Pay to Speak to Sell. Many speakers use this strategy to get on stages in front of their target audience. Paying to speak to sell means, you pay your own way to get to and from the event, cover all overhead expenses, and sometimes even pay a fee to be on the stage. It means you do all this in hopes of obtaining a new client after your speech or presentation. Unfortunately, if you are buying your way on stage, you are doing yourself a huge disservice—even if you do obtain a client every now and again.

The reason this is a huge hinderance to your business, and most importantly your reputation, is because a wise person is not going to hire someone who finds it necessary to pay their way to the top. For example, let’s pretend (if you are not), you are a coach who teaches personal development and you are paying to be on a stage. As an audience member, can I truly believe that you can help me to overcome my issues if you must pay your way to get to me at a conference? Or, on the flip side, could I, as a potential client, believe that you do have the capabilities to help me to overcome my issues, because you have proven it enough times that others find you valuable enough to pay you upwards of $1,000 an hour to be on their stage? Do you see the difference? You must believe that you are valuable enough to get paid to be there. As-long-as you devalue yourself, others will devalue you by making you pay your way to the top, and potential clients will devalue you when making their decision to hire you.

I understand that others who host the events will continue to encourage others to pay to speak; simply because it benefits them through deep pockets and attendees. However, my background in getting paid to speak for many years, has me seeing this as a way that the event host is taking advantage of those who want to be known, seen, and heard. Moreover, it tells me that the host of the conference more than likely doesn’t have much to offer, because they can’t be fair in their business dealings and fork out the money the speakers deserve. Lastly, it tells me the event will more than likely not be worth going to, because they don’t have speakers who devalue themselves by not getting paid to speak. I would much rather attend a conference where they are bringing in a $10,000 an hour speaker; because, now I want to be like that speaker, learn from them, and hire them.

Understand, clients who learn from you want to be like you. In the depths of one’s heart their passion is not to pay their way to the stage; rather, their passion is to have such an impact on the lives of others that they are wanted so greatly others are willing to pay them. So, if you only know how to pay your way to the stage, then potential clients will know that this is the level you will bring them to.

If paying to speak is something you truly believe in and want to try, then I encourage you to do so wisely. Keep a record for one to two years (depending on how often you pay to speak), of all your expenses and all your income generated through this strategy. In the end, I can almost guarantee that, even if you are ahead financially, the hour to dollar ratio is not worth it. Yes, track your hours spent in traveling, the money you earned, and the money you spent from the time you left your home to the point of return. Then, calculate your hourly pay. Then, and only then, will you know for sure if it is a wise decision for you. Lastly, consider the fact that you can earn more sitting in your office networking online, building your company through word of mouth, attending local events, and speaking at local events for free if you can’t get paid.

When this new concept came about, I had to try it to prove it to be correct or incorrect. In fact, I did this a few times, and almost every time it was a big fat fail. Allow me to tell you about my latest research findings. I was offered a gig in Chicago, Illinois, about four hours from my home. The only reason I said, “Yes”, was because I thought it would be a great date for my husband and me. We could go for a couple of days and explore Chicago, I could go in and speak at my scheduled time, and we could come back home to our children. The smaller thought bouncing between my ears was, let’s give this one last try for research. 

I spent about $800 on overhead for this event—to include gas, lodging, food, and promotional materials. Upon arriving at the event, there were only three people who were members of this organization and about thirteen who were guest—audience of sixteen. I am not even sure I need to say any more about this, but I will for clarity if you don’t see it yet. The three members were not buying—not my target audience—because they had their own agenda to bring the thirteen guests into their organization.  The other thirteen were there to be sold to by the three already members. Therefore, why would they buy from me? Of course, some would say, ask more questions before hand to know your audience. Well, I did, and was misinformed. However, let’s look at this for what it truly is. The meeting planner had no integrity in allowing a speaker to travel round trip of eight hours and spend about $800 for an audience of sixteen who she was working to sell to. (This is typical of pay to speak gigs…the meeting planner has themselves and their event at the forefront, not you.) 

Now, some may argue that they have great results with paying to speak to sell. To this I say, “Great!” However, the true question to answer is: Would you rather pay all overhead expenses in hopes to obtain a client, or would you rather get paid thousands of dollars to speak plus obtain clients? To me, this is a no brainer. Moreover, people are at their wits end with being sold to. People don’t want to attend events where every speaker is speaking to sell. Most would much rather pay to attend an event where there is going to be a speaker who is getting paid $10,000 an hour, because it clearly shows value.

