Chip MacGregor

June 21, 2013

What is a standard fee to charge when speaking?


Someone wrote to say, “I’ve been asked to speak several times since my book came out — some large venues, some very small. My problem is that I don’t know what to charge when I speak? A flat fee? A sliding scale? Is there some guidance you can give me?”

Happy to begin this conversation. Okay… start to think about creating a matrix for your speaking events.

First, there are certain topics you speak about. (We’ll name those A, B, C, D.)

Second, there are lengths of time you can do each one — for example, let’s say you can talk about Topic A for 30 minutes, for 2 hours, or for an entire weekend retreat, but you can only talk about Topic B in a couple one-hour blocks of time, so you could do a one-hour or two-hour chunk of content; and Topic C is nothing more than a 20 to 40 minute casual talk.

So now you have some options… You’ve got A1 (30 minutes of Topic A), A2 (2 hours on Topic A), A3 (a whole day on Topic A), B1, B2, and C1, etc. Still with me? That starts to give you important ways to figure out the topic and time.

Third, you need to consider how many times you speak. If they want you to just show up and give a speech, that’s X. If they want you to teach several workshops, that’s Y. If they want you for a weekend retreat, that’s Z. (This will start to get confusing, but it means you’d be doing a Y Day — several workshops, where you’ll do A2, B2, and C1, for example. If you hate my numbering, create your own that makes more sense.)

Fourth, you need to consider the venue. The bigger the venue, the more you charge. Most speakers have one to three tiers (small setting, medium sized setting, large or arena setting). Some only have two tiers, and some have a couple tiers and a retreat setting. And my assistant Holly Lorincz, who spent 15 years as a speech coach, wants me to add that when you ask about the venue, make sure you ask who will be in the audience and what the controlling organization considers the goal of the speech.

Fifth and last, you need to make sure they cover your travel expenses.

Now when somebody calls you to speak, you or your assistant simply asks a series of questions:

–on what topic(s)?
–for how long each time?
–how many times will I speak?
–how big is the expected audience?
–and where is it?

Once you have those questions answered, it’s easy — because you have a grid you use. You just fill in the components, and you begin to see how much work is involved. Now let’s talk money…

The key money issue is called base pay. How much is your base pay for a one hour talk? Let’s say it’s $500 for an hour, or $300 for a half hour. If you make, for example, $300 for speaking one time, for 30 minutes, to a small group, and you’ve been asked to speak several times, you just have to map out the extra costs. They want you to speak once to a large group for an hour, then lead a workshop to a smaller group, then sit on a panel. It will take an entire day. And you have to fly to Atlanta to do it. I do some quick math… $500 to speak to the big group, another $400 to do the seminar, maybe $200 to do the panel. So I say to them, “That will be about a thousand dollars, plus you need to fly me coach to Atlanta and put me up for two nights. I think we can do the whole thing for about $1600.” They offer you $1200… and you have to decide if it’s worth it to you.

I hope I didn’t over-complicate this, but that’s the basics of how to think about charging. Once you know your base pay, it’s fairly simple: Topic + time + number + venue + travel = cost. 

Does that help? Feel free to ask me questions.

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  • KAI says:

    HI, I am new to this. I enjoy speaking to groups of women about my company and encouraging women to be who God has called them to be. I was asked to speak at a church a month ago and I truly enjoyed every minute. I did not charge a fee so I guess you would say it was a Labor of Love charge. I would like to do this more often but of course with compensation. As an unknown speaker how do I get people to request me to speak at their events or even accept my requests? Thank you in advance. FYI I am an owner of a couture lingerie company and I am Vice President of a faith-based women’s group.

  • Jeanne Doyon says:

    This is such a difficult thing for me. Thanks for the guidelines – though math is not a fun subject for me 🙂 I will sort this out and make the decisions easier next time I am asked what my speaking fee is.

    • Jeanne Doyon says:

      Chip, I know this article is a couple of years old. Do you have any updates you would apply?

