Event Management

How To Know If You’re Getting Hosed On Speaker Fees

Skift Take

It can be hard to tell if you’re overpaying a speaker until it’s too late. But a few red flags may be waving in the distance if you squint hard enough to see them.

When I was in my early twenties, I held down five jobs simultaneously. By day, I was a First Grade Teacher’s Aide, a Private Vocal Coach, retail clothing Sales Associate, and a jumpy Funeral Home Receptionist. By night, I was a traveling Karaoke DJ.

I was pushing about 100 hours per week, working days, evenings, nights and weekends. On the door of my empty fridge was a calendar, color-coded per job. I even had a color for catnaps. It’s what you do when you’re single and saving for a three-month European adventure. It’s not what you do, however, if you want to not be single. Thinking now, that may be why The Date happened at all.

I met Bliss (go ahead, take a minute) at a bar where I did regular karaoke shows. Bliss hung with my karaoke posse, a group of guys who followed me around town from show to show. Before you freak out and call my mother, these guys were harmless enough. In fact, they saved my bacon and my sound gear on more than one occasion. Cheap beer and Cheap Trick rarely go well together in large quantities, BTW.

While I barely knew these guys, I genuinely liked having them around. They kept me safe and kept things interesting. Jarred loved The Everly Brothers and Marty Robbins. Because of him, I still know all the words to “El Paso”. Jeff had the best voice of the bunch. I could listen to him sing all night if it wouldn’t have gotten me fired. Steven had a laminated list of songs in his wallet, and probably would have been the one to get me fired if I let Jeff sing all night. Kevin wore eye makeup and had safety pins in his face. He didn’t sing so much as scream.

So when their buddy Bliss (seriously, I saw his ID) asked me to go for dinner with him, my response was what I’m certain every man dreams of: “Sure. Why not.”

Why not, indeed.

In fairness to good/bad date stories out there, I can count the number of guys I’ve dated on one half of one hand, not including thumbs. I believe it’s called ‘Serial Monogamy’. So, single-person dates, good bad or otherwise, are basically a foreign concept to me.

I can’t say this was a bad date, but I ain’t gonna say it was good. We met at a French restaurant. I drove myself there. We sat down. I got my own chair. We ate French food, I assume. We passed on dessert, I remember. I do recall that he had surprisingly few interesting stories for someone whose parents named their child Bliss.

Finally the bill came. Using my best manners, I excused myself to the restroom, giving him space to pay the bill in privacy. Who knows if this is a thing. It seemed like a good idea. What did I know. I took my time, re-glossed and returned to the table to find the bill still sitting there, partially paid with his $20 on top.

That’s when I heard the words I’m certain no woman dreams of: “Are you going to help pay for this?” Even with near zero dating experience, I knew this was not a good sign. As I pulled money out of my wallet and paid for my crepes, I felt like I just gotten hosed. Two hours of potential catnaps and $20 of my hard-earned Europe money had been heisted.

Looking back now, I blame myself.

Had dating websites or Google or the internet or computers or anything but rotary phones existed, I could have easily done my homework. Still, I should have asked his friends if he was worth my time (and money).

Thankfully, Meeting Professionals have friends AND modern technology to save them from similar heists.

So, how do you know if you’re getting hosed on speaker fees?

According to Nick Morgan, what a speaker charges is a complex calculation involving their status, their demand, and the quality they want to project.

“New York Times bestselling authors can command $40K and up per speech. If you don’t have a bestseller, or moral equivalent, than you need to set your fee somewhere south of that number.” More on that here.


Tip #1: Ask Around

Google is your friend, and so are your friends.

Interested in Bing Bingham for your conference?

  • Find out where he’s spoken. Search “Bing Bingham Agenda” to see a list of events that have listed him as their speaker. Contact the planners at those organizations for a personal referral.
  • Find out what clients say about him. Search “Bing Bingham Testimonials”. The real pros have rave reviews out there for everybody to find. Hit up those companies, too, for a reference.
  • Find out what speakers bureaus have him listed. If he’s not listed on any speakers bureau’s website and he’s charging north than $10,000, buyer seriously beware. Contact the bureau for their pro opinion.

Tip #2: Calculate The Dollar-To-Descriptor Ratio

I recently heard that any speaker’s fee is in exact disproportion to the number of words it takes to describe them.


More words = lower fee, & vice versa.
For example:

Dr. Bob Bobson, Author of a Widely-Distributed White Paper on South Sudan Macroeconomics and one of the Leading Researchers at the Centre for Global Financial Literacy at WhoCaresCollege in IAlreadyForgotWhere.

FEE: cab fare and a chicken dinner


Pat Patterson, the first person to summit Mt. Everest on a motorcycle

FEE: $15,000



FEE: One bazillion dollars and a small miracle

And if you do need an actual celebritythatisn’tBeyoncé, use this same principle to make sure your dollar-per-word isn’t outta whack. More on that here.

Tip #3: Consult a Cheat Sheet

In their guidepost article a handful of years ago, Velvet Chainsaw offered up their “Cheat Sheet For Hiring And Paying Professional Speakers”.

It ranges from Industry Speakers (hello, Bob Bobson) to Rising Professional Speakers (look within your local NSA Chapter) to Marquee Names (speakers bureaus’ sweet spot)

In Conclusion

Just like on my date misfire (Bliss-fire, if you will), sometimes it can be hard to tell if you’re getting hosed until it’s too late.

Still, a few yellow (and red flags) may be waving in the distance if you squint hard enough to see them.

Get out your binoculars and scan the horizon for anyone waving you off.

Crowdsourcing is the most powerful ally for anyone doling out hard-won budget cash for speakers.

Not asking around could cost you more than two hours and $20 at a French restaurant.