Figuring Out Speaker Fees

Figuring Out Speaker Fees

Tonya McKenzie, 27 Jul 2020

Whether it is a convention, conference, panel, business meeting, corporate event, or workshop, speakers desire to be paid for their time, effort, and results. The question is, paid how much.

For most speakers that actually aspired to be notable, paid for their knowledge and savvy wordplay about a subject that they consider themselves an expert in, the journey usually begins with free speaking opportunities for exposure purposes. You find yourself giving away your knowledge for free for the opportunity to be seen by somebody that will consider paying you in the future. After you do that so many times, perfect your craft, fine-tune your message, and package your offerings upright, free is no longer an option. Once you have established your value, the only way that you give it away is out of the kindness of your heart, not because you are valued at zero dollars and zero cents. Even then, an organization can offer to handle your room and board or travel or food, or anything for that matter. Now that we have established that, let’s discuss what you should be charging, what that includes, and why it is important.


It is always a safe bet when asked to speak at an event, to ask about their budget. “What’s your budget,” needs to be something that you get comfortable asking. For people that have a hard time talking about money, take a deep breath, and say those words. Start there.  Understand that conference organizers are delighted to never bring up money at all and assume that you are fine speaking for free, especially if you do not bring it up. Initiating the subject on your part displays your professionalism. Talking about money is a part of the business. Essentially, this speaking opportunity is a business engagement. Deal with it the same way that you deal with other business transactions. Ask for additional information about the subject that you are speaking on, more information about the audience, the theme of the event, and budget. Slide it in the conversation or email. You are basically fact-collecting. Other great questions that you can ask are:

  • How many people are expected to attend the talk?
  • Who will the attendees be (profession/seniority)?
  • What is the location? Will travel be included?
  • What is the purpose of the event/conference?
  • Can you have a table and vend at the event?
  • Will this be a keynote talk (generally 45–60 minutes), or a breakout session?

Keep this in mind, the higher the profile of the event, the more likely it is for them to have a larger budget available.


The common ladder for speaking fees may vary slightly but generally follow this common pattern:

  • Neo Speakers from 0-10 is usually $0-$500.
  • Rookie speakers are professionals with a few paid engagements, now getting referrals and re-bookings. These speakers might earn $500–$2,500 for a talk.
  • Professionals speakers with a brand and/or a book, ask for $5,000–$10,000.
  • Notables & A-Listers with several books, notoriety and media following can ask for no less that $10k and upwards of $30k per talk.


Where the event is matters. How you get there matters. Where you stay before and after you speak matters.

On average, you should charge an additional $500 for long-distance events. It is common practice for the organizers to ask if you will need accommodations. If they od not ask, you must inquire. Sometimes, depending on the organization, they may already have specials lined up at a local hotel. Again, if they do not ask, you must bring it up. It’s a detail that needs to get handled. You must find out who is going to take on responsibility for handling it. If you have the option between a hotel and a motel, opt for what is most comfortable for you. You want to make sure that you are well-rested and alert for your talk. The quality of the message that you deliver can be affected by fatigue lack of alertness.

Your transportation costs. Flights cost. Taxicab and rideshare cost. You must find out if they are taking care of that and build all of the costs into your fee.


The bottom line is the bottom line. You start your speaking career making very little profit. You take every opportunity to level up on your technique, developing and growing your brand awareness, and perfecting your message. Work on your creativity, your delivery, and growing your pipeline. Every event that you speak at should be a lead for your next speaking opportunity. Make sure that your expenses are included in your fees before you wind up paying so much in expenses that it takes out of your well-earned fees. The take away is understanding the more you speak, the more valuable you are, and the more you charge. Don’t forget to have fun out there.

As the founder of Sand & Shores, Tonya McKenzie brings more than 20 years of experience in public relations, leadership, marketing, and client relations. Her non-profit experience includes being an Associate Executive Director, raising over a million dollars to open a new YMCA in Northern California, serving as the first Black elected Director for the Oakley Chamber of Commerce, being appointed to the Youth Council for Contra Costa County by Supervisor Federal Glover.