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As a professional speaker, I receive a LOT of opportunities to speak or train at events. I turn 95% of them down, but probably not for the reason you would think…

It’s not the money – but the goals – that are misaligned.

While I make part of my income by being a professional speaker, I am not opposed speaking at events for free. The catch is that it needs to be an event I can benefit from. If your audience is not my potential audience, it’s not a match. My rule is that out of 10 events I attend, 9 should be paying and 1 can be ‘free’. I need the paying gigs first. If you help me reach that goal, I can give YOU the one free slot, otherwise those freebies need to be engineered to grow my business.

Strangely I’ve had organizers get ANGRY at me for turning down their event (and the prompt for this post). I’ve even had one organizer offer me a ticket just to attend because he thought it would be beneficial for me to mingle in the audience. (…an audience that didn’t match my needs at all – that’s why I turned down the gig.) No, it won’t. I still have to pay for travel and hotel expenses out of my pocket and give up that time to serve YOUR customers (the audience) and neglect my own. Or worse yet, have to pass up on an appropriate and paying event to attend yours. Nothing makes me more cranky than attending an event mostly out of my pocket while knowing I could be someplace else growing my business.

Here are some of my off-the-cuff ideas for helping land a great speaker at your event:

Make sure the event goals and the professional speaker’s goals match

If you are hiring a professional speaker in the ‘motivational’ arena, then I’d have to guess that just about any audience would be a match and contain potential customers. Maybe not a customer in the sense of hiring that speaker for another event, but for selling books, products or consulting. Specialty professional speakers (such as myself) need to be matched with an audience where they can apply their expertise from the stage and have access to potential customers.

Asking me to speak on my area of expertise (specifically marketing technologies and automation) at a conference for teens or teachers may sound like a match – but it is not. I do not sell to teens, teachers or nonprofits and I do not have detailed expertise in the topics they need answers to. There are far more qualified people to take the stage in that circumstance. Leave me to chat with the SMB’s and Fortune 1000 companies because that’s where my expertise is. While I may have a kid that is a teen, I have zero professional credibility to stand up in front of a room and talk to them.

Some people may feel that if a professional speaker is being compensated for a talk they should be able to show up at an event, take the money and perform. Just as actors are not cut out for every role in Hollywood, professional speakers just aren’t cut out for every stage.

Don’t use a professional speaker just to gain her/his audience

I have been offered the opportunity to be a professional speaker within my genre of expertise on a cruise ship. Holy hell YES! Right? No. The ‘requirement’ was that I needed to sign on 15 paying attendees before I became elegible to speak at the event. WHAT? In reality I was being treated like a sales professional not a subject matter expert.

While it is a smart idea to partner with professional speakers you hire to co-mingle audiences it is NOT appropriate to require they become tools to fill seats at your event. A better option is to offer speakers a discount code or other perk to share with their audience or maybe even a free ticket to give away.

Help us help you.

Give us content and information we can share with minimal edits with our own audience to get them excited about showing up. Part of our goal as a professional speaker is to make your event so enticing to someone on the fence on attending to purchase a ticket and to leave our session telling every connection they have about your event (and the speaker!)

Understand that professional speakers are not ‘hired hands’

I can tell you that arriving at an event and being asked to greet attendees at the registration desk, hook up the A/V, be shoved into speed-dating style consulting sessions with sponsors or help pitch your own product from the stage is NOT the way to treat a professional speaker. I really don’t even know what else to say here other than all of the above has happened to me and it is disrespectful and unprofessional.

I’d love to hear from you – from the viewpoint of a speaker or an organizer (I know many people that are both!)

Oh, and one more thing, please feed us! While I pack power bars in my laptop bag sometimes after hopping airports and skipping meals I really need a few minutes (alone) to collect my thoughts and eat something. Luckily I have never fainted on a stage (knock on wood!) but I’ve been pretty queazy from skipping meals to catch planes!


EDIT: I just remembered about Christopher Penn’s AMAZING guide to setting speaker fees if you have no place judge value from.