When I was asked to find costs for keynotes as a younger, fresher and greener event content coordinator, I thought it would be as easy as asking Google, “How much does it cost to have [name] speak at an event?”
After all, Google holds the answer for almost everything – it can even answer questions like: Do I have Ebola? How do you know if a guy likes you? What should I eat for dinner?
Unfortunately, it turned out to not be as simple as Googling it. Many factors determined behind the scenes go into how much you’ll spend on a keynote. This is why many speaker bureaus say “contact us for fee” in order to share that number.
Whenever I searched for an estimated keynote cost for a specific speaker, or even a generic title, the search results brought up speaker agencies, which is not what I wanted.
Although Google has been faithful to me in the past, there are some questions I ask that I’m still forced to answer and research on my own.
Here are the questions I typed into the search bar – in a million different ways – which I eventually had to learn.
Why is there such secrecy around speaker fees?
Depending on location, duration of the keynote and audience size, a speaker will adjust his or her fees.
The easiest way to establish and negotiate a keynote’s cost is by contacting them directly, which has been made moderately easy with the rise of social media and the ability to get (almost) anyone’s email address with a quick search.
However, not all speakers are so easy to track down.
You might decide to use a speaker agency. These resources can be incredibly frustrating to use as an event planner because once you contact the bureau for a speaker fee, you become a sales lead. You can now expect the agent to inevitably harass you about booking one of their speakers and to generously “keep you in mind” for future events.
With so many other things that I juggle throughout the day, like establishing the rest of the Summit agenda and working with other speakers, fielding calls is the last thing I have time for.
However, speaker bureaus can be helpful if you’re working with a blank slate or have a notoriously private speaker. They specialize in finding and contacting a highly sought-after keynotes who you can’t get a hold of on your own (at a price, of course).
Is there any way that I can estimate a budget for a keynote? How much does it cost to have a [insert career vertical] keynote at my event?
Although costs vary from speaker to speaker, I’ve noticed some trends while doing research for keynote speakers on our events – basic guidelines to help estimate spend.
Speakers determine their own fees. One speaker might think that their content is worth $10,000 and is more than happy to work with you, whereas someone more qualified might think that they’re worth $250,000 and there’s no flexibility in their mind.
Apart from that human element, this chart has three explanations:
1. Professors: Depends on area of research, tenure, and institution
A tenured economics professor from Harvard is likely (and should) charge a higher speaker fee than a first-year lecturer at Arizona State University.
2. Published Authors: Costs vary based on publication success and subject matter
For example, a book that sits on the best-seller shelf at Barnes and Noble versus a book that’s No. 30 on a sub-sub-subcategory on Amazon. Although becoming a published author is without a doubt an accomplishment, the speaker fee should reflect the book’s success.
3. Celebrities: What defines a star?
The “celebrity” category doesn’t necessarily mean a Hollywood celebrity. The more of a following that the speaker has, the more you’ll likely spend. J.K. Rowling, for example, will charge more for a keynote than a newly-ranked author.
CEOs on the chart look like they carry a very low speaker fee. However, I would consider Mark Zuckerberg, a celebrity speaker also, not just a CEO – much like Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg (not a CEO, but the same idea).
Most CEOs though, especially of small- or medium-sized companies, are not celebrities and are usually just trying to cover the costs of travel and a couple of days out of the office by adding enough friction to find motivated enough parties.
These categories are stackable and should be viewed as ranges, not rules. (Please do not tell a speaker that they’re only worth “X” amount, because they might construe that as insulting – on the flip side though, I’m sure they’d be more than happy to take more.)
Why do some categories of keynotes cost more than others?
I began to wonder why one professor would charge $20,000 for a keynote, where others would cost double that. Then it occurred to me – categories aren’t in a vacuum, they’re stackable.
Professors usually are also published authors – although book success makes a huge impact on the fee. The “stackability” of the chart should be used as a range. Generally expect to pay a professor above $20,000 for an hour-long keynote when the professor has been published.
The same is true for a CEO that is also a “celebrity.” If the CEO is more well-known, expect to pay more for his or her time.
For professors (depending on university) who are also published authors (bestselling), the chart would look more like this:
How can I get the best value out of my keynote speaker?
Keynotes are an investment that you make on your event. Ensuring that you have a good quality experience for your company and attendees should be your top priority.
If you’re working directly with a speaker, you can do a few things to maximize your spend with your keynote:
- See if you can get books for attendees included with your keynote cost or at a discounted rate – if this is an option, see if they’ll be open to doing a book signing.
- Ask about availability to do an interview before the event for a blog post, podcast or video post to promote the event.
- Check to see if they’ll share that they’re speaking at your event on Twitter or other channels.
The keynote speaker is the cornerstone of an event. Finding one takes time, effort, negotiation and patience in order to amplify the value proposition of your function.
Keep in mind that the rules determining cost of a keynote are always in flux – if you pay a lot for your keynote and your audience can’t stop talking, tweeting and blogging about what an impact they had on their careers, you get what you pay for, don’t you?
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