Jessica Lorenz

Event Marketing: How much should I expect to pay for a keynote?

November 21st, 2014

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?


You might also like

Event Marketing: 4 questions to ask before submitting a speaking application [More from the blogs]

Event Marketing: Virtual event campaign drives 10,155 registrations and 1,800 new database names [Case study]

Combining Social Media and Event Marketing: Year-round effort boosts clickthrough 236% [Case study]

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  1. November 24th, 2014 at 15:45 | #1

    One other factor that limits publication of pricing is that the Security and Exchange Commission has told the National Speakers Association that members should avoid discussing pricing so that there is no “price fixing” within the professional trade association.

    Ultimately, a visit to a speakers website and a quick call will help you find an expert at a price that fits your budget. The final price will include consideration of the number of hours spent to prepare for the presentation, the expertise the speaker brings to the topic, the time the speaker will be on the road for the presentation, and the ability of the speaker to make audience members want to attend that particular conference (ROI).

  2. Jessica Lorenz
    Jessica Lorenz
    November 24th, 2014 at 16:56 | #2

    @Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
    Hi Gerard,

    Thanks for your comment. That’s really helpful insight.

    I think that the friction comes in to play with the lack of transparency — which, in this day and age, can be frustrating to users that are used to getting immediate answers.

    But I definitely think that finding the right keynote, or featured speaker, is worth the time, energy and budget that goes into the process.

  3. November 24th, 2014 at 18:04 | #3

    A few things are missing I think:
    1. Too many groups select speakers based on “celebrity” (Will they attract a crowd? Will they especially attract a crowd for the last session to ‘keep people there’?) v. content, delivery style and match with audience OR based solely on cost.

    2. I don’t know many professionals who provide services that are “set in stone”! When I write proposals for consulting work or to train or facilitate, it will depend on the scope of work, the nature of the organization, the prep time, my schedule to create and deliver the program, and other factors. I’m transparent as are most speakers w/ whom I’ve worked; transparent however does not mean that we’ll quote a price because you say you are interested. We need more information.

    3. Some speakers charge more because they don’t want to travel as much as they might have. While that may frustrate me for my clients, I understand it.

    4. When budgeting for a conference, budget for all education not just for a main stage speaker. And don’t hire someone who is cheap or expensive just on that alone! See no. 1.

    5. Speakers work w/ agencies/bureaus bec. they don’t want to handle the details of the transactions and they know it’s good for the customer ’cause if a speaker gets sick or delayed en route, the agency will protect the client’s interest by trying to provide another speaker.

    6. Just because an audience is tweeting, etc., about a keynote (or a capnote or anyone else) may just mean they think the person is totally wrong for the conference; is condescending to the audience; is inappropriate for the audience; or a million other reasons. I never make an assumption that chatter = positive!

    It’s not so simple!…and this comes from 40 years in the industry helping clients book speakers, writing and negotiating contracts, doing training, designing programs, etc.

  4. Jessica Lorenz
    Jessica Lorenz
    November 25th, 2014 at 08:10 | #4

    @Joan Eisenstodt
    Hi Joan,

    Thanks so much for your input. I think that it’s great advice. I’m still fairly new to the Event scene and I found it very helpful.

    I agree that finding the right speaker(s) for your event is an amazingly complex process and several factors must be considered. Additionally, it’s wise to look at the feedback from your audience to make sure you have selected a good fit (but hopefully, you know your audience well enough to factor that in during your search).

    Thanks again for your comment!

  5. November 25th, 2014 at 10:31 | #5

    Hi Jessica,
    Don’t feel too frustrated, speaker fees are a mystery to most speakers, as well! There are many different approaches and reasons to speaking for a fee… some of us earn most of our income from delivering on the platform, others speak to find consulting assignments, to sell more books or products, to drive a brand, etc. like mot things in our complex and ever-changing world, it’s a messy market!

    Google is a two-edged sword for speakers as well as for meeting planners. The bureaus get a tremendous amount of search traffic simply because they list many speakers. Yes, good ones can be a planner’s best friend, but recognize that most have a select few speakers that they actually work with, and they must deal with large volumes of calls and contacts to make a living, as well.

    As far as fee levels go, generally you’re on the right track. Emerging talent will speak for less; deeper expertise and/or platform experience/skills costs more; celebrities and currently notable personalities command the highest fees. Then factor in the speaker’s business model. We can only speak so many times a year… far fewer than you might guess… and because the days of delivering the same talk fifty times a year has been dead and buried for two decades, many speakers invest a great deal of time in development and preparation for their client’s events. Others stick with what they have, and try to find good fits for their existing offerings.

    I love all the bureaus and agents who trust me to serve their clients, but one thing is clear to me after all these years, and over 2000 paid engagements: planners and speakers need to work as a team… Purpose, content, style, credibility, energy level, meeting objectives, fit within the event, and budget are all essential. And of these, budget is probably the easiest to dial in.

    My advice? Please take the time to chat directly with your speakers, and remember that fees are a better indicator of the speaker’s business model than their fit to you purpose, content, style,…etc… regardless of how you find us.

    Happy planning!

  6. Jessica Lorenz
    Jessica Lorenz
    November 25th, 2014 at 15:39 | #6

    @Ron Black

    Hi Ron,
    I definitely agree that “planners and speakers need to work as a team.”

    I think the speaker and the event need to be a match — fitting the culture, goals and audience of the event.

    It should be a mutually valuable and beneficial experience for both parties.

    Thanks for your feedback!

  7. January 23rd, 2015 at 12:01 | #7

    Hi Jessica,
    I just left a message for you at your office but I suspect after reading this that I will not hear back from you.

    Since you are involved in selecting speakers for events, I urge you to visit “The Speaker Experts” blog as they are a great resource for event planning professionals. They have been in the business for over 40 years and are experts in all things speaker related.

    Enjoy the read!


  8. Jessica Lorenz
    Jessica Lorenz
    January 26th, 2015 at 11:27 | #8

    Hi Crista,

    That’s a really interesting post. It’s helpful to see the other side of the coin.

    I definitely think that speaking agencies play an important role in the event industry, especially when it comes to big name speakers.

    Thanks for reading!

  9. Matthew
    March 26th, 2016 at 03:31 | #9

    I commenced my key note speaking career 11 years ago. I based my first fee on a week’s salary for every day of preparation. I ended charging 1 month’s salary for my service. I was informed later by my peers that I was grossly undervaluing my services.

    I reviewed my fees & concluded that with 20+ years experience & formal qualifications, I should expect a remuneration to reflect the services I was proving my attendees – not based on someone’s inflated ego (not mine) LOL

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