Navigating Speaker Fees: How Much Should You Pay for a Professional Speaker? (with Best Practices)

Do you know what people fear more than death and losing their job? It’s called Glossophobia; the scientific word for fear of public speaking is “glossophobia.” It comes from the Greek words “glossa” (tongue) and “phobos” (dread or fear). In fact, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, the vast majority of people rank fear of public speaking as number one, with a vast majority in fear of it. So it might not seem too ridiculous to understand that professional speakers - those who get paid to speak at any event - get paid a high premium even if it is for a short duration like a keynote - between 45 minutes to an hour.

Of course, like in any field, there is a spectrum across the different types of speakers you will meet and the fees they are able to charge. If you are planning an event and you are unsure of what to budget for the speaker for your event, this article details how you can go about making sense of it all and the different factors at play that you have to consider before picking a speaker for your event.

As the person in charge of finding the speaker, the most important question you have to ask when you look out for a speaker is…

What’s at stake? How big of a risk can you afford to take?

It’s impossible to pick what we might term the “perfect” speaker because there is no consensus on who is perfect. Why? Typically because “perfect” is subjective and highly dependent on the context of what your company is looking out for. That’s why it is important to have some parameters over what you are looking for, and find a speaker that is the best fit within those parameters. We will cover these in the later part of the article.

Different types of audience

The event also determines the seniority of the audience and how big the audience is. If the event is run for interns, the risk may be lesser compared to an event that is put on specifically for senior management and C-Suites. Some may argue that a larger crowd should equal to a larger fee and yes, that is true to a certain extent. However, the opposite is true as well. You need to find a really good speaker who knows what he’s talking about if he’s speaking at the company’s retreat, attended by the C-suites. It won’t look good on you as the event planner when management realises you put an inexperienced or irrelevant speaker in front of them because of ‘budget concerns’.

Different types of events

It’s also important to realise that there are different types of events that have different types of purposes. For instance, the intention of a keynote is to set the tone for the event. It could be to raise awareness, inspire change or even shift mindsets that are set in stone. A great keynote can get you to think differently about a problem. Simon Sinek is often quoted as a powerful speaker who said in his Ted talk that you can inspire change by remembering to “Start with Why”.

It is usually addressed at the beginning and at the end of the event. And as the name suggests, the event planners will work with the speaker to figure out the specific message, i.e. the key note, that needs to be delivered to all the delegates attending the event. Keynotes are usually inspirational and informational in nature, and in most cases, the speaker speaks from the stage and has prepared the material to be shared in a number of engaging ways. Keynotes usually last between 45 mins to 90 mins in my experience and can be delivered both in person as well as virtually. The true impact of a keynote is seen in looking at the specific topic in a different way i.e. a paradigm shift.

The keynote differs from a training program, where the intention for the training program is more about knowledge acquisition as well as implementation. Trainings are usually conducted to help employees upgrade and acquire new competencies and ensure a knowledge and skillset transfer is made. For instance, if you are in a sales objection training program, you will learn how to deal with objections. There will be role plays where you get to practice your newly learnt skills. It is a skills transfer that is done over a longer period of time, and can go up to 2 full days at a go or it could be broken up into smaller 2 hour modules over multiple weeks. The logistics and resources for this program is a lot more intensive than a keynote and training programs can be delivered both in person as well as virtually. The impact of a training program is seen in the skillsets that the attendees picked up from the program. However, for lasting and sustained behavioural change, follow up booster sessions and additional coaching sessions may be required.

It all comes down to risk

Yes, at the end of the day, it boils down to the risk you can afford to take. Every event comes with a certain amount of risk, and usually when the risk is high, it’s better to go with the safer option to reduce the probability of anything going wrong. As a simple example, the risk of booking a poor speaker for a ‘lunch and learn’ event is relatively lower compared to booking a poor speaker for a ‘company wide event’, where leaders and teams are flying down from different regions to attend. The higher the risk, the lesser you want to take a chance on someone who’s still trying to make a living as a professional speaker.

What are the consequences of choosing the wrong speaker for the event?

