How to Price Yourself as a High-Value Speaker
From Episode 004 of The Creative Well Podcast
Welcome to the first Q & A post, taken from a call-in question from my creative business podcast The Creative Well. The Creative Well is the call-in show covering the hard and heart issues of running a creative business featuring me as your host and some of my industry friends co-hosting with me from time to time. Be sure to tune in here every month for a new season of content!
Q: How do I become a high value speaker?
A: This question comes from Jessica Zimmerman of Zimmerman Events. On the call-in show, she specifically asked how to price for speaking which you can hear my answer directly here, but to get to that answer, we've got to take a few steps back and define for ourselves how we can become a high-value speaker. You have to be of value to ask for value, aka a sustainable speaking fee.
For me, speaking is one of my favorite services I offer. I love to travel, meet new people, serve the event team and it's attendees and learn from others—speakers and attendees!
My answer will review the following:
How to determine the content of your presentations,
How to define your style of speaking,
How to define and find your ideal audience,
The art (it is an art) and science of pricing your speaking fee.
How to Determine the Content of Your Presentations
When considering what content to provide, I want you to seriously think about four categories: knowledge, experience, passion, value.
You can only speak well about the things you know well. Do not teach something you've heard of, but not have actually researched or would consider yourself an authority on it.
When I prepare to speak, every time, I will review my research notes and see if there is new evidence to what I have to share. For example, I frequently do a presentation on creativity where I share some science—science I have studied for 10+ years. So I will review my old notes and do a search to see if any of my information can be updated or if there are new reports to give more validity to my points.
Going hand in hand with knowledge, you can only teach what you have hands-on experience in.
Years ago, I was a Pilates instructor, and in my certification, we were not allowed to teach anything we had not been certified in and could not do perfectly ourselves.
Not only does this further legitimize your authority, but experience provides you with something greater—empathy. If you have truly been through the rough times and challenges your presentation has the solution to, you will be able to speak on and convey those pain points with understanding and empathy which will be more compelling to an audience.
More than likely, whatever presentations you develop you will do them over and over. So make sure what you are speaking on you are authentically passionate about or your audience will feel the boredom in your redundancy.
For this reason, I will not speak on topics that do not genuinely excite me. If a retreat asks me to speak on it, I'll ask if we can compromise—maybe I share the topic they want in a different way or share it within a larger subject.
You may know all about a subject, have years of experience and excitement about it; but if the audience could care less or it doesn't directly and specifically improve their situation, the presentation is dead.
I am a crazy nerd for the science of creativity, I love it! But most people could care less about neurochemicals, they just want to know how it'll make their work better and not burn out.
Don't get caught up in the romanticism of being a speaker and make sure what you have to share will specifically help the audience in an impactful way.
*This is also why I do not recommend going the 'motivational' route for your presentations. Motivational speaking is great for in-the-moment, but attendees walk away clueless as to what to do next. Instead, focus on helpful content that you know about, have experience in and excited you. If you check all of those boxes, you can then speak in a motivational-style if you want.
How to Define Your Style of Speaking
So now that we have confirmed your content is of value, there's more. We need to create a presentation that projects that content in an effective and meaningful way. You need to find a style that reflects your brand and best suits your audience. This means, you will be adjusting your presentations for every speaking engagement—at least, if you want maximum impact. Let's break down the four different aspects to style to consider: effectiveness, methods, comfort and uniqueness.
The most important aspect of speaking style is its effectiveness on your audience. I do a major creep session on a workshop's attendees while adjusting my presentation, then again, once I get to the event and meet people in person. Why? People are often very different than what they project online.
I study them because I want to know how far in their business they are...I won't be speaking on complicated Pinterest strategies if they haven't even filed LLC yet. I want to know what their challenges are...and not surprisingly, challenges vary from different industries, different skill sets and different regions of the country.
By knowing who I'm speaking to, I can then adjust my presentation to be more light, more in-depth, more motivational or more lecture-style. Each time I speak, I present a little differently for each audience.
I'm talking learning methods. Just like how I physically speak will be different, how I display my points will be different. Some audiences need a PowerPoint. Some need even more with print-outs or these little custom notebooks I make sometimes. Some need discussion, some just need a good story, some need case studies, some need to act out what I'm teaching. What is going to help this group remember the important and valuable content I am giving to them?
You have to be comfortable to be successful. If monitoring a discussion makes you sweat in weird places, maybe you don't do that in your first presentation. Maybe you let your first few talks be good, until you're comfortable and then you can make them great.
