Get PAID To Speak For Free! – 12 Ways to Get Compensated For Speaking (Other Than Cash)

When most people think of getting paid, they think about one thing…CASH! However, there are many other ways to get paid for speaking (and some of them might be even more valuable than cash… I know it sounds hard to believe, but it’s true!).

According to one Member Survey by the National Speaker’s Association, 81.1% of speakers worked for no fee at least once during the last year. Of those, 89.6% spoke for free between 1 and 10 times! A full 21% of the membership surveyed spoke for free between 5 and 10 times. Why do they do this? Because it’s great marketing! There’s just no better way to develop your reputation as a speaker than to be seen speaking. It makes perfect sense.

Anyone with experience in the field of professional speaking can tell you that the key to success in this industry is exposure. As you speak to more audiences, word of mouth starts to build faster and faster. Before you know it, event organizers will begin to call YOU!

Of course, great marketing material helps, but nothing beats great marketing material combined with the far-reaching word of mouth.

That’s where the pro-bono work comes in.

You are knowledgeable on the subject matter, you have gained the confidence to stand and speak in front of hundreds of people, and you finally put a good structure together to keep your audience interested throughout your speech. The problem that many speakers face is that when you are just starting, you can not demand the big bucks that more experienced professionals can.

So… there’s a balancing act you need to play. Paying expenses out of your pocket in order to gain experience does make sense in some situations, but there’s a way to minimize your risk. The objective is to turn any out-of-pocket expense into an investment.

We have put together a dozen tips to make sure that you are getting reimbursed for your speaking engagement in a way that will work for both you and the meeting planner.  So read on – this could make a huge difference in your speaking career!

1. Ask for a professional quality video tape.

Perhaps the best way to sell yourself to a meeting planner who hasn’t seen you before is to let them see you in action.

Tell the planners that you do not require any money for your services, but you want them to have your engagement video taped at PROFESSIONAL QUALITY. Many organizations have the resources in-house to provide this to you. It’s low-cost for them and big-benefit to you. Hiring a professional yourself to record a presentation could run you hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Perhaps the best way to sell yourself to a meeting planner who hasn’t seen you before is to let them see you in action. A videotape is the next best thing to being there.

Today, the recording can be downloaded on a computer and even sent via-email (for free) or burned on a CD (for pennies). You can add a streaming version to your website. So you might not be getting paid for a few hours of your service… but you definitely will be laying the foundation for growing your engagements in the future.

One important note: make sure you use a lapel mike when being videotaped, and do a test run with the person running the camera. There’s nothing that screams “amateur video” like a soundtrack that plays as if were recorded in an echo chamber.

2. Have them buy your product (i.e., book, CD, resource kit) instead.

Some organizations may not have the budget for speakers, but they have a “training” budget.  In my experience in dealing with many different organizations and companies looking for speakers, I often find clients who do not have room in the budget for speakers who DO have various other budgets for the event that they are putting on.

The training budget allows the event planners to use money on any resources that can be used to help train the attendees. Companies, non-profits and various other organizations spend millions of dollars every year to train their employees or volunteers in their respective fields. That is MILLIONS of dollars floating round being spent on training costs, so why not offer training resources?

If you have a book, a resource kit, or any other learning tool that complements or enhances your speaking workshop or engagement, have the company or organization buy some from you.  If you “speak for free” but sell thousands of dollars worth of books or kits, you can make the engagement worth your time.

If you do not have any books or kits, develop some for your presentation.  Not only will it make everyone understand you and stay interested longer, it can also benefit you financially.

3. Request a testimonial on the organization’s letterhead.

Even the top-paid professional speakers will often donate their services in exchange for a testimonial that helps their portfolio.  The more experienced you become, the more recognized and wanted you become for other engagements.  What’s especially interesting is that an organization’s competitors want the same speakers. They don’t want to feel like they’re missing out.

It is always important that you get endorsements and testimonials.  Offer to speak at a venue for free under the condition that if the planner is satisfied with your presentation, they will write a testimonial for you. And be very clear that you don’t expect anything if they aren’t thrilled.

Think about this for a minute: how much does a meeting planner really expect from a free speaker? Chances are they are expecting a lot less than you’ll be delivering. So it’s likely that even if your presentation doesn’t knock their socks off, the planner will feel obligated to put a few kind words about you in writing.

