Speaker Fees; Client Expectations vs Reality

Nick Gold 10 June 2014

In my last blog, I briefly looked at the subject of speakers and their fees. In the article I touched on the client’s budget and perspective and said I would come back to that.  Well here I am, giving a quick outlook on how I see the marketplace and where we are going.

It used to be fairly clear a number of years ago, that having an external speaker at a conference or event fell under the entertainment budget, this was driven by a number of factors but maybe the prevalent one was the premise that a client needed a ‘wow’ name.  Over time and certainly over the last five years, while this is still a factor, clients and the marketplace are starting to look at what the speaker is actually delivering.

If you are looking for an external speaker (and I should caveat when I say speaker, it could just be ‘person’, as the actual role of the person when they attend the event can vary dependent on the clients requirements) to bring in an audience, then profile is everything but (and this part is being understood more and more as the marketplace matures) if the ‘big name’ fails to deliver at the actual event then that reflects badly on all parties.  This understanding has meant that clients have to look at the real value or return they are looking for.

This has resulted in two things, firstly and crucially, speakers, at all levels of experience, fame and backgrounds have had to raise their game in the speaking market and realise this is a different skill set and need to work at it accordingly.  Secondly, the role of the speaker bureau becomes clearer (and this is my plug for Speakers Corner), as a non-exclusive bureau i.e we don’t manage any speakers, we offer independent advice to a client. Thus we want them to book the best speaker for their event, not because we have any secondary motives or obligations towards any of the speakers.

Back to clients and their budgets, what am I driving at here?  I suppose my point is that the best question that can be asked by a client is ‘What is my Return on Investment from that speaker?’ or ‘what am I defining as success for the external speaker at my event?’ – if it is to draw in bums on seats then yes, the budget needs to reflect the draw of the speaker but still the client should reflect on the outcome as well and maybe ensuring the balance of delivery in terms of numbers of attendees to great feedback.  If it is about deep content and takeaway lessons that allow the delegates to further develop themselves and their companies, then it comes to the relationship between the account manager helping the client with suggestions and the client to reach a level of trust that the advice about the quality, style and content of the speaker matches the clients brief.

What I am trying to say, I suppose, is that my ideal vision of the industry is that the budget is the last thing discussed about the speaker as time is spent understanding what is to be achieved from the external speaker and the client is convinced about the ‘return’ that are going to achieve from that speaker (in whatever format the return might be, could be attendees, could be content, could be to provoke debate internally as examples).  As, if, this return is what is wanted then the budget is almost secondary to making sure the right speaker is in place.  I appreciate this is a very lop sided view and doesn’t take into account the reality of actual life but I certainly feel the balance still needs to be tipped slightly more away from focus on ‘biggest name for budget’ to ‘best speaker for delivering value and the goal set out by the client upfront’.

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