Nerves are normal. I still shake the first 5-10 minutes of my talks—which ask any public speaker, the beginning is the most challenging. But here is what I say to anyone feeling anxious at their first speaking gig:
No one cares about you. Yep. They are more concerned about their outfit, what everyone else is thinking of them and what clever thing to say if you call on them.
Let that be an encouragement to you, and a reminder that being a speaker is not about you—it's about them. Which leads me to the final aspect of style:
Imagine you are not a speaker, but a host. For one hour, you are the event host and instead of impressing these people you are trying to help them feel comfortable so when they walk away they feel served.
The best way to serve is to be authentic. Don't look at what the other speakers do, think, If this group could walk away knowing this thing, or feeling so confident about that, etc. I would feel so fulfilled. Then ask, How do I get them there?
One final note of authenticity, and this is just how I do things, I genuinely care about the attendees—probably too much. So I will pull them aside during breaks and offer to do website reviews or break down an idea more. During lunches, I'll try to find someone who stood out during my research—maybe who inspired part of my talk—and see how they are doing. It's not part of my 'fee' to be there, but it is part of my style and something I love to do.
How to Define and Find Your Audience
This section is harder for me to speak on because every speaking engagement I've done, the event sought me out. I've never applied or asked to be part of a workshop or retreat. And to be honest, I don't know if I would be comfortable doing that. I know some workshops are set up that way and that's great for them, but it's just not for me.
The best way to get the attention of event leaders is to go ahead and start preaching on the platforms you do have, and (very important) speak for free locally.
Don't hoard your best ideas, share them. If you have an idea for a presentation you're dying to do, give it! Do a Facebook Live, IG Live or post it on IGTV, or YouTube—there are a million ways to share the message. Let people see you in action, and see the response you get from your followers. Plus, this will help you tweak your ideas so when you are asked to speak, you're ready!
Secondly, speak with locals for free. Years ago I would do free one-day workshops for local creatives. Basically, I'd get my friends together and teach them for a day—I'd have low-priced tickets to help pay the costs like their lunch, venue space, etc.—and I'd get to practice ideas and methods on them. It allowed me to have hands-on experience with people I trust, in a safe space, so I could grow, edit and perfect what kind of speaker I wanted to be.
As you do these two things, you'll notice who shows up. Who is really benefitting from this? Who is coming back to you, emailing you, sharing their results from what you taught? They are your ideal audience.
*One final secret, and to be honest, this is huge and something I learned from Whitney English: Always ask the event coordinators to define success for you. Meaning, when I am in preliminary talks with a workshop I will ask them questions like, “What does success look like to you for me? How will I know if I have done a good job for you? What do you want the attendees to walk away with? How does my role lead to the success of your event?” This makes it crystal clear to me what they need, what the attendees need and how to construct my presentation well. And...if we are a good fit.
The Art & Science of Pricing Your Speaking Fee
Last year, I found a great blog post by Liene Stevens on the very precise, different ways you can price yourself for speaking. The different methods included being based on ticket price, on how many attendees would be present, things like that. I could not find the article to share here with you, but if I see it return I will include it in an email newsletter.
There are a lot of good ways to price yourself, but I'm going to share how I do it.
- Know Your Costs.
- Clarify Your Needs
- Adjust per Experience
- Define Your Exceptions
Know Your Costs
Just like pricing anything, you need to know your costs. Knowing your costs, or your baseline for your speaking fee is a healthy place to start. Here are a few examples of what I include in this number:
Childcare - While I'm gone, I'm not just paying for regular hours, but bonus hours as Nate cannot drop off or pick up Hadley during the times I can. I will have to pay extra for extra childcare.
Client Time - How many billable client sessions am I missing per day by being out of office? This includes the days of the event and travel days.
Research Time - How many hours will I need to spend researching and preparing for each presentation?
Presentation Fee - What is my presentation worth?
Additional Costs - Am I being requested to help market the event specifically? I support and promote every event I'm invited to speak at, but some require more specific and frequent marketing posts than others and to me, there's a value to that. We charge advertisers to use the Cottage Hill platform, so I need to be clear on what marketing value I am bringing to the event.
Know Your Needs
Just like celebrities have a rider—a list of things they require when they travel—so should you. I require travel, lodging and meals for all of my engagements. Now, don't get all Beyoncé about it, although I did start using titanium straws because of her. For me, this comes from experiences, or not so pleasant travel experiences that I would like to avoid.
I book my own travel. Unless the location is complicated, like a remote place in the jungle, I do my own travel booking. That way I can choose my preferences shop for the best deals while also not skimping on my needs. There are certain airlines and hotels I will not stay at for one reason or another, and this allows me to be in control.
