Don't Ask Me to Speak for Free!

  A couple of years ago I spoke to an organization of business owners. Their policy was that you had to give two free  three hour presentations before you could have the honor of being paid to speak. It didn't matter if you had 20 years experience, testimonials, and a good track record. The person who recommended me to speak to her group paid for my presentation out of her budget. I was not going to invest three hours of valuable content plus preparation time for free.

After a couple of years passed, I tried to log into their internet site to read some of the articles. It locked me out. So, I called them to verify my login information. They acknowledged that I had the wrong information. But I was not expecting what came next. The person on the phone informed me that because I hadn't given a presentation for them in a couple of years, I would have to start over and give two free presentations in order to gain access to their site. What? Speak for free? After I've already been paid as a speaker? I already proved myself. This was beyond nervy. It was downright offensive.

Can you imagine saying that to a plumber or electrician? They charge you a set fee just to walk in the door. And everybody pays them. Newsflash: Speakers earn their living by speaking. It's not an avocation. It's a business.That's why it's  called professional speaking.

A few years earlier I was the keynote speaker at a women's conference. A man approached me and told me he liked my presentation. He asked me if I gave this talk  for companies. They had some issues and he was interested in having me speak at a monthly meeting. He said he would check with his boss and get back to me. The next day I received his email inquiry.  He asked, "By way of clarification, is there a charge for this?"  Excuse me? I think the question is , "What is your fee for this?" Does his boss expect him to show up for free? Needless to say, my friends and I had a good laugh and I turned them down.

A speaker provides as much value as any other professional. Imagine asking an employee to give up a week's salary because they took time off? It's as if there's a testing period for a speaker. Come and speak for free and if we like you, the next time we'll pay you.

This happened to a friend of mine. She did a pro bono one hour workshop for a professional services firm. When she prospected for more business they told her that they weren't going to spend any more of their training budget this year. Why should they? They just got it for free. Now that they have her valuable tips there's no reason to hire her. This woman was a thirty year veteran who provides business strategies that result in growth.

I took her aside and told her that she was not to speak for free for any firm or business ever again  that had the means to pay and could be a client.

A few years ago I learned of a women's initiative program at a multi-national corporation. Their name is recognizable world-wide. On the one hand, they wanted to develop their women with these diversity programs but on the other hand, they didn't want to pay speakers to come in to train their people. What is the company communicating? (We have a program to develop women but it's just lip service). If a company won't invest financially, they just don't value you or their employees.

However, there may be circumstances when you'll waive your fee.

When should you speak for free or make a complimentary offer?

  1. Skills Development You're just starting out and you want to get experience as a speaker. You need to develop your platform skills. Join toastmasters and speak for free for non-profits.
  2. Back-of-the-Room Sales You want to upsell products or other services and speaking is simply the medium you 'll use to promote. You know you'll make a killing on back-of-the-room sales so speaking is secondary.
  3. Thank You You've been a trusted advisor to a client for years and you want to give a free presentation to their customers as a thank you.
  4. Charity/Community Service You're volunteering for a cause. For the past two years I've done pro bono coaching for a couple of student winners of the Financial Women's Association mentoring programs to help them with their acceptance speech.
  5. Marketing You're in front of a non-profit or trade organization and could be hired by the audience members. When I spoke for free at a national conference I was later hired to work with a company in Egypt for two weeks. That's a marketing pay off.

Never speak for free for your target client or customer. The goal of speaking for free at local associations is to showcase your services to potential clients in the audience. Public speakers speak for free. Professional speakers speak for a fee. If professional speakers don't value what they have to deliver, the market won't either.