It truly is up to you to decide if paying to speak to sell is a correct fit for you. If you find yourself agreeing with me, the only way to stop this strategy (that typically only benefits the host of the event) is to say, “No”, when asked to pay to get on stage. I strongly believe that speakers need to put the power back into their own hands, and value themselves enough to get paid.

9 replies
  1. Michele
    Michele says:

    what a Great blog and insight on both get paid to speak and pay to speak.I personally would rather go see a speaker that was paid and had a following I feel they work out the bugs and have a great teaching,or product that people get value or great resource to move them forward! I personal would try speak to my market audience free over paying to speak.
    This would give my experience and feed back to improve or change to make it better.
    I do like your Chicago story! Just think you could of had a weekend spa, break and Breakfast in a gorgeous setting! It is so Awesome you got to share with us your experience.
    Thank you for your insight

    • Elena Rahrig
      Elena Rahrig says:

      Thanks for your comment Michele! I am happy that you like the article. 🙂 Everyone is tired of being sold to. Everywhere you go, someone is selling. Speak to sell is not an event I want to go to either. I want to go to see someone like Patrick Snow who gets paid $20,000 an hour to speak. Moreoever, I would rather get paid $20,000 an hour to speak and have a rush of people wanting to sign up to work with me afterwards, like what happens with Patrick when he speaks. Bill who teaches the opposite is profiting from those who don’t know how to get paid to speak…he found a teaching that makes him money and his helping people who can’t get paid to speak. Good for him and those who he helps, just not my cup of tea.

  2. Tammeron
    Tammeron says:

    Awesome story here. If I were you, I would use this article as YOUR signature speech to promote yourself with the speaking academy! This is great content and I totally agree! Xo Cheers for now Tammeron

  3. Jenn Ray
    Jenn Ray says:

    Agreed. I was offered to pay for a spot to speak a couple weeks ago. My response was an absolute “No”. I would rather have ZERO opportunities than to pay to speak. With the money used to pay, I could develop & enhance myself & brand so that I can be in higher demand.

    • Elena Rahrig
      Elena Rahrig says:

      Good for you! You clearly know your value! With networking online you can bring in more clients from home without paying to travel and all the hassles of it.

  4. Jeanne Chizek
    Jeanne Chizek says:

    I agree with you. I have seen it a number of times; and it usually does not make financial sense. I also agree that it can leave a bad impression with the potential clients.
    Great article/blog, your experience really does show the down side of it. Glad you and Doug had a Great time though!

  5. P.K. Eastman
    P.K. Eastman says:

    I wrote a detailed response to this yesterday and then lost it. There is no one size answer to this. Speaking has changed. There are a dozen good arguments on
    the side of paying to speak. Only celebrities are getting $20,000 per speaking gig. The average Keynote speaker fee is $5,000- $10,000. And that is for someone who makes speaking their entire career and has a long list of references, not entrepreneurs building coaching businesses. And they are likely paying a percentage of that fee to an agent or speakers bureau.

    You cannot compare Patrick to those who are in the first half of their careers building a following and growing a product pyramid. I have more to say on this but I don’t have the time.

    • Elena Rahrig
      Elena Rahrig says:

      You are absolutely correct in comparing seasoned vs unseasoned. It is always recommended to speak for free when first beginning in order to polish up on your speaking skills and practice a new speech. I would never recommend an unseasoned speaker begin charging high dollar amounts. I would also never advice a new speaker to pay to get onto a stage. There are many events unseasoned speakers can speak at for no fee and no payment in their local area. Every well known speaker I have ever met spoke for free for many years until they got noticed; however, those who I know did not pay to be on stages in hopes for a result. You are also right in that there are two sides to this argument. There is a time and a place where it is worth it for speakers to pay to be on a stage. For example, I paid to speak in Cabo because the conditions were favorable. The guy putting it on admitted up front that it was his first year putting on a retreat and he was looking for great speakers who were willing to invest in growing the event with him. In doing so, we would be grandfathered in to be the first speakers chosen for future events with an end goal to pay us. Now that is a fair deal. I simply warn people from only ever paying to be on a stage and never charging for their services. I also warn those who pay to be on a stage that there is much chatter about people not liking to attend events where there are pay to sell speakers because they are tired of being sold to when they go to an event…because of this attendance for events have hit an all time low.


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