Choosing the wrong professional speaker for your event can lead to several potential problems, each with a varying degree of impact on your event’s success, the delegate’s experience, and the reputation of your organisation / organising committee.

Poor Communication 🚩(before the event)

Added Stress

One of the biggest red flags you will notice when you pick the wrong speaker is their style of communication. Despite confirming all the details over email or a call, you find it challenging to get a quick response from the speaker. Either they are inactive and unresponsive, or they are very slow in responding. This becomes a headache for you because you have to suffer through their poor communication until the event is over, and you have so many other things to focus on. You don’t need the extra stress, and yet, you’re stuck with a speaker who is giving you anxiety. You feel even more anxious when you realise that you don’t have much time to find a replacement speaker. Screwing up this event can be even more harmful if you are working in a toxic company, where everyone plays politics and they are waiting to pounce on your first mistake.

Peace of Mind

In an ideal situation, you should be able to book a speaker way ahead in advance (6 months or more) and within the first few months, you will be able to notice how responsive and professional they are when it comes to the little things, like acknowledging your emails and responding to your promptly. It gives you a peace of mind, when speakers do the smallest things really well, and you know you’ve picked the right person for the job. The really good ones will pre-empt you on their travel itinerary, they will update you once they’ve started on their journey, and even update you as quickly as possible if there’s any delay in their commute. Having these updates without having to ask for it is highly valued as a service for all event planners. At the end of the day, all of us just want to do a good job of the task that was assigned to us. If you find yourself chasing the speaker for responses, or no-shows without explanation for tech-check calls or rehearsals, perhaps it is a signal for you to choose another speaker for your event.

Technical Difficulties 🚩 (during the event)

It is not uncommon for speakers to face some sort of technical difficulty during an event. This situation is worsened when the speaker you picked didn’t make it for the tech-check or if they are completely unfamiliar with the technical setup. During the trial runs, it is important to clarify and liaise basic things around compatibility

  • Will you be using an apple computer or a windows pc for the entire event?

The software for presentations on these different computers are different i.e. Keynote v/s Microsoft Powerpoint. If the speaker has an Apple Macbook, and the laptop for the event is a Windows PC, there will be an issue with alignment and compatibility that can cause added stress.

  • Will you be using your own event laptop throughout the event or can the speaker plug his own laptop during his session?

Sometimes, event organisers allow speakers to plug in their own laptop to showcase their presentation decks. Even then, it is important for you to confirm that the speaker has the right adaptors to plug in to the laptop to display it on the screen. It is also important for you to confirm that you have a tech team on the ground to help the speaker set up the laptop and audio test it before he goes up on stage.

  • What do you do if the speaker needs the internet to access and present his slide deck?

Today, we have online cloud options which prevents files from going corrupt in the last minute. That means speakers tend to design their slide decks on softwares like Canva or Google Slides. While that may be a good thing for you, it might be a bad thing if you don’t have internet access at the venue you are at. Relying on hotspot from the speaker’s phone is also risky, as such actions can drain the phone batteries pretty quickly which will lead to a technical disaster.

  • Confirming slide deck dimensions

It is also important to confirm slide deck dimensions if you are compiling all the slides into one laptop. Some speakers may use the widescreen 16:9 dimensions, but some speakers who are new to the industry may very well use the standard 4:3 dimension.

All of these technical issues can disrupt the entire event flow and make you look bad as the organiser. An experienced speaker will have come across these situations at some point or the other, and incorporated safety measures to prevent anything from going wrong. They know how to engage the audience during a technical challenge and redirect the attention away from the technical issue. That’s the beauty of engaging someone who has a lot of experience speaking at different events and functions. Experienced speakers can save your event either by cautioning you of potential pitfalls or by preparing backups for issues that could go wrong.

Lack of Engagement 🚩(during the event)

We’ve all seen it or experienced it. Sitting in an event where the speaker is so boring our phone screens seem to be a lot more entertaining. We see people yawning across the room and there is pin drop silence, and yet, they are not engaged. They are bored to their wits and chatting with their colleagues or loved ones on Whatsapp to keep themselves entertained. If it is a conference, where the public paid a high ticket to attend the conference, you may even find delegates drop off when the speaker fails to captivate the audience. Either the delegates leave the session early or they do not return for subsequent sessions, reducing overall event participation.

