You Speak for Free? If, When and Why? by Chris King
voice on the other end of the phone has a familiar request. They have
heard that you are a powerful presenter with great content, but…
“We are a small group (substitute nonprofit, association, club,
organization) and don’t have any money in our limited budget
for speakers. It would be great exposure for you. Would you be willing
to speak to us for free?”
answer for you is, “It depends!” I have been on both
sides of the phone. Because I have a wide network of friends and associates,
I am often picked to be a chair of programs and programming for groups
with no funds for presenters. I have also presented both for free and
for compensation. In this article I will examine both sides of the issue,
giving you an honest rundown of what I have learned over the years from
my own perspective and that shared by other speakers.
I first aspired to becoming a professional speaker, I was willing
to speak free for anyone, anytime and anywhere. This had its pros and
cons. I will share my opinions in the following cases:
I became a member of several and the pros were and are:
The best way to become better at anything is to do lots of it. Speakers’
Bureaus give you this opportunity, especially if you are willing to
speak on a variety of topics and to be flexible when it comes to scheduling.
It doesn’t hurt, either, if you are so good that they receive
rave reviews for your presentations.
You don’t have to worry about selling yourself. The speakers’
bureau takes care of getting gigs for you.
Working with an active speakers bureau, you will learn many of the important
ins and outs of preparing and presenting. Examples of two areas that
enhanced by training were provided by a ballot issue:
build our new baseball stadium, a sin tax was added to a May ballot.
Those of us in the bureau who supported the passage of the tax were
asked to speak about it. It passed, but there was still a lot of
confusion, anger and angst about the construction.
proposed putting together a presentation that would explain
the issues to different groups. My first big learning experience
was preparing the presentation so it was interesting, up-beat and
second huge learning experience was when I presented to
a group of senior citizens who were violently opposed to the stadium.
Talk about a hostile group. After sincerely answering their questions
and explaining why and how the stadium would help our city, they
wanted to know when and where they could buy bonds. I had learned
how to turn around the emotional reaction of an audience.
which are usually the same for all free speaking were and are:
In my final examples above, I had control of what I was presenting.
In most other cases, however, I was handed a scripted talk and slides
picked by the bureau. I did learn to add my own touches, but I basically
was doing what I was told to do.
One of the reasons I joined bureaus was to become known as an excellent
speaker, so that I would be hired (and paid) for speaking independently.
It just doesn’t happen. The groups that want free speakers - even
though there may be a few in the audience in the position to hire you
- don’t have any use for paid presenters. That is why you are
what situations would I suggest speaking for free and why?
would be speaking about your business to a group of potential
clients. Some presenters I know do quite well with Chambers of Commerce.
I never got repeat presentation business that included compensation
from them, but I usually spoke about topics like creativity and storytelling.
Today, I have the goal to collect e-mail addresses and names of people
to contact. And this works!
have a terrific product that sells well from the platform and
the meeting planner has given you permission to bring it along for selling
decide, for charity, to give a certain number of free presentations
a year. The amount of your donated talk is included in the contract,
so the group realizes what they are receiving.
are writing a book and pick topics and groups that will be
helpful to your research.
you want to record a presentation - on tape, on a CD, on video,
or, at least get some terrific photographs of you in action. You will
be more authentic in front of an adoring audience than if you just perform
in a recording studio.
Warning. Don’t speak for free, unless you have a well-thought-out
reason. I also suggest not ever negotiating your fees downward. Set them
and stay firm. You can have different levels for time and distance, but
if you start giving in because you want the job, word will get around
and hurt you more than help you.
I feel strongly that playing with our fees just robs us of credibility
and integrity. In those cases, I would prefer to speak for free.
you speak for free? Let me know the pros and
cons you have encountered. I share a lot of information
for free, but draw the line when I get that request on the phone from
a money-strapped group. I tell them my fee and then suggest that they
open the presentation to other groups and charge for it through ticket
sales. Another speaker friend is often sponsored by big companies that
want to get in front of the groups he speaks to - but that’s
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