Testimonials are a great way to convince others that you have performed well in the past and will perform well for future engagements. Especially if the organization or company is a reputable and well-known, ask to have the testimonial printed with the organization’s letterhead. You can include copies of your best letters in your media kit. Use selected portions of other testimonials on your website and in other promotional materials.

Having a reputable entity backing you up increases the value given to the opinion. When other people say you’re good, it means about 2000% more than you saying you’re great.

4. Ask for a write-up in the organization’s newsletter.

Almost every type of organization – including businesses, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, religious congregations, and others – sends out newsletters to keep people involved and interested in what is going on. Whether it’s employees, customers, or an organization’s members who read it, you can get some really nice exposure, and it’s a good way to reach others who might also be looking for speakers.

If you speak for one of these organizations, ask to be included in their newsletter. Preferably, they will include an article you write, with your byline and contact information at the end. At a minimum, ask for them to include a feature about you, and the talk you will be doing (or have already done).

You would be surprised at how vast some mailing lists are and how many people read the articles in them.  This is a great way to spread your name and your mission, and could lead to more engagements and publicity for you in the future… and let’s face it: in the professional speaking industry, publicity is imperative.

You never know who the newsletter will reach. One of the readers may need you someday, and realize it just as they’re clearing out old papers from their desk in two years.

BONUS TIP: Ask to also be included in an online version of the newsletter. An online version has real staying power. Most popular search engines will eventually pick up any online posting, which means that web surfers will be finding your write-up for years to come.

5. Use business cards to your advantage.

Almost everyone has a business card, so how can you use yours to help gain publicity? When accepting an engagement for free, tell the planner that you will do so under the condition that they place a business card on every seat in the room. That way, when people sit down and listen to you speak, and like you (I am assuming you are good at what you do…otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this), they can pick up your card and keep it with them for the future.

Next time these people need a speaker or know someone who needs a speaker, guess whose business card they have without ever meeting you one-on-one? That’s right – they have all your contact information in their Rolodex, which will hopefully lead to more engagements and money for YOU in the future.

6. Use your audience as a source for leads.

When other people say you’re good, it means about 2000% more than you saying you’re great.

If you are looking to increase your speaking engagements, one of the most popular ways of doing so is through networking and word of mouth.

Asking friends or others if they know of anyone who requires an engagement speaker can be quite tedious and boring. So next time you are giving a speech for “free,” use the audience to help give you referrals.

The first thing to do is to let the audience know that you are doing this pro-bono. When they hear this, they will wonder why you would be willing to do such a thing. Explain to the audience that you have an evaluation that you would appreciate them filling out. In the evaluation form (which could be placed on every seat, or handed out upon entrance/exit to the venue), ask them to rate you as a speaker.

Many people will be willing to give you constructive feedback on your presentation. Once you have people drawn into your survey, include a question regarding whether they know of anyone looking for speakers. It also helps if you can promise a reward for any referrals that lead to more business.

In addition to the referral section, include a section for people to sign up for your internet newsletter or online e-zine, in which you will keep them up-to-date with your speaking engagements and booking opportunities.

NOTE: When getting referrals, ask for names, phone numbers, and mailing addresses. DO NOT even bother asking for e-mail addresses or fax numbers The last thing you need is to be accused of sending spam or unsolicited faxes. These practices can really tarnish your reputation. Once you have an existing relationship, and obtain permission, e-mail and fax are great communications tools.

7. Don’t give out notes.

When you are speaking, do not print handouts or notes of any type for the engagements.  Let people know that they are more than welcome to take their own notes throughout the duration of the speech, but also make the notes available on your website, and encourage them to visit your site.

Hopefully people will go home, get on the internet, and start visiting your site.  This is a great way to keep yourself differentiated from other speakers and build a fan base.

To encourage visitors, DO offer a promotional item with your contact information to every attendee. Pens and pads are fine, and pretty standard; this is a great place to be really creative. Use your imagination to come up with something that people will want to keep on their desks. Even better, come up with something they’ll want to show to others.

One speaker I know gives out small mirrors with her contact information printed on the plastic frame. The frames are designed to attach easily to cubicle walls. Because she works with customer service professionals who spend their days in a cubicle, these are a big hit. Her message, that “people can actually hear your smile over the phone” makes her gift especially purposeful as well.

8. Sell your products and services before, during, and after the speech.

This one probably doesn’t even need to be on the list, but some new speakers fail to understand that speaking is always about selling. Speak for free, sure, but let your audience know that you are more than a speaker.