Missed Learning Opportunities 🚩 (during the event)

Any event where a professional speaker is speaking at requires a transfer of knowledge. That’s one of the reasons you’ve gotten an external speaker to come in and speak to your employees or delegates. If the speaker you have selected fails to effectively transfer insights, it may lead to missed learning opportunities for the audience.

So what should you look out for in terms of the speaker’s knowledge?

Any teenager can go onto the internet and regurgitate it out and call it a presentation. I’m sure most of us have experienced something along those lines as a student. However, a keynote speaker or a professional speaker should be able to provide more than just knowledge you can find on Google or TikTok.

They should be able to share insights that you can’t find on Google or TikTok. That can be in the form of case studies, statistics, or even insights that are gleaned from speaking across different industries or companies. They also should sound like they are the topic expert and can handle all sorts of questions easily and effectively.

Poor Return on Investment 🚩 (after the event)

Hiring the wrong speaker can be costly especially if he or she fails to deliver value. It ultimately means the financial investment did not yield expected returns, which leads to wasted budget. No one wants to be in such a position but when speakers don’t deliver, this is ultimately the end state most event planners find themselves in. On top of the speaker fee, all expenses including travel, accommodation and other logistical expenses have to be considered as a loss. However, finance isn’t the only area you experience the loss in.

Negative Impact on Brand and Reputation 🚩 (after the event)

Selecting a poor speaker means the feedback for the speaker will not be positive. As the organiser, this is not a good sign. In fact, you know for a fact that a disengaged audience will only lead to a poor review of the speaker during the feedback session, which in turn will be a question of you / your team’s decision in choosing this particular speaker. You might find yourself answering to your higher authorities on these questions:

  • Why did you / your team choose this speaker?
  • What due diligence did you / your team do your before picking this speaker?
  • Did you / your team communicate any challenges you had with the budget and the limited options available (in terms of speakers before picking the speaker)?

More importantly,

What are the consequences of choosing the wrong speaker for your event?

The consequences have multiple levels.

  • What are the consequences at a personal level?
    • Questioning of your judgment - A poorly chosen speaker can lead event delegates and organisers to doubt your decision-making skills. Could it mean a loss of trust within your team?
    • Trust erosion - Failure in this aspect could lead stakeholders to hesitate before entrusting you with critical projects in the future. Could it mean you get assigned lesser projects?
    • Impact on leadership abilities - Your capacity to lead and make strategic decisions may come under scrutiny. Could it mean a loss of reputation amongst your department?
    • Career growth impediment - A significant misstep in speaker selection can stall your career progression, as it may be seen as a reflection of your overall competency. Could it affect your growth and promotion at your company?
  • What are the consequences at a company level?
    • Could it mean your company’s events are not valued highly?
    • Could it mean poorer engagement for future events?
    • Could it mean poor feedback about the event being circulated online or amongst the delegates / employees?
    • Could it mean other speakers being more wary of associating with an event that is known for its reputation for poor speaker selections?

These are some questions you have to ask before you pick your speaker, so as to understand that the main factor at play here when it comes to picking a speaker

How to mitigate the risks in choosing a speaker for your event

In order for you to mitigate the risks in choosing a speaker, you need to know the specific details before you pick the best speaker for your event. You can tell the experience of the speaker by the quality of questions that he or she asks.

Here are the details an experienced speaker will ask for.

Event details

  1. Date, Day
  2. Time
  3. In-Person, Virtual or Hybrid event
    1. If in person, room layout
    2. If overseas, all travel details and if the following expenses are covered
      1. Airfare
      2. Ground transportation
      3. Accommodation
      4. Meal expenses
  4. Audience size
  5. Audience seniority
  6. Keynote or Training Program
    1. Length of presentation
  7. Desired outcomes from the keynote / training program
    1. What does success look or sound like from your
      1. Bosses
      2. Delegates
      3. Employees
  8. Has this event been run before?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  9. If yes, who was the speaker in the previous event?
  10. Amount of background work and preparation required such as
    1. Pre-event and post-event meetings
    2. Customisation required
    3. Conference calls
    4. Adjustments to content
    5. Social media promotion or interviews prior to the event
    6. Audience meet-and-greets after the event
    7. Post-event executive coaching or company-wide consulting
    8. Dinner with executives or games with attendees after the event
    9. Copies of speaker’s books or access to their educational materials pre- or post-event

