As you may see from the side bar on this blog I do a fair amount of public speaking. So far I have done almost all of these talks for free. The organizers sometimes paid for travel and hotel rooms which is nice but my awesome employer does take care of that if the organizers don’t.

But recently I got the opportunity to do a talk for a company event and the company offered to pay me! Now that is great just for the ego boost alone. But it brings up a completely new question:

How much should I charge for a speaking gig?

Quick warning: you won’t find a Dollar or Euro amount in this article.

My situation is as so often the bright side of the problem. There are many in a less comfortable situation.

Maybe you want to get into public speaking but you don’t have the experience yet and nobody wants to pay for your expenses.

Or you are experienced but conference organizers still expect you to do your talk for free and pay for travel costs yourself.

This is how I try to think about this:

No matter if you get paid financially you are selling a service (giving a talk) to someone who wants that service, the conference organizer. You need to come up with a price that makes it worthwhile for you. This means: the price you charge is of higher value then your investment.

The organizer should also come up with a price they are willing to pay. The value of your talk to them shouldn’t be lower than what they pay for it. If their price is higher than your price you’ll be able to strike a deal where both sides profit. This is really the basic underlying principle of all commercial transactions.

In order to come up with the right price for your side of this calculation you need to consider your investments. This will consist of the following:

  • Time: time to prepare and practice the talk. Time to travel. If traveling and speaking is stressful for you it might even include time to recover. How much time you need depends in turn on many things. How new is the talk for you? I have some talks where I literally spend 5 minutes to take a look at the slide before I’m ready to speak. If I have to prepare the slides I might spend dozen of hours to prepare examples and slides. If I where to give a TED talk, I’d probably would want to spend 100hrs just practicing. I’d love to give a talk about quantum computing but I’ll need to spend many hours to learn the stuff first myself. And of course we all know: It will always take longer than we first estimated.

  • Material: Do you use give aways? Do you build physical stuff for demonstrating IOT? Do you use a notebook? These things will eventually break. So a part of their costs should be covered by the price of your talk.

  • Pain/Joy: Do you enjoy doing the talk? If so that cost is actually negative or is it to be a painful experience? Then it has to be offset by appropriate payment.

The more interesting part is how much do you want to get paid for this?

There are typically the following types of payment involved:

  • Exposure: Yes, I do consider exposure to be a totally valid form of payment. When I gave my now boss a call about three years ago he already knew me. Because I had a blog, because I was co organizing a JUG, possibly because I gave a couple of talks at conferences. That certainly turned out to be very valuable. The tricky part about exposure is that it’s value changes with your experience. If you are relatively new to public speaking and aren’t well known within your target audience exposure is extremely valueable, because it gives you access to more opportunities. But if you do multiple talks a month all over the world only very few organizers may offer you a relevant amount of exposure. Maybe TED can or maybe speaking in front of the NATO might qualify, but the average conference for your trade? Probably not so much.

  • Access to the conference: Again this is often very valuable at the beginning of your career because you can learn a lot at conferences. But if you are at a conference every other month, you have seen all the talks, and there is very little value in most conferences. Which brings us to the final measure:

  • Money: This basically has to cover everything that isn’t covered by the other options. What was helpful for me was to compare it to what I would do instead. One option is certainly my regular day job. If I do a talk on my own bill I’ll have to at least take a day off so the money I earn from the talk should probably be in the same ball park.

The calculation changes if you want to make speaking your main career. I probably won’t be able to give you much useful advice in that case but one number you probably should consider is: What amount of money do I have to earn so I won’t want to switch to another job instead.

So you end up with a price. The organizer hopefully does something similar. If your price is lower than the price of the organizer you strike a deal. If not you both might think again about your price if you are willing to move it a litte but if not the discussion is over.

The important part is that there is really no reason to be upset. Do you get angry if you see a market stand selling apples and you don’t want any? Of course not. Your current price for an apple happens to be lower then the price demanded by the seller. So you don’t buy. But if you get upset don’t demand the organizer has to pay you your price. Or as the organizer don’t demand that a speaker accepts only exposure as payment. By such a behaviour you just demonstrate that you don’t understand the very basics of commercial transaction. At least to me that would be highly embarrassing and I would try to avoid that at all cost. But hey the chances are it will give you some exposure on twitter or reddit and since you value that so high it might be actually a win for you.


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