enhance your attendance package. Speakers who are not well known can still bring huge value if your marketing focuses on the brilliance of their presentations. Pump up your marketing to create a WOW environment so attendees look forward to the presentation.

Speakers usually have large lists of contacts on social media and email marketing that can be used to drive more traffic to the event. Both the event and the speaker benefit from having more connections. With careful negotiations, most speakers will be willing to send out social media posts, place the information in their email newsletter or even create a specific email about the event.  Speakers can also supply pre-event materials so attendees will get more out of the speakers’ presentations. Other possibilities include posting details on their website, writing a blog or newsletter article, handing out fliers or postcards at other events and personally connecting with people who might want to attend or be a vendor or sponsor.

Attendees expect and appreciate more interaction before, during and after the event with those who are training, inspiring and motivating them. Greater speaker availability helps the retention of knowledge because it gives attendees opportunities to ask questions and discuss what they just heard. Speakers are usually happy to sign on for more interaction; they want to be there for questions, comments, interaction, conversation and other opportunities to connect.

The payoff can be great when speakers are introduced in advance. They benefit by connecting with attendees and warming everyone up to their message before the event. Simple audio or video calls can be recorded and posted on YouTube to create excitement on the event website, in newsletters and via social media connections. Putting videos on the conference website helps with the website’s search engine optimization because Google loves video. And, the attendees will, too. After the event, a video or teleseminar offering a follow-up with the speakers will help ensure that the participants remember what they need to do with the information they’ve been given. The attendees will feel more empowered and motivated and will have immediate action plans to contribute to follow-up meetings. This approach also brings huge value to corporate accounts that are looking for reasons to send their employees to an event.

Speakers can offer giveaways or bonuses to attendees, sponsors and VIP guests. If each of 10 speakers was to offer a promo item or a ticket to a special webinar to attendees who sign up in advance, and each one is worth $100, then you can promote a total value of more than $1,000 in bonus offers! This is a great strategy to get people to buy their tickets early. Speakers also appreciate this since the attendees get to know about them ahead of time.

Speakers can also bring extra value to special marketing and promotions or to certain individuals. For a thank-you party for volunteers or at events for your VIP guests, sponsors or vendors, speakers can do something special as a bonus – perhaps an exclusive webinar/ teleconference call with your special guests. This strategy gives your organization another marketing approach to promote VIP tickets or another reason for sponsors to jump in.

Many speakers want to interact and sell products, sign books, or offer a contest or giveaway for lead generation. Sometimes, offering a booth or a table for such activities can be enough to reduce or even offset a speaker’s fee. If you don’t want selling or lead generation at your event, then you might have to accept that higher speakers’ fees will come into play. Because audiences can get only so much from a 30-minute or even a two-hour presentation, they need to go further with the speaker to create permanent and lasting change – and that’s a sales process. If sales are out of the question, then it might be necessary to buy some books from the speaker for the attendees, provide contact information for participants, sponsors or vendors, or allow speakers to hand out contest forms. Be creative in the sales approach if a “pitch” isn’t something you want.

Is your event a fundraising opportunity? Many speakers will consider revenue sharing, in which they sell at your event and split the profit with you. If they offer something amazing on stage and/or at their booth, then they give the event a percentage. This could generate significant revenue for the event. Because you are providing speakers with a venue for sales, prospective new clients, an atmosphere of excitement and a unique marketing opportunity, they will be pleased to give back.

If speakers are donating their time for a non-profit organization, they should receive donation receipts for their usual speakers’ fees. They should also check with their accountants beforehand to find out what they can and cannot write off.

If you consider that each of the items described above has a specific dollar value, a fee rationale can be made for every speaker, whether it is a full-price, highly-acclaimed celebrity or a strong professional speaker with a notable track record.

Ideally, most of these ideas would be negotiated into a contract. At a minimum, aim to include all the negotiable selections that you feel are essential for both the speaker and the event. Most professional speakers will consider these options because, in today’s market, there are many speakers, and they will all want to participate.

Most speakers will want to help you achieve your goals because these are usually their goals, too. When goals are aligned, the outcome is inevitable. The most satisfying time with speakers is after the event, when attendees, vendors and sponsors describe what an amazing event it was for them. That is often when the dollars spent make sense.

Tonya Hofmann is the CEO and founder of the Public Speakers Association, speaker, author, host of Tonya Hofmann’s Fabulous TV Show, nominated for and winner of multiple international awards, and recovering introvert.

Appeared in Speaking of Impact, Spring 2015 Edition

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