€20,000!?! Are you crazy!? Where did that figure even come from?!?”

Even in the age of Google, where I can easily find the answers to such quandaries as “what’s the answer to the universe?” or “what should I eat for dinner?”, the amount a keynote speaker charges, and why, remains a guarded secret.

Building software for the event industry has given us a lot of exposure to the event organization process, budget and execution. We’ve participated in every stage of the event planning timeline across several industries and we’re still constantly surprised by when the pricing, negotiating and booking process for keynote speakers varies so wildly across the board. So today, we thought we’d shed some light on the typical fees you can expect to find while hiring a keynote speaker and how to negotiate the best price for your event.

What are the variables when hiring a keynote speaker?

One of the reasons for the mystery surrounding keynote speakers is because most top-tier keynote speakers work with agents or speaker bureaus (agencies that specialize in connecting you with highly sought after speakers that are difficult to contact directly). The challenge when working with speaker bureaus is that from the moment you contact them for a quote, you become a sales lead and open yourself up to solicitation for hiring one of their speakers for this event or your future events. While speaker bureaus can be helpful to contact hard-to-find speakers, remember that their motivation is to close as many sales as possible.

Another reason for the mysterious price range for keynote speakers is that their fees vary drastically based on geography, experience and “celebrity” status.

First, no matter who you hire for your keynote, if they need to travel it will affect their price. Some speakers have fixed pricing based on the distance from the event location, whether they need to get on a plane, or stay overnight in a hotel. Keep this variable in mind when setting your budget and starting your search – expect to cover their travel, expenses and accommodations throughout.

Second, as far as fees are concerned, the industry and level of experience will drastically affect the final price. Emerging professionals or experienced speakers that are trying to position themselves as experts in a new field will speak for less, while established industry experts cost more. Moreover, the amount preparation work the speaker must do prior to your event will also affect their initial quote. If they’re going to perform a well-rehearsed speech they have given multiple times to other audiences, their fees will be less than if they need to significantly alter their content or develop a new keynote address from scratch.

Third, notable personalities, influencers and celebrities typically command the highest end of the spectrum of speaking fees. This is a simple case of supply and demand as their celebrity status provides them with more offers than their non-celebrity counterparts.

Here’s a pricing breakdown for keynote speakers:

Free: There are 3 types of “free” keynote speakers: the inexperienced keynote speaker looking to get started, the promotional keynote speaker trying to sell something using to your audience (ie: a book, consulting gig, or some other promotional motive), or the charitable keynote speaker that is offering their time and experience for an altruistic cause.

Travel Only: The travel expenses only speaker is similar to the free speaker above, but doesn’t want to lose any money on the deal.

$500-5000: This is the entry-level range for keynote speakers and the price you should budget for private events. Many good keynote speakers will accept a fee in this range as it may help their own careers and it represents significant compensation for a wide majority of available speakers.

$5000-10,000: This is what you can expect to pay for a professional, experienced speaker that has successfully given numerous keynote addresses in the past and has the positive reviews and testimonials to show for it.

$10,000-20,000: Now we’re moving into the more well-known keynote presenters experienced at speaking in front of large audiences you would find at major global conferences. Most CEOs, esteemed academics, and up-and-coming authors will be in this range.

$25,000-100,000: This is reserved for the celebrity status keynote speakers and it’s what you can expect to pay for household names, worldwide industry leaders, and New York Times best selling authors.

$100k+: The cream of the crop. A range typically reserved for former presidents, with this amount of cash, even Richard Branson will take your phone call.

How To Negotiate Fees for Keynote Speakers

The most important thing to remember is that only a select few keynote speakers have their fees set in stone. Remember, every keynote speaker has at least one other professional career (usually several) and you can use their “ulterior motives” as a bargaining chip that may reduce monetary fees. Here are some tips for negotiating the final fee for keynote speakers:

Make sure it’s the right fit: Before you jump straight into negotiations make sure you have time to talk to the speaker and that you believe they are the right fit for your audience. Remember, just because a name carries certain celebrity status, doesn’t mean their content, delivery, persona or style will match your event’s needs. Focus on getting the content expectations correct before you start negotiating fees.
Contact them early: The earlier in your planning process you speak to them, the more time they have to plan their calendar. Make the keynote search top priority for your event and you’ll provide them with flexibility when their schedule is still “empty” and they’re more motivated to book events.

Offer more than money: If your target keynote speaker is an author, you may find a way to help them sell more books by including a book signing slot after their speech. If they’re concerned with growing their personal brand, you can offer to provide them with a professional quality video of their keynote address so they can use it for landing other speaking engagements.

Give them multiple dates: Many speakers would happily lower their rate if they’re able to book several speaking engagements at once. Alternatively, you can offer more face time with your audience during the same event by negotiating workshops or panel discussions in addition to their keynote address.
Get your sponsors involved: Having the weight of a well-known brand in your corner can help both the negotiation process and the perceived value to the keynote speaker. Who knows, maybe the sponsor will pony up the extra cash to land the best speaker. After all, it’s in their best interest to make your event a memorable one.

The good news is that the mystery surrounding speakers fees is just as misunderstood to the speakers themselves! Often times the speaker doesn’t have the slightest idea of their own market demand and how much they should charge. You can use this knowledge when hiring your next keynote speaker, but be careful not to take advantage of someone in the process. Hiring a keynote speaker is an investment in your product (aka your event) and your priority should be creating a win-win opportunity for everyone involved.