Speaking engagements

23 September 2016


The first question to ask when inviting a speaker and how to graciously turn down a speaking engagement

by Al Sabado

You’re probably an event organizer, the invited speaker, or both sometime in your professional life.

If you’re an event organizer

You wonder if you could possibly invite a speaker without paying and just give him a special token of appreciation or whatever freebies you receive from your favorite sponsors. You’ve probably done so all the time you’ve invited a speaker to an organized event. The question is, “Is such practice standard?” Possible—IF your event is nonprofit.

If you’re the invited speaker

You probably wonder if the event organizer is going to pay you at all. You hesitated to ask, because, in your mind, you're a professional, so they'll definitely pay you. Turns out, they think you're a professional, all right, but they're not thinking of paying you. Too bad. But they give you something in return, of course: a pack of goodies from a reputable store, a plaque of appreciation, a freebie, or perhaps, an honorarium of, let’s say, a little over a hundred US dollars. Is that fine, you think? I say again, yes—IF the event you’re invited to is nonprofit; however, if it’s for profit, think again. But the truth is, regardless whether the event is for profit or otherwise, you're free to name your price.

A matter of standards

Which one do you follow? The nonstandard, the substandard, or the one that’s at par with international standard? Definitely, if you’re offering products and services at par with international standard, you don’t compensate your speakers with freebies or, if you're the speaker, you don't consider it OK if you’re just given an honorarium. Think about it. Again, freebies and honorarium are fine to give and receive—IF the event is nonprofit. If the event is for profit, speakers are paid according to their professional rates for a speaking engagement.

Whose standard is paying a speaker when doing so is not legally required, anyway? Let's put it this way, why should paying a speaker be different from paying someone who gets the job done? No, it's not about the speaker paying back so people can freely exploit his expertise. The invited speaker is a professional, an expert in his field of endeavor. Consider he'd be accepting paid work instead if he didn't accept the speaking engagement. But then, he did accept the speaking engagement for which he'd spend hours of his supposed work time to prepare, research, conceptualize, and deliver substantial information for the benefit of the audience.

The first question to ask when inviting a speaker

If you’re the event organizer, have the courage to ask the speaker, “What’s your rate?” Explain the task at hand and ask the invited speaker to provide you a quote for the speaking engagement. This astute practice exhibits high ethical standards, particularly if you’re inviting a professional speaker, who’s expected to utilize countless hours of his time to prepare for his talk and share his brain with the audience. Avoid giving honorarium, which is nonstandard for a profit-oriented event. Do give honorarium if your event is nonprofit.

Moreover, research significantly about the background of the speaker you’re inviting. This way, you refrain from asking the speaker to address topics he doesn't even recommend or deem essential. For instance, the speaker you're interested to invite is not into using social media (e.g., FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.); avoid the mistake of assigning or asking him to discuss topics about content writing with SEO and online networking, which are social media-oriented subjects.

Graciously turning down an unpaid for-profit speaking engagement

Unfortunately, not all event organizers practice high ethical, professional standards or are willing to compensate professional speakers accordingly. So you may politely decline their invitation should you discover they’re not going to pay you. Be sure to know this before accepting their invitation. And when they tell you they can't afford your speaker fee, simply tell them, "I understand. Thank you for the interest. I wish you and your team the best in your endeavors." Note that honorarium is not the same as professional payment, but a token of appreciation that’s best given to a speaker invited to a nonprofit event. In which case, if you’re asked your rate, base your computation on your hourly fee for the time you'll spend to prepare for your talk; travel to and from the event venue; and speak during the actual event, among other factors. When you accept the paid speaking engagement, be courageous to talk; you're the expert, remember? Enjoy discussing the subject matter that’s closest to your heart.

For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. 
(1 Timothy 5:18)

Updated 27 September 2016