Commercial details

  1. Budget*
  2. Payment terms*
  3. Cancellation Policy*
  • Can be discussed at a later stage once you’ve identified your desired speaker

Technical details

  1. Do you have a tech-rehearsal before the event?
  2. What type of microphones does the venue provide? Hand-held or hands-free?

What is the Range of Pricing for Professional Speakers?

Now, to discuss the main part of this article, let’s cover the different unique scenarios in which will give you a better idea of the speaking landscape.

FREE speakers

There are three types of free speakers

1. Full time employees - can’t get paid (legally) to speak

Yes, for a lot of conferences, you will find employees of big companies come down to speak. They are representing their company and hence, they cannot charge a speaking fee for the event since their company doesn’t make money from professional speaking services. So it is not surprising to see the shock on people’s faces when they realise that there are speakers who get paid to speak as well. Why would the employees in companies like Meta, Amazon or Google speak at the different industry events?

  • Personal Branding. Being someone who represents the company adds to your portfolio.
  • Networking. You meet a lot of high profile speakers and decision makers at such events
  • Insights. Not only do you get the above advantages, you also get to learn from other speakers without having to pay the full fee of the event.

2. New and inexperienced speakers - don’t believe they can get paid to speak

There are employees who also get sick of being an employee and seek greener pastures as a speaker, coach and trainer. Their experience in the corporate world lends them to dive into the world of speaking and despite their decades of experiences as a corporate professional, many start out by giving their services for free. Even as an ICF coach, you need to collect hours of coaching hours (for free most of the time) before you get paid clients. Similarly, there are many who offer to speak for free in hopes to gain experience as well as marketing material for their business. In most cases, they are simply starting out in this industry and don’t have the confidence to sell their 45 min or 1 hour speech for a 4-figure sum. So even if they bomb their entire speech, it’s “okay” because you, as the event planner, didn’t “pay” them in the first place.

3. Business owners using speaking as a lead generation opportunity - don’t know others are getting paid to speak.

Another tier of speakers who speak for free, usually are business owners who have a backend service that feeds them and their employees. For instance, someone who speaks about social media marketing will also have a team that manages their clients’ social media pages and profiles. A professional coach will have a coaching program that the audience might be interested in, and hence may offer to speak for free. A diversity and inclusion consultant may have a 6 to 12 month consulting program and may see value in speaking to D&I professionals gathered in one room. Essentially, speaking becomes a marketing and lead generation opportunity for the business owners because they sell something more than just the speech. In most cases, these business owners see a wonderful marketing opportunity in the beginning, but as they do multiple speeches at different events, they mingle with other speakers who got paid to speak and then realise, they’re leaving money on the table. That’s when they too, start to charge for speaking

What to look out for:

  • LinkedIn profile
  • Relevant experience

$500 – $2,500 Per Speaking Gig

Newbies in this business cost less. Inexperienced ones who are still trying to break into the business require a less speaking fee. They probably started speaking at a few events for free and are now confident to charge a fee to speak. They don’t have much marketing material to showcase for themselves, or they might not look as polished at this stage. Speakers in this category are in the early stages of their business and, generally, have not yet established a solid personal brand. A newbie in this price bracket would be suitable for a more intimate meeting with a small audience, a conference organised by a nonprofit, or any other low-budget events.

What to look out for:

  • LinkedIn profile
  • Speaker 1-sheet
  • Website

$2500 to $5000 Per Speaking Gig

Speakers within this range are usually those who have started speaking for a while and at least have a website that shows the topics they speak about. They have been in the speaking circuit for a while now and are exploring ways to increase their speaking fee. In many cases, speakers in this price bracket are also pursuing the thought of writing their first book, in order to value add to the clients while increasing their speaker fee. You can expect to get pay this range of speaker fees for non-famous business professionals or professionals with moderate experience. This is decent compensation for those who make their living giving speeches at a conference and could thus secure a professional for a modestly sized event.

