Public speaking is an interesting and often confusing business. Some big name celebrity speakers charge thousands for an after dinner speech. Other, brilliant storytellers may struggle to make a living as a professional public speaker, especially when they are starting out.

Sometimes, you may be asked to speak for free, and sometimes you may be paid a speakers fee. The best solution for a professional speaker is to be paid every time. But there are some situations where it may actually benefit you to speak for free.

Follow this simple checklist, if just one of these things applies to your situation, you should consider speaking for free. If none of these apply, ask for a fee. Simple.

Do you need to gain experience as a speaker?

If you are completely unknown, if you have very little experience, if you have a fear or phobia of public speaking, or if you are just getting started, speak for free.

See your first few unpaid speaking gigs as “practice runs”.

Try to learn as much as possible from each time you talk, and try to talk to a wide variety of audiences in a wide variety of venues and formats. Mix up university lectures with conferences, with community groups, with festivals. Try small audiences, large audiences, student audiences, professional audiences.

Practice makes perfect, and if you’re not yet perfect, practice more!

Do you need testimonials?

When making the transition from a free speaker to a fee-charging speaker, you may need to gather testimonials, from event organisers, company representatives and audience members.

You may want to consider giving a few free talks and presentations with the view to collect testimonials or recommendations afterwards.

Large, well known companies, and big name universities can add to your credibility as a speaker.

Do you need video footage for a showreel?

Many public speakers put together showreels of their best bits. But often the speakers don’t have good, clear, usable footage of their talks.

Larger events and conferences will most likely have a video production team. In that case you may want to speak for free, and ask in return to be able to use the video footage of yourself for promotional reasons.

Before agreeing to this though, always check videos of previous conferences to make sure that the filming is of a professional quality. Also always check the copyright and any other legal restrictions you may have on using the video footage yourself.

Are you up-selling something else?

Personally, I hate selling from the stage. To me, it’s cheesy, but the truth is, it works.

If you have a product to sell, a new book to promote, or you want to raise the profile of your company or organisation, you may consider speaking for free. Just make sure that the event organisers allow you to sell your products directly at the event, or that they allow you to collect contact details of audience members. Check your local rules around opting in if you do want to email your audience directly.

You should also make sure that the audience you are speaking to is the kind that will buy your product or service, or support your business in some way.

Are you working on new material?

Speaking for free allows you to test out new kinds of content. Even if you are a well established public speaker, you may want to try out something new in a low pressure environment.

When I work on new material and speak for free, I make sure to ask for LOTS of questions. In fact, I often tell the audience at the start of my talk that I will give them a free prize to the best question at the end. That way, I can easily get 10 to 20 great questions.

I would make sure that I wrote down each question, and incorporated that question (and its answer) into future versions of my talk. Covering more angles, and giving the audience more value.

You may also want to survey your audience to find out what parts they liked, and what parts you could improve.

Do you love the cause?

Sometimes it can be wonderful to share your knowledge for free with causes you believe in. Perhaps you have a charity or organisation you want to support? Perhaps you are passionate about education and want to speak at a local school or university? Perhaps you have an idea that you really believe in, and you will do anything to get that idea “out there”.

Public speaking is a great way to give back to your local community and support issues you care about.

Typically, for me, I pick two or three events each year that I completely love, that I have a personal connection with, and speak at them for free.

Will you travel for your public speaking?

Now, this isn’t for everyone, but I love to travel. I enjoy experiencing the world, and learning about new cultures. Some speakers hate long flights, but I love it.

If the event organiser is covering all expenses, food, flights, hotels, ground transportation, and there is a chance to have a little vacation in a country I haven’t been to before, I’ll sometimes be tempted to take part if there isn’t a speakers fee.

If your event organiser is able to offer something awesome to you, that you really value more than a speaker fee, it’s down to you to make the decision.

What about you? When would you speak for free, and when would you insist on a fee? Let us know down in the comments.


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