  • Lawrence Berry says:

    This is a great formula. I am just starting out in the public speaking world. This is great stuff. I will keep referring to this.

  • SusanEmerick says:

    Thanks for the logical guidance, much appreciated and really helpful!

  • Karen says:

    This is a great formula, but what if they want to video tape you and rebroadcast it???

  • profpatterson says:

    Early on in my career, I found Christian publishers who agreed to a clause in my contracts for me to buy my own non-fiction books at deep discount to sell at retail price when I spoke. They would also drop ship books to my appointments so I could travel light. For at least five books in the span of a decade, I made more off of selling books at my speaking events than I did the honorarium OR the royalties on eventual bookstore sales. If you can arrange favorable terms to buy your own works and if they sell (this works better for non-fiction than fiction, I’ve observed), it becomes a crucial addiion to Chip’s formula. I found I could even reduce my speaking fee if the folks on the other end would do the crucial work of working a book table for me and allowing me to be free of that duty to meet with the attendees. I’d often sell a case or two of books without ever lugging a box or accepting a check.

  • Very helpful. And, if you’re a newbie author in Canada being asked to speak at writers’ festivals (non profit), which is my current situation, you’re usually offered a small honorarium ($200-300) and sometimes accommodation and travel. But…you get to hang out with “famous-er” writers!

  • :Donna Marie says:

    Chip, I hope someday I have a use for this VERY valuable guideline, but I do have a question:

    Wouldn’t it matter how well-known or in demand you are in order to figure out what a reasonable base figure would be?

  • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

    Fantastic logarithm and easy to slip in the key components for each venue when an engagement opportunity is presented. Of course, I’ve only been speaking for 2 years, and I’m thrilled to get $500 + travel & lodging for a full-day’s event. 🙂 But, I also know when the demand is higher, the fee is higher…and of course, you make the ultimate decision on whether or not to accept based upon what you’re offered.

    Jan made an excellent point, and it’s one I’ve often encountered as well. Women’s ministries or church-related groups often don’t allow for much of a budget, or they don’t feel a speaker should be paid for their time and expertise. Ministry expectations come into play quite often, unfortunately, and that seems to be an issue across the board from a lot of Christians or churches.

    One thing I’ve learned is to simply not waiver. I know it’s difficult, and it took lots of prayer for me to be bold enough to stand firm, but you want to be respected for the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise you have to offer. And you want to speak the words God’s given you. So, establish your fee schedule, insert the components, and state your fee. Eliminating the personal in this area will give you the opportunity for more speaking engagements where the personal touch will be possible.

  • Kathy Nickerson says:

    So helpful! Talking money can feel so vulgar in these settings. You just showed us how to make it “not personal; just business.”

  • Jan Cline says:

    I love this formula and I think it eliminates the need to make a decision for each speaking gig – how much for this group, how much for that one. I hate to bring it up, but since I speak primarily to Christian women’s groups I find many of them don’t want to pay anything or their church or organization doesn’t have a budget for speakers. This is where I waver in my resolve to be paid. I believe many churches or church groups think speakers should consider it a ministry that doesn’t require much or any compensation. Do you think that’s a widespread issue, Chip?

    • Aimee says:

      I’m not sure about the bigger stuff, Jan, but I have a friend in ministry in this manner. She sets out how many hours / days / retreats per year that she can afford to do for free (though she does ask for travel to be covered unless it’s fairly local), and when someone asks her she tells them what her fee would be and follows with “or would you prefer to be considered for my no-fee-ministry hours?” That gives people the option of paying to book her definitely on the spot, or waiting to hear if she’ll do it for free. She then prays and lets God figure out what she should be doing pro bono.

  • Janelle Valido Woodyard says:

    This is sooo timely! Thank you! Now…let me get my calculator. 🙂

  • Lisa Van Engen says:

    This is really helpful, thank you. (Just reading about public speaking makes me feel nervous 🙂

  • What a great plan and helpful post, Chip. I’m not doing any speaking yet, but I’m going to save this for future reference. Who knows what the future holds! 🙂

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