What to look out for:

  • LinkedIn profile
  • Speaker 1 sheet
  • Website
  • Recommendations (written)

$5,000 – $10,000 Per Speaking Gig

The next range is from $5000 to $10,000 per speaking engagement. These speakers have a firmer grasp of their business processes and a clearer understanding of how they can best serve their clients. They generally have a decent amount of experience and have demonstrated some level of expertise in their craft to charge this amount. Speakers in this range come across as well established and well organised. They probably have a decent website, a book on their topic and even a speaker reel. Examples of distinguished professionals in this range include professional athletes, successful business people, and published writers.

What to look out for:

  • LinkedIn profile
  • Website
  • Recommendations (video)
  • Clients they have worked with
  • Speaker Reel
  • Author of a Book

$10,000 – $20,000 Per Speaking Gig

Speakers in the 5-figure range are pretty well established in the speaking industry. They know how to get themselves booked for speaking engagements and are experts in their field. They probably have written more than one book and a decent speaker reel that showcases their awards, achievements and accolades. It’s not unusual for them to have two different types of speaker reels as well - 1 physical events based and 1 virtual events based. They are known for the topic they speak about and have built a number of connections within the industry. They are also probably part of a few speaking associations as a member and have a network of speakers that they can recommend if you simply ask them. Speakers in this range are also regularly invited to comment on their topic as experts for the media. It’s not uncommon to see them featured in top television shows, news channels, radio segments or even newspaper articles.

What to look out for:

  • LinkedIn profile
  • Website
  • Recommendations (video)
  • Big clients they have worked with
  • Speaker Reel
  • Author of a Book
  • Featured on Media
  • Social Media Following

$20,000+ Per Speaking Gig

It is very much possible for speakers to charge over $20,000 for a speaking gig when you have a really big event and the speaker’s topic is aligned with your event. Professional speakers at this price range are usually established thought leaders and authorities in their field and are much more in demand. Most celebrity speakers with brand name recognition start from this range. They charge this amount because they know their name can pull crowds to the event. It fills bums on seats. They bring a level of prestige and excitement to your event. In most cases, they are the top social media voices with a lot of presence in their specific area of expertise. It is also possible that they are highly accomplished (such as a Nobel Prize winner or Olympic Champion). It could also be individuals who work with celebrities such as music stars or Hollywood actors. Their association with the inner circle of famous people can lead them to charge celebrity pricing as well.

What to look out for:

  • Celebrity Status
  • Celebrity Clientele
  • Celebrity Endorsements
  • Social Media Following
  • Famous Ted Talk
  • Speaker Reel
  • NY Times Bestselling Author (There are 10,000s of ‘fake’ Amazon best sellers out there in a very small niche)

At the end of the day, all speaker fees vary over a spectrum and it really comes down to how big the event is and how big of a risk you can afford to take. Determining speaker fees and understanding the influencing factors require a mix of research, clear communication, and sometimes, negotiation. Your role as the event planner is not too different from a movie director. It’s up to you to ensure you make your event successful, your boss look good and build a reputation for organising speakers who added a whole lot of value to your delegates. Based on all the tips mentioned above, I hope you’ve got some insights on the best practices of how approach the task of selecting a professional speaker for your event and how much to pay them, from this article. Remember, the goal is to find a speaker who can deliver value to your event and audience, while fitting within your budget. Happy researching!

About the author

VIVEK IYYANI is a Millennial & Gen Z specialist and Professional Speaker at Millennial Minds Pte Ltd. He is an award-winning author of 4 books, namely "Empowering Millennials", "Engaging Millennials", "The Millennial Leader" and "Marketing to Millennials". He has spoken at organisations like Brunei Government, Paypal, Oracle,, Singapore General Hospital, and many more. He has been featured by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to feature in a video of #MySingaporeStory. He has also appeared on CNBC and Channel NewsAsia as a guest on the Gen Z topic. Vivek is known in his industry to speak at conferences on topics around Generational Diversity.


Professional Speaking

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