Like most business owners I get asked to speak on different topics to a variety of groups. I did a count and have been averaging about one speech per week for the past few months and traveling around the country. A fellow business owner reached out to ask some questions about accepting and charging for speaking engagements so I thought I would share a few ideas. Here are a few things to consider.
To begin, I never accept a speaking engagement on a topic where I do not feel I have significant experience. In my case, I speak on topics including; small business, media production, presentation training and entrepreneurship. These are all areas where I have direct experience. Think about topics that you believe are of current interest and where you have knowledge to share.
There are a number of formats for speaking opportunities. You night be asked to do a keynote where you are the featured speaker. Often groups will ask you to participate on a panel. If this is the case be sure you find out who else will be on the panel. That way you can decide if the participants are on a par with your level of expertise and reputation. Another opportunity is the seminar or break-out which is a more casual setting.
When you run a business you can realistically only accept a certain number of speaking engagements. When should you take the opportunity and when should you decline? You need to evaluate each opportunity. Depending upon the topic, the audience may be filled with potential customers or existing customers that are happy to see their supplier viewed as an expert. In this case, the speech is a marketing opportunity. If it is a trade organization, it is a chance to be seen as an expert and share information with colleagues.
I speak at many colleges and universities. In this instance, I see it as a chance to give back. It is also energizing to connect with students and get their perspective on business. You may also find students to fill your talent funnel if you are planning to hire. When assessing an opportunity ask yourself two questions. How will this drive business or fill a business need? Will this build your brand?
Size of Group
I know that some speakers that will not show up unless the group is a sizeable one. I believe that is a mistake. I have spoken to a number of CEO roundtables which had less than 15 members. These engagements are more personal and you can make great business connections. I have also spoken to very large groups of 600 or more with only a handful of potential future opportunities. An important thing to remember is that the size of the group will impact the tone and delivery of your speech.
This is an area that is filled with uncertainty. Should you charge or give it away? I do not have any hard and fast rules. I generally do not charge for speaking to students. Some non-profits will offer a small speakers fee and will cover travel costs. Larger groups often have a budget and they can and do pay for talented speakers. I think it is important to set a value for your time and effort. You can also negotiate with organizations. You may want to ask for a list of attendees so you can market to them after the fact. If you have a book, as I do, you can ask them to sell it at the event. When in doubt, be direct and ask what the organization is willing to pay- then decide if it is worth your time.
Finally, whether you are being paid or not it is important that you do the best possible job if you are speaking as a representative of your company. If you can’t engage the audience you may do more harm than good by speaking up.