How much you can expect to pay for a professional speaker seems like one of the best kept secrets in the world. You’re not likely to find their rates online and you might also not want to go to the trouble of asking a speakers’ agency for a quote in order to find out that way. This is why we talked to popular speaker Danny Mekić, who has given hundreds of lectures over the past fourteen years. We discussed different types of speakers, what makes a speaker valuable and what (unknown) expenses can be involved in hiring a great speaker. These are Danny’s tips and insights:

The price of a professional speaker is determined by the market. If there is a high demand for a certain speaker, then that speaker can charge more than a speaker that nobody ever invites. Roughly speaking, there are seven factors that determine how popular and valuable a speaker is:

  • Fame
  • Knowledge
  • Relevance
  • Availability
  • Experience
  • Story
  • Presentation skills

Fame

Speakers who are well-known for appearing on the radio or on television or for writing a best-seller are more popular – and can therefore charge more – than speakers nobody has ever heard of. In fact, speakers no one has ever heard of will probably never be invited to begin with.

Knowledge

A very knowledgeable speaker will usually charge more than a less knowledgeable speaker. Another important factor is the subject a speaker specialises in. A speaker who specialises in big data and robotics will usually be able to charge more than a speaker who specialises in sawmills, unless they have some revolutionary new sawmill technology to tell about.

Relevance

Not all speakers’ knowledge is equally relevant. A well-known speaker with comprehensive knowledge of some very narrow and specific topic that isn’t popular or considered important will not be asked as often as some little-known speaker with comprehensive knowledge about technology; that person might be invited much more often. More knowledge and very specific knowledge is not always an advantage.

Availability

There are full-time speakers and there are experts who give lectures besides their regular line of work.

People who make a living giving lectures and presentations full-time will want to ‘sell’ as many lectures as they can, and will usually be cheaper than super specialists who also sell lectures part-time and whose income does not depend on the number of lectures they give. Part-time speakers have less time for lectures, while full-time lecturers can easily give three lectures a day. It’s simply what they do, and their lectures are often the same every time.

Experience

Practice makes perfect. Experienced speakers feel at home on stage; they know better than anyone how to take their audience along on an inspiring and insightful journey. But for each of them, there once was a first time. That first lecture usually involved nervousness, stuttering, inexperience. Not many people have such a natural gift for speaking that they knew exactly what they were doing even for their first lecture. Gaining experience takes time; that’s why experienced speakers are often more popular than beginners.

Story

Mekić is known for never giving the exact same presentation twice. Looking at the target audience, the subject, the other speakers and the client’s wishes, he crafts a story that perfectly suits the occasion. There are also speakers who compose a presentation once a year, and then repeat the same presentation all year — which means less preparation time, so they can afford to charge lower rates than speakers who customise their story.

Presentation skills

There are some examples of well-known, brilliant, experienced speakers who still don’t do well on stage. Their lectures are boring, there is nothing to lighten the mood, or the subject doesn’t suit the audience. A speaker with better presentation skills is more likely to be asked again next time, and to become more popular as a result. That means they can charge more.

Estimating rates

When looking for a speaker, consider each of these seven factors and determine whether it would be good or bad for a speaker to base their rates on that.

Category 1: little-known, inexperienced beginner speakers
A bottle of wine to €750

Category 2: little-known but experienced speakers
€750-€2000

Category 3: well-known and experienced speakers, popular topics, custom presentations
€2000-€10,000

Category 4: (international) celebrities
€10,000-€300,000 (the latter is what someone like chef Gordon Ramsay charges for a presentation)

Of course, not all speakers will follow this, but these rates are the most common.

Other factors that can affect pricing:

  • Charities and non-profit organisations can always ask speakers for special rates or even for free presentations.
  • The duration of the presentation can be a factor, but shorter presentations do not necessarily take less time to prepare: if you have exactly 15 minutes to talk about a very complex subject, that can take more preparation than if you get 45 minutes — because with a 45 minute time slot, you’re less likely to exceed your time limit if you don’t time your presentation carefully.
  • Audience size: a small presentation for 12 people generally costs less than a keynote presentation in Ahoy Rotterdam for thousands of people.

Why do speakers charge that much money?

Why do people pay more for a Louis Vuitton bag than for a well-known, experienced, popular speaker giving a custom presentation for a thousand people, which they can only do because they’ve devoted their entire life – often without being paid for it – to become an expert in a certain area? The answer is: the free market.

When you hire a speaker, you’re not only paying for the 60 minutes they spend on stage, but also for the many years they’ve spent acquiring relevant knowledge, experience, stories and presentation skills. Besides that, there can be all sorts of additional costs that you wouldn’t normally think about:

  • Preparatory discussion (1 hour + 1 hour of preparation)
  • Preparation (which can be as much as 8 to 16 hours in all)
  • Arriving ahead of time (1 or 2 hours in advance on average, and you wouldn’t walk out the moment your presentation is over; + 1 hour)
  • The presentation itself: 1 hour on average. Events often take place in the evening, meaning you’ll be home late.
  • Personally, I always take a colleague along to my lectures. They can take care of the setup while I talk to the client and the invitees of the event, and mentally prepare for the presentation. During the presentations, my colleague can also take photos and write a report, which can be put online later. I pay them a salary every month.
  • Depreciation of the speaker’s laptop, phone, clicker, batteries, etc. I often bring a second laptop as a backup, too.
  • Clothes: of course your clothes need to be properly dry-cleaned, but you also can’t show up in the same shirt or the same shoes every time. Speakers need to spend more on clothing than many other professions would.
  • Transportation: depreciation of the speaker’s car, fuel, travel time + 50% to prevent lateness due to traffic jams. When I give a lecture in Brussels, that takes me 7 hours of travel time (3.5 hours for the trip there + 3.5 hours for the trip back).
  • Insurance: if you knock over your client’s antique vase, it would be good to be able to offer them a replacement.
  • PAs/researchers/designers: many prominent speakers have assembled a team around them. Personally, I involve three other people in preparing my lectures: a researcher who will help me to find insights and examples, a designer who is great at making slides, and an assistant who will take care of the day’s logistics. They all need a laptop, a phone, a mobile network and internet connection, travel expenses, etc. When I give a presentation in English, I also have a translator proofread my work.
  • Specialist literature and subscriptions: I spend €2000 a year just on newspaper subscriptions and literature.
  • Licensing: when you use someone else’s photo or video in a presentation, in many cases the right to quote applies, or it will be impossible to track down who took that photo or video. However, when the right to quote does not apply and you do know the original author, it would be good to be able to appropriately compensate them for it.
  • Cosmetics – and no, that’s not just for women. When you’re on a large stage, being heated up by a few dozen to a hundred lamps while being filmed too, you don’t want your face to be reflective, or you’ll end up looking like a light bulb.
  • Speakers’ agency: if you invite your speaker via a speakers’ agency, the agency will take 20% of the fee on average.

This list serves to give you an idea, but it’s not a full list, and the reality will be different for different speakers.

Of course, even with all these expenses, a speaker will still earn more than the average person. But how many people are capable of giving big presentations on a big stage for a big crowd?

Hopefully, the above tips will help you to decide whether a professional speaker suits your budget, and to understand where a speaker’s fee comes from. Are you looking for a speaker on technology and innovation? You’ve come to the right place! Leave your contact information below and we will contact you soon:

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