Kirstie Hook | Aug 05, 2011
It’s tricky. Most conferences are on a limited budget, but growing your conference means you need high-quality, engaging speakers who are well-recognized in their fields.
The days of “doing it for exposure” have passed – people can’t pay mortgages and food bills with exposure, and most professional speakers get hundreds of offers to speak for free. Even if the cause is worthy, or the focus is perfect for their talents, it’s simply unfeasible to expect quality speakers to donate their time and talents on a regular basis.
Thus, it’s really important to budget for speakers – a better audience experience results in good buzz for your conference, and will hopefully result in increased attendance, and increased funds as you build a conference following.
When you’re deciding how much to offer, consider that for every one hour, new presentation, the speaker will need to prep for at least 8 hours. Even if the speaker has presented the same material before, they’ll still need several hours to tailor it for a new audience.
Here are a few guidelines and categories to think about when budgeting for speaker costs:
1. Industry speakers with no registration fee
Consider what it will cost on an average per-person basis to attend your conference, including travel & lodging expenses, and calculate that amount per industry speaker that receives free registration. This will provide a good general budget amount for the invited presenter.
2. Industry speakers identified as expert and average presenters
For those without “big names” who have a reputation as solid, if not great, presenters, budget between $250 and $1000 per day. Depending on your budget and the attraction of the speaker to your audience, you may offer a stipend to offset travel & lodging expenses.
3. Industry speakers identified as experts and great presenters
If the speakers are specialists or experts, who have a strong industry presence and a track record of bringing powerful messages, with excellent presentation skills, in fairly high demand, plan to offer $1000 – $4000 per day, plus a travel/lodging stipend.
4. Rising professional speakers
This group encompasses those whose primary income is derived from presenting and training fees. The demand for these speakers is relatively high, so they can command higher fees. They usually represent the best new and veteran professional speakers in their field. $4,000 to $10,000 a day is the average fee for these presenters.
5. Specialty professional speakers on the cusp of marquee status
Newly-famous speakers, or those with a specialty niche that would be hard to find in another presenter make up this group – someone with a groundbreaking publication, a recent noteworthy television appearance, or other buzz that would bring great value to your conference. Typical fees would range from $10,000 – $25,000 per day.
6. Headliners/Marquee Names
These are no ordinary speakers – we’re talking about superstars with household names. While they may not be renowned for speaking, they ARE renowned for drawing crowds due to their celebrity status. Think Oprah, Tony Robbins, Bob Costas, Anderson Cooper. Their presence comes at a price – $25,000 – $300,000 isn’t out of the question for a presentation fee.
On the flip side, there’s a strong debate about allowing sponsors to pay to obtain a speaking slot at conferences. They’re already there pitching their product as a part of the conference sponsorship, but should paying attendees expect to site through a sales pitch as a part of their registration fee? It’s a tricky balance, but many conferences are now combining paid speaker sessions with sponsored speaker sessions in order to help contain costs.
What do you think about hiring conference speakers? Do you have strategies for finding low-cost speakers?
About the Author: Kirstie lives in Kansas City, MO after moving across the state from St. Louis, MO. She's spent a good portion of her career in medical/scientific research, and have organized conferences in that field targeted at local to international audiences. As a St. Louis and Kansas City local, she loves to visit events centered around food and wine, and take in the various festivals that explore ethnic cultures.