Should Professional Speakers Speak for You for Free


If you’re looking for someone to fill a slot for your event, that has interesting content and can be delivered in a presentable way- that’s not too flashy, there are LOOOOTS of speakers out there. You know this, as you may have been hit up by a few…gajillion of them.

If you’re looking to up the game a little for your event, here’s a few ways you know whether or not you should pay.

  1. Is the speaker currently a part of your industry or passionate about your industry/event?

If so, they may be willing to do it as what I like to call a “heart” event. It’s something that speaks to their heart so they are open and willing to get behind your mission and give of their time.

Here’s what you need to know about that. I get hit up A LOT for these. There are so many wonderful organizations, missions, and good good things in this world. So much so, I almost put myself out of business. My husband and business coach had to have a long talk with me…several times…and make me promise to quit taking so many. Why? I booked myself out on low paying events, so much so, that when a real paying event came a long I couldn’t take it. I was already booked. There was that, plus I was costing myself a lot of time and money traveling and preparing for each event that could have been spent in my business.

So I’m supposed to have a 3 “heart” events a year rule. Where I only take 3 a year. Currently, I’ve done 5 and it’s only the first quarter-so I’m a work in progress….I have had said “no” to everyone else for the remainder of the year and asked to have them contact me for 2019-but to do it early.

If you find yourself with little to no budget, you can always ask the speaker. However, I also strongly recommend finding a sponsor to cover the speaker’s fee-at least a reduced rate fee. Many speakers are willing to do that. The key with a sponsor is to find a speaker who will take the time to elevate the sponsor in their social media, perhaps doing a “commercial” for them the sponsor can also use, as well as incorporating them in their speech somehow. If the speaker wants to meet people after they’ve spoken, you can also ask if they’ll meet and greet people at the sponsors booth or table. It’s a much easier sell if the sponsor knows they are getting tangible benefits in return.

2. Does the speaker have a way to make money in any other way? Do they have a book, program, consulting etc., they can sell to your audience?

Unless the speaker is speaking as a hobby, they have to be able to make money somehow off of your event. This is a tricky one for everyone all the way around. MANY events now want speakers to speak for free and refrain from selling from the stage. Why? Selling from the stage is ANNOYING. I’ve sat in many audiences and listened to sales pitch after sales pitch. The speakers lost credibility with me, because I felt like I was in a 1 hour long time share presentation. I know I’m not the only one who’s felt that way.

So how can you avoid this? You pitch for them. Allow it in the intro, a graphic on the screen, upon conclusion when the MC or you thank the speaker, and let them have a good space for their table. Let them have handouts where they can gather info for people who want to know more, or do a text “opt in”.

3. Exposure to other people

So, this is the one I get the most when asked to speak for free. It will give me “exposure” to those who have the potential of hiring me. As my friend and fellow funny speaker, Karyn Ruth White says, “People die from too much exposure.”

If your audience is filled with meeting planners, business owners, c level executives, then, “yes” the exposure is total worth while. If it’s open to the community, solely for your company or organization, non profit, then “no” it’s not the right kind of exposure. It’s like doing stand-up comedy at a coffee shop hoping a talent agent may stop by. (I’ve done that, too. Sigh.)

Most of my work comes from spin-offs. Someone sees me speak, and then I get asked by other people to speak. What I’ve found is the amount of what I was paid to speak at the original event, is often the amount that I am offered for the spin offs. It’s kind of weird that way. When I speak for free or for a very low fee, I get asked to speak again for free or very low, even though they have no idea what I was paid.

4. Do they want the practice?

I did. I spoke a looooot and did some REALLY bad gigs. Like – have more than my fair share of horror stories to tell. I wanted to work and practice, and practice, and practice. I still do sometimes. What you need to now about anyone who wants the practice is…well-it’s practice. A rehearsal. As in – not polished yet. Don’t expect a perfect speech. There is some truth to “you get what you pay for”.

5. Are you taking into consideration the work/time/costs/sacrifice involved?

So, I got an email…ok, I’ve gotten several this week and one I am actually trying to make work. (One of my “heart” events that I’m not supposed to take.) All the events required me to travel and all the events offered less than $1,000. So, the first thing I do is look up who it is (website), missions statement, etc. Then I look up airfare if I’m the teeniest bit curious an emotionally pulled. All the events that asked me this week would have cost ME money to go. Airfare, hotel, food, airport parking for my car, childcare, car rental, PLUS I’m away from my family/kids for several days and I’m not able to get a lot of work done.

Is what you’re asking fair? Those were not fair to me or my family. You need to take into consideration the work, time, cost and sacrifice involved for the person you’re wanting to speak for free.

6. What’s their level of experience? Is Speaking what they do for a living?

There is a rule in theatre I was taught when I got my degree that I still try and adhere to. 1 hour of rehearsal for every minute on stage. So if it’s a 60 minute keynote, that requires 60 hours of rehearsal. NOT including the time to research and write the keynote. Just practice it. When you’ve practiced and practiced and practiced, and you’ve worked a lot- you’re level of experience is different. One that deems paying for. Nobody asks a pro-ball player to play for free. A professional speaker with a proven track record-someone who’s got the “stats”-shouldn’t need to stand in a high school gym for free-unless they want to.

Here’s some option when you literally don’t have the budget to pay for a speaker

  1. Speakers always need video. MANY speakers will come if you pay for their travel and offer a small fee, in exchange for pro-video footage. Sometime paying a videographer is much cheaper than the speaker’s fee. Same is true with a pro photographer who can get them professional shots from the stage.
  2. Let them bring other meeting planners, people, etc., to your event for them to be seen in action.
  3. Let them do filming of testimonials from the audience members on their phones, etc. These are great for speakers to use for marketing purposes.
  4. Try and get another company, event, or organization to book the speaker at the same time. You pay for travel and possibly reduced fee. The other organization doesn’t have to pay for their travel and may get a few dollars knocked off on their end so it’s a win/win for everyone.
  5.  Testimonials/recommendations/referrals. You can offer to give testimonials for their website, be a referral for a future event they’re applying for, and give recommendations to other organizations or companies in writing. This is a great bargaining chip. Only thing to make sure of is-make sure the speaker doesn’t suck…You don’t want to have to lie…

In conclusion, hire me for a fee….wait-no-just kidding….(sort of). IN CONCLUSION, the level of experience, the work involved on the speaker’s end, your industry relations, who is in your audience, and the speaker’s current business needs, all need to be taking into consideration when deciding whether or not to pay for a professional speaker.


Stacy Pederson is a funny motivational speaker who has almost died a bunch. You can learn more about her at:

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