You don’t need to do a hard sell. I don’t even think you need a soft sell. But you should clearly communicate that you are an expert, and make it clear that you earn money in ways other than speaking.

No matter what you speak on, you should have a consulting fee. If someone wants to get your professional advice, be prepared to offer it – for a fee! I’m not saying that you shouldn’t answer questions for free, but there’s nothing wrong with working out a day of consulting.

If you do have resources that can be purchased at the back of the room, make sure to ask for permission from the venue coordinator before you make a sales pitch. Any kind of audio or data CD, resource kit, or even a DVD of previous speeches (that can be recorded for free… refer to tip #1) can be sold.

Some items cost pennies to reproduce and can often be sold for hundreds of dollars… that is almost pure profit!!!

9. Use free speaking for tax advantages*.

When making a speech to a non-profit organization, you can actually use your speaking “fee” to your advantage for tax purposes. For example, let’s say that your normal going rate is $1000 per venue. If you are speaking for an organization that the government deems to be subject to charitable contribution deductions, and this organization does not offer a speaking fee, you can “comp” the organization the $1000.

In essence you are speaking for free, but that $1000 comp you just gave the organization is now tax-deductible as a charitable contribution deduction.  The deduction for the charity is capped off at a certain percentage, which is about 1 free in every 20 speeches. Additionally, you have to make sure that your going rate is consistent, and you can not make up a going rate based on where you are speaking. Claiming that your going rate is $250,000 will probably get you an audit and jail time.

* Be sure to consult with an accountant and/or tax attorney before dealing with taxes and invoicing. I’m not a lawyer or an accountant, and I won’t be held liable if you do anything that gets you into trouble.

10. Have them invite you back.

A great way to get future engagements that pay is to work out a deal with a venue that is having you speak for free. Let them know that you are more than willing to speak at their venue for free assuming that if they like you, they will invite you back and pay you for an upcoming event.

This is kind of like a money-back guarantee in reverse. You have to earn the money before they give it to you.  It provides incentives for both parties to enter the agreement, and assuming you perform well, everyone should be happy in the long-run. Just make sure to iron out the details of the possible future payments in advance. The organization holds the upper hand here, but a written agreement will make your life a lot easier.

11. How about a free weekend?

Sometimes event planners are not willing to pay a speaking fee for an engagement, but are willing to fly you in, wine and dine you, and show you a good time. This is a great way to be compensated even though you are “speaking for free.”  Have them pay any travel, lodging, and meal costs for you.

It can’t hurt to ask them if they are also willing to pay for your spouse’s transportation and meal costs (the lodging will not cost any extra).  This is a great way to get a free trip and vacation.  In addition, you can also use the vacation as a business expense in some cases.  For example, if you speak at a venue on a Friday and then spend the rest of the weekend doing the touristy stuff, you can write off the whole weekend as a business expense for tax purposes.

Once again, it is important that you consult with an accountant to make sure that all laws and regulations are upheld, but if done correctly this can save you money on your tax returns while you are enjoying a wonderful vacation.

12. Get a professional photo shoot.

Here’s a tip that the pros know: get some good “3/4 shots. That’s 3/4 audience, 1/4 you. The idea is to show not only audience size, but audience reaction. Those are the images that really sell to a meeting planner, and they are extremely important to have in your promotional materials.

This one is an often overlooked opportunity that has LOTS of inherent value. You need great photos for your one-sheet, your website, your media kit, and other publicity vehicles. Don’t miss any opportunity to get professional quality shots of you in front of an audience.

Very talented photographers can be found in almost any group you can think of. It’s worth it to ask a meeting planner if they can help you to get some good shots.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

The ONLY way to build a truly successful speaking business is to get out there and do what you do best – SPEAK! Remember that even the top level professional speaker will speak for free to try out new material, market themselves, and just stay fresh. Don’t let the lack of a speaking fee be an obstacle to your building a successful business.

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BRYAN CAPLOVITZ is the founder and creator of SpeakerMatch. SpeakerMatch makes it easy to find free and low-fee speaking engagements. It is the only online source of current, available speaking opportunities for emerging professional speakers. Our proprietary software will match your unique skills with the needs of meeting planners and notify you instantly. We provide HOT leads, from organizations who are actively seeking speakers now.

For more information, visit, or call us at 1-866-372-8768.

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