September 2010

Negotiating Speaker Fees

by Ruth A. Hill

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Professional speaker Laura Stack, who goes by the moniker "The Productivity PRO", says there are several prudent ways to negotiate with prospective speakers. The right approach for buyers is to make it as easy as possible for the speaker to agree without compromising fee integrity.

Don’t think of a speaker as a commodity like airplane seats and hotel rooms for which everyone is trying to get the best price, Stack advises. Working together to add value and create partnerships that benefit everyone is the way to go.

According to Stack, the following strategies will help create a win-win outcome:

  • Barter System: What is there to offer the speaker instead of cash? Consider resources from members, suppliers, exhibitors or sponsors that are tradable. The possibilities could include hotel stays, a spa treatment or exhibitor products. Some speakers have traded portions of their fee for, say, travel, boating equipment and electronics.
  • Creative Payment Plans: If immediate funds are short, think about paying part of the speaker fee in installments. For example, if the fee is $5,000 and only $4,000 is available, negotiate to pay the extra $1,000 over a later time period.
  • Airfare Considerations: The speaker might have frequent flyer miles he or she can use to get to the event, saving the organization cash travel expenses. Another strategy is to negotiate that air expenses are not to exceed a certain amount, particularly if the event is more than six months out—enough time for fares to change dramatically.
  • Draw Funds from Varied Budgets: If the speaker has authored a book, provide one copy per attendee as an event gift. At $10 per copy for 500 people, it’s possible to reduce the speaker expense line item in the budget by $5,000 and charge the materials budget, professional education or publications budget instead.
  • Find Mutual Value: Talk with the speaker until you uncover a situation that represents a mutual "win." Does the speaker value being paid in full in advance? Does he or she have relatives in that city who would like to attend? Maybe the speaker just wants to get on the inside track with the organization. The speaker must be able to justify the negotiation and explain why they did what they did to the next client.
  • Get Sponsorships: Get an exhibitor or supplier member to sponsor the speaker. This can be a good marketing opportunity for sponsors. In return for paying the speaker fee, planners can provide the sponsor with live and media mentions surrounding the event.
  • Marketing Assistance: Some engagements are great marketing opportunities for speakers, exposing them to audience members who have the ability to hire them for future work in their individual organizations. Some of the ways to enable speaker "exposure" are via a booth in the trade show, a link to the speaker’s website from the meeting’s website, publicity about the speaker in meeting marketing materials or approval to sell books and other resources at the event.

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