18 tips for negotiating with speakers

It’s the age-old dilemma: You’re looking for a quality speaker with a good message and a dynamic stage presence who will be well-received by your members. And, by the way, could this person present for free – or, at the very least, for a significantly reduced honorarium?

In my experience, there are generally two types of speakers:

  1. Those who recycle the same three to five presentations from conference to conference with little (if any) customization; and
  2. Those who really learn about your members and their needs, facilitating an education experience unique to each audience.

For the purposes of this post, we’re talking about this second category of speakers (i.e., part speaker, part facilitator, part educator). First, a few thoughts about a speaker’s investment:

  • Time. Speakers invest a significant amount of time into developing presentations. Curriculum development and instructional design alone often require a minimum of seven hours for every one hour of course time. Included here may be research time to develop unique content, custom Prezi or PowerPoint presentations, innovative instructional strategies, interactive learning exercises, engaging discussion topics and supplementary handouts. Likewise, it may be necessary for the speaker to interface with association staff, volunteer leaders or subject matter experts (either for administration reasons or to learn more about the needs/intricacies of the organization’s industry). And, of course, we can’t forget the time it takes to not only facilitate the program, but to travel to and from the program.
  • Activities. More and more, speakers are being asked to participate in additional activities beyond the presentation itself. Following are some examples of activities an organization may request or require of its professional speakers: write a newsletter/magazine article or be interviewed; write a post for the organization’s or meeting’s blog; participate in other elements of the meeting; participate in a pre-meeting online conversation; record a promotional video; or present/facilitate a pre- or post-meeting webinar. Based on the specific request, a proportionate amount of time will be required by the speaker to meet the organization’s expectations.
  • Expenses. There are undoubtedly hard costs involved with traveling to a destination to deliver a face-to-face presentation. Some of these costs include ground transportation (mileage, parking or cab fare), airfare, lodging and meals. I’d also be remiss not to mention the opportunity costs involved in delivering a presentation with little to no compensation.

First and foremost, it’s important to be considerate of the speaker’s livelihood (particularly if speaking is the individual’s primary source of income). Therefore, it’s incumbent upon all associations to inventory their annual, signature meetings, determine their professional speaker needs, research reasonable compensation packages for these individuals and budget accordingly.

But as a seasoned meeting planner myself, I know one thing for certain: everything’s negotiable. Beyond monetary compensation, Michael L. Wyland of Sumption & Wyland has the following recommendations:

  • If the speaker is also an author, you might consider buying a copy of his/her book for each attendee
  • Receiving a vendor booth
  • Opportunity for “back of room” sales and limited promotion from the podium
  • Receiving contact information for all attendees
  • Receiving a letter of endorsement from leaders (assuming good service)
  • Receiving referrals for other speaking opportunities (assuming good service)
  • Opportunity to videotape his/her sessions for resale (this is a subject of its own and requires some processes to work well)
  • Opportunity for meaningful networking with organization volunteer leaders and senior management (this can also be a benefit for volunteer leaders)
  • Speaker receptions or meet-and-greets where books can be signed and introductions made (this works great when someone in authority actively hosts/escorts the speaker and guides this individual to the “right” people)

Likewise, I’ll add to this list the following:

  • Dissemination of speaker collateral (promotional materials)
  • Dissemination of speaker resources (e.g., original research, white papers)
  • One-on-one meetings with attendees interested in future speaking/consulting engagements
  • Complimentary conference registration
  • Promotion of speaker website, blog and other social media presence
  • Commitment by the association to future speaking engagements
  • Ongoing consulting agreement/retainer with the association
  • Association reproduces any/all training materials for the presentation
  • Association agrees to serve as the subject of future research/beta testing

So, my question to you is this: As a speaker, what entices you – other than money – to present at a conference? As a planner, what other strategies have you found effective for securing professional speakers at a reduced rate?

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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