Speaking of Speaker Fees…
Are You Worth It?


A well-established speaker wrote to me a few weeks ago to share his thoughts about speakers raising their fees “beyond what they are worth” — before they have “earned” their fee level.

Since setting fees is one of the topics I’m asked about most frequently by speakers, I thought I’d give my two cents on this particular issue here…

First of all, I do understand where he’s coming from. As an agent and manager for speakers for over a decade now, I’ve seen $5,000 speakers turn into $25,000 speakers; $35,000 speakers turn into $95,000 speakers; and $100,000 speakers turn into $200,000 speakers.

Short of a few zeroes, the fee increases have often reminded me of what we’ve seen in the sports and entertainment industries. (Remember when Jim Carrey’s $20 million payday was big news? Or when Brett Favre become the National Football League’s first $100 million man?)

As someone paid on commission, increasing fees would seem to be good news for me. But they’re bad news if my clients’ budgets don’t support them.

Anyway, the question we’re focusing on today is, how do you determine what a speaker is worth? And do they have to earn their fee? If so, how?

When you really think about it, one could ask if any speaker is worth $95,000 or $200,000. (The median household income in the U.S. in 2009 was just over $50k, by the way.) I don’t ask that question, though, and here’s why:

Any speaker is worth what the market says s/he’s worth.

It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what you think.

If clients in the market pay a speaker’s stated fee and are consistently pleased with the outcome from the engagements, then the speaker is worth that fee.

And that goes for “young” speakers as well as the “elite” speakers. You can set your fee at any level you want — that’s the beauty of a free market!

Just make sure you can consistently deliver the return on investment your clients are looking for.

If you can, then you’re worth your fee. If you can’t, you’re not… and that will work itself out one way or another.

That’s my two cents. What’s your take?

9 Comments on “Speaking of Speaker Fees…
Are You Worth It?

Ari Hershberg
July 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Fully agree. If the market believes the speaker is worth a certain dollar, that’s what they are worth. That and, you must consistently deliver fully.

July 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Thanks, Ari. You said it!

C. Andrew Nelson
July 13, 2011 at 12:31 am

I’ll second that. The market will quickly straighten you out if your speaking fees are too high! Thank you so much, Shawn, for this article.

I have a question for you: What do you think of speakers having a sliding scale of speaking fees? For example, a lower fee for speaking to non-profit groups and a higher fee for speaking to corporations. Or do you think a speaker’s fees should be the same flat across the board for all gigs?

Bobbe White
July 13, 2011 at 5:24 am

I was advised to not raise my fee until my schedule was full at the current fee level. I don’t know if that is a good rule of thumb or not. Thoughts out there?

As far as sliding fees. I will reduce for
-local presentations (not worth as much in my town ; )
-repeat clients of a nationwide system
-if referred by a friend (one referral is worth $1,000 of advertising!)

July 13, 2011 at 7:30 am

Andrew – I think a sliding scale is very reasonable and I know many speakers use it. Local fees as Bobbe mentioned make sense. I frequently see speakers break fees down by corporate, non-profit, education and healthcare — a lot of that depends on who your target markets are.

Bobbe – I don’t think it’s as simple as waiting until your schedule is “full.” Is “full” 10 dates? 20? 50? 200? I would suggest looking at competing/comparable speakers to see where they are; see what your target clients are paying for speakers; see what kind of feedback you’re getting from current clients. Also, think about how you want to position yourself in the market, because the same speaker priced at $5k will be perceived differently than if he/she were priced at $10/20/50k. Does that help or add to the confusion? 🙂

Derek Featherstone
July 13, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I think perception is huge here. If I’m charging $20k, it had better be worth it. The big factor is determining what defines “worth” — is it the content itself? the delivery? the combination? I’d say “yes” to all of those. And perceived value is all relative to what the talk/training leads to. Does it lead to the kind of positive change that it is supposed to? Does it lead to ACTION and not just feedback that “this was a great talk.”

Sometimes, you just can’t tell/assess the true value of a talk or training until after it is over.

July 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Derek Featherstone:

Does it lead to the kind of positive change that it is supposed to? Does it lead to ACTION and not just feedback that “this was a great talk.”

Exactly right. That’s what separates a $2,500 speaker from a $25,000 speaker — the outcome. (Celebrity aside.) A “great talk” is worth something. “Positive change” and “ACTION” is worth a lot more.

Matt Heller
July 20, 2011 at 6:41 am

As someone who is transitioning from a corporate gig to an independent speaker/trainer, I love this type of discussion – so thank you!

I will also throw out my two cents that there has to be value beyond the time you are speaking in front of someone, and to Derek’s point, if it doesn’t lead to some action or change in behavior, what’s the point?

Based on a lot of the research I’ve done on this topic (including a very informative call with Shawn about a year ago!), I have decided to try something… on my site I include the rationale behind setting speakers fees. In the age of transparency, my thinking is that we have to be upfront with people about why they are paying potentially thousands of dollars for an hour of someones time. It’s the experience we bring and again, the value that will hopefully last long after the session itself.

I’m still testing the market and the perception of my fees to my target audience… fun to be a work in progress.

August 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Matt – I like the idea to be transparent about the fee justification. Feel free to report back and let us know how it’s working out.

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