Seven Considerations When Booking a Speaker

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At any given time during the year, you may be involved in planning an event ranging from a lunch meeting to a full-on weekend retreat. Many organizations plan 6-12 months ahead for such events, so if you find yourself on a committee tasked with finding a speaker, keep these questions in mind, specifically in regard to speaker selection and expenses.

1. What is the purpose of the event?

Be very clear on the objective. Make sure you have a stated purpose for the event so the speaker can adjust his or her presentation accordingly. For example, I recently spoke to an organization for the professional development of administrative staff. They wanted me to speak on the topic of organization. My approach to teaching a time management workshop for them may have a different flavor than the same presentation given at a faith-based retreat. (Similar principles, different methodology.) The compensation you offer is part of the way you pay for this preparation and customization.

2. What is your budget?

Your budget should allow you to cover, as applicable, travel, lodging and food costs as well as provide a reasonable honorarium (or as was the case for one of my speaking engagements, a donation to the speaker’s selected charity.) Several speakers make part of their living through their speaking engagements and incur cost in travel, handouts, etc. so it’s always wise to discuss the honorarium arrangements up front. Some speakers will be flexible if you cannot pay an honorarium. For example, if the event is local, or will benefit a non-profit organization, or you will allow the speaker to have a table with books for sale, they may waive their honorarium expectation. Plan to discuss this topic early on in the booking negotiations.

If you are hosting a major conference with both keynote speakers and workshop leaders, you may not need to pay the workshop leaders the same amounts as the keynote speakers. However, even if you do not have a budget to pay workshop leaders, some type of gift or acknowledgement is always appropriate and it is important to clearly communicate those arrangements before an agreement is made.

3. How far will speaker have to travel?

Consider the number of hours the speaker will have to put toward traveling, particularly if they have to fly. There are often flight delays, long layovers, and headaches from cancelled flights or lost luggage. This can lead to a speaker spending the equivalent of two to three days of work for one evening’s keynote.  It may be more feasible for you to consider hiring a speaker from your home state or region.

4. How large is the audience?

The speaker will have to prepare differently for an audience/workshop of 20 than for a retreat with 200. Compensation for the speaker should also take this into consideration. The more people, the more interaction the speaker will need to be “on” for.

5. Are you charging people to attend?

For many events, you are probably going to charge a registration fee. Keep this in mind as part of the funding available for speaker costs. You may be able to adjust the fee by only $5, allowing you to meet the speaker’s typical fees. Also, for a large event, consider paying the speaker more, especially if the reason your registrations are going well is because of who you have invited to speak.

6. Will speaker be allowed to sell books, or better yet, are you pre-buying book for each audience member?  

Many speakers like to have a book table at which they can sell products or meet the audience (i.e. autographs.) Personally, I prefer not to have a table unless I speak at a local event (I have a retail license for my state.) I’d rather not deal with state to state sales tax and having to conduct business at the same time people want to interact with me. However, it’s a great blessing when an organization decides to purchase one (or more) of my books to automatically give one to each participant. When this happens, I provide a discount as a thank you. It keeps your speaker from making too much of a sales pitch and it doesn’t really cost you that much more, particularly if you include it in the registration fee. (For example, if you were going to charge $30 per person, you could get the speaker’s book and charge $35 per person and announce that each participant will receive a copy of the book. Then you’ve covered most of the book expense without dipping too much into your budget, and your participants feel even more blessed!)

7. What might be travel costs?

Travel costs can vary a lot, depending on whether a speaker has to fly, or rent a car. Also, you’ll want to provide pleasant housing for the speaker. Many prefer a private hotel room at or near the venue. Some speakers like to make their own arrangements unless the event happens to be at a hotel. Have an open dialog with your potential speaker to work out these details. If you are booking way in advance, have an agreement as to the deadline by which the speaker’s airline tickets will be purchased (whether you are buying them or reimbursing the speaker for purchasing.)

Remember that you are not simply paying for a 45 minute speech. When you see some fees, you may be amazed at how high they are for “just 45 minutes.” But remember, the 45 minute class/speech is only the core project. The speaker has likely spent many hours preparing, continuing to grow professionally and personally so they can continue to speak well, and may have a travel time (arriving and departing) of 10 hours or more involved in getting to your event. That is potential time away from their families or business.

[Tweet “Many speakers make part of their living through speaking. Remember that when budgeting and booking.”]

The speaker makes part of their living through speaking. Yes, there are some speakers who speak/teach as a side thing, or may have become popular for successful classes at their church which they have done as a volunteer. However, consider speaker costs in the same way you would consider paying for a room rental or catering services. It’s all part of the professional expense for your event.

[callout]For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,”[a] and “The worker deserves his wages.”[b] [biblegateway passage=”1 Timothy 5:18″][/callout]

To make things as simple as possible for my potential clients, I offer speaking topics and packages, with suggested honorarium ranges fully disclosed. This information is on my speaking page. I always try to work with the organization to meet their objectives. If you know of an upcoming event that is looking for a speaker, contact me!


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