Speaking at a conference? What to ask for instead of cash.

If you’re getting into public speaking for the money, you’re definitely doing it for the wrong reasons.

It can be a huge letdown to find out that after overcoming the long odds to get your first speaking opportunity that you aren’t going to be offered a huge check. Yes, there are what I would call minimal acceptable speaking expectations: travel expenses, a complementary conference badge, and promotion on the event website. Beyond that, set your monetary target low. The organizers aren’t trying to stiff you — speaking just isn’t that lucrative of a gig for 99% of the population.

Some typical speaking fees.

Besides, focusing so much on the monetary aspect will cause you to miss the broader opportunities presented by a speaking gig. Instead of haggling over a few hundred bucks, play the long game. Leverage your speaking session to benefit your company, define your personal brand, and expand your reach. Here are a few ideas worth bargaining for.

Max-out Your Session

Odds are you are only going to get a chance to speak at a few events per year, so make the most of them by ensuring the best possible attendance and experience for your sessions. Truth is that most events have different levels of quality for what a speaker can expect. Some stages are better than others, some time slots are better, some speakers get more promotion. Everything is negotiable. Here’s what you can do to maximize your time.

Time Slots. The morning keynote at a conference is, of course, the best possible spot. For newer or lesser known speakers, you’re most likely going to get a break-out session later in the day. As a rule of thumb: the later in the day your session is, the fewer attendees will show up (unless you are doing the afternoon keynote). Avoid late afternoon breakout sessions and ask for time earlier in the day.

Panel versus Solo. Panels are easier to prep for because you’ll be speaking less and the moderator tries to make everyone look good. But the downside is that it will be harder to stand out from the crowd in a panel. Worse, trying too hard can backfire because audiences hate seeing one over-eager panelist dominate a conversation. If you’ve been asked to do a panel and are excited about developing your public speaking skills, then ask for an upgrade to a 1:1 fireside chat or a solo talk.

Room upgrade. If you are speaking at a venue with multiple rooms, ask the organizer for the seating chart and A/V setup beforehand. The best rooms for public speaking are near the keynote area, have the audience directly in front of the presenter, have large display screens, are free of unused tables/podiums, and have recording equipment. If you’re missing any of these then ask the organizer for a different room or dedicated help from the A/V team.

Day-of Promotion. Finally, there are perks you can ask for on the day-of to max out your session attendance. If your event has a master of ceremonies, then ask them to say a kind word or two about your upcoming session throughout the day. Similarly, many events have promotional content which is projected in-between sessions. Ask the organizers to pop in a slide with details about your session. Big conferences even have dedicated mobile apps where you can ask to be highlighted.

Support Your Company

Most speakers are implicitly doing their sessions to promote their company, team, or project. At most events it’s considered rude to directly pitch your product or come across as too sales-y. Audiences will tolerate one or two sales-pitch slides at the beginning or end of your presentation, but you’ve got to keep them brief and move on. Instead, the quality of the presentation is expected to reflect the quality of your company and services. Even so, speakers can use a session to benefit their company in a few other ways.

Extra Passes. You can almost always request a guest pass or two for an event. In the rare instance that you can’t get a guest pass, there are discount codes available. These are great to give out to your team members and can be quite valuable for more popular conferences.

Booth Space. Conference booths cost thousands of dollars and are usually purchased by underfunded HR or marketing teams. Ask for a discount on the vendor booths. If your company gets one, make sure to mention the location during your presentation to drive more traffic there. You’ll win some serious brownie points with your company, help with the hiring process, add to the sales funnel, and look like a total pro.

Spare Rooms. Many conferences spaces have extra unused break-out rooms during the day, particularly at larger venues. Go ahead and ask for one. You can use the space to host follow-up sessions for your talk, do extended Q&A, pitch your product, whatever you’d like. If you have teammates from HR or sales who could also make use of the dedicated space then this is a huge win.

Break the Internet

Nowadays a speaker must realize that they aren’t just talking to the audience in the room, they’re talking to the world. You can massively broaden the reach of your session and enhance your personal brand by asking for assistance with social media before, during, and after the event.

Before. Make sure that the organizers have your Twitter or Insta handle and include you in the social media promotion for the conference. An evocative tweet-length teaser for your talk can get the conversation started long before you step on stage.

During. If the conference has a photographer, ask that they attend your session to get high quality shots of you on stage. Seriously, explicitly ask the organizer to agree to deliver the shots. 99% of the time they aren’t thinking about it. Also make sure you have permission to live-tweet or live-cast the talk. You already know your content in advance, so you can prepare a friend to take photos and stream the key moments to the right hashtags.

After. If your session was recorded, ask for permission to use the video on your social media accounts. You don’t need the rights to stream the entire thing, but the organizers should be cool with using 20–30 second snippets of content. In 2019 these snippets will be seen by far more people online than in-person.


So you’re aren’t going to get rich but you can use speaking engagements to meet interesting people, promote your company, build a personal brand, and see the world. If you want to keep opportunities coming, then realize that the work isn’t done when the curtain comes down. My final tip is to always be courteous to the organizers who invited you. They are already planning their next event before the current one ends. Leave a positive impression and you’ll have your next gig lined up before you leave the venue.

rock on

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