If the flight is 6+ hours (not including layovers) I require business class. OK, this may seem 'extra,' but the truth is, I have to be able to elevate my feet after so many hours of flying or I will get enormous kankles that are extremely painful. Just walking around and drinking lots of water doesn't help, I need room to lift them. This happened on one trip, and I just wanted to cry my feet hurt so bad the first day. If the organizer will not cover business class to its speakers—which I completely understand, I will budget the extra cost into my fee.
I will not share a room with an attendee, and only share a room with another speaker if I know them. Again, I don't mean for this to sound snobby at all, there's a valid reason. First, rooming with an attendee is very unprofessional. If you are organizing a workshop, please do not do this to save money—look elsewhere in the budget. Attendees and speakers need time apart to recharge, and their rooms are often the only place to get privacy.
Second, and this is so embarrassing...I sleep talk and sleepwalk sometimes. I would sincerely hate to create a bad impression with a new colleague who doesn't know I do this and terrify them in the middle of the night. Once at a workshop, rooming with another speaker, I dreamed I was a tap dancer...yep. Funny story now, but thank Jesus she was a friend and totally understanding.
*If you have any health, or embarrassing, concerns you've got to be honest with the workshop coordinator. It's not 'high maintenance' if it means keeping you healthy and allowing you to do your best to represent the event brand.
Adjust Per Experience
So now that you know the baseline costs of your speaking fee and some important points to include in your contract, now comes the art part to deciding your speaking fee.
What I mean, is that I will not have a final speaking fee be the same speaking at a several-hundred attendee conference across the country as I would for an intimate day-session in town. One requires much more effort than the other and it would be unfair to charge the same for both.
I have to decide based on my costs, needs, efforts and the scope of the event (distance, time, ticket sales, audience) what my final number will be. How much is it worth to not receive business for however long my commitment will be and be away from my family for this experience?
If you're looking for a formula to help here are two thoughts to consider based on time and attendee application.
How much of your presence makes up the event? If you are giving multiple presentations and panels, perhaps you can calculate how much time you are leading the event in a percentage and apply that percentage to the projected revenue of the entire event.
What is the value of the application of your presentation? Meaning if an attendee applies everything you teach in your session, how much more money would they make? Be realistic, think on an average level not the most possible money. Then you can multiple that number by 25% of the event capacity—because only 1 in 4 people will apply what you teach.
These number will be helpful factors as you determine your final speaker fee. Remember, you want to consider your costs, your needs and the value of your time and content application to the event to arrive at this final number.
Define Your Exceptions
Each speaking engagement receives a fully custom fee proposal and contract requirements. And in the final step of defining my speaker fee, I decide if I want to make exceptions to add or subtract from that fee. The most important qualifiers for me in these decisions are, Is this fair to the event coordinators? and Is this financially worth leaving my family and businesses for this time?
As much as I would love to fly around teaching all the time, there are things more important to me like my family and maintaining a level of consistency and professionalism with my business—like client meetings—which are harder to navigate when you're a speaker.
And as much as I would love to teach for free, that is not sustainable—not just in keeping up with the costs of speaking, but again, I respect the value I have to bring to an event. However, not all workshops can afford my speaker fee. I can decide to make an exception and adjust or kindly pass on the opportunity.
If I do pass on the opportunity, I highly recommend you have a backup suggestion. Just because they can't afford your rate or the timing is off doesn't mean you just sign them off and move on. Provide a backup option, maybe an industry friend who needs more experience and has great content to share!
Being a Speaker in an Honor & Privilege
While you should absolutely respect and value what you have to provide as a speaker, it is still a privilege to be an event leader. Don't forget that.
I'll never forget a fellow speaker years ago once refused to help with a discussion at dinner because it “wasn't in her contract” and suggested they pay her more if they wanted her help. She had just obtained the elusive 'k' in her Instagram following (again, many years ago) and therefore explained she 'deserved' to be treated differently. Don't be that person.
Work with the event coordinators to create a contract that is clear—ex., I will not lead any more presentations than has been agreed upon—but you also need to be clear on what they can ask of you. I'm fine with facilitating a talk with the event leaders, or speaking with attendees outside of my presentations, but I'm also clear on my limit. I have a cut off time after dinner (usually 10 pm), I need some alone time to recharge throughout the day and I prefer to volunteer to help when needed rather than be told what to do.
It all goes back to the most important point of all,
How can we—the event coordinators and I—, together, help the attendees learn or achieve what they need in the most effective and sustainable way for us all?
When you put them first by providing quality content, taking care of yourself financially and physically and working with the event coordinators more like a team and less like an income source, I promise you will have an incredible speaking experience. That is when you become of high-value.