One of the toughest questions both aspiring and experienced professional speakers have to grapple with is whether or not to speak for free. Although opinions vary widely on this decision, I believe the short answer to this question is YES!
Like many of you, I cut my teeth for a solid year learning this business by speaking for free to any group who would listen to me. I couldn’t even tell you how many rubber chicken lunches I’ve eaten at Rotary meetings! After the very first group of students paid me $250 for a speech, I triumphantly considered myself a real speaker! Naively, I thought I would never have to do free speech again because I was now a “professional”. It’s been 7 years since that day, and I’m proud to say the most recent speech I did was free because I’ve come to realize the value of stage time.
Free or Not?
If you are wondering whether or not to accept an offer for a free speech, take a look at this pros and cons list to see if it’s worth it to you.
- Good place to try out new material
- Helps you form a relationship that could lead to speaking at one of their bigger events down the road
- Keeps your speaking skills sharp
- Great opportunity to get testimonials
- It feels good to serve a group you’re passionate about
- You can usually sell product at these events
- Network with people that could someday hire you
- Takes time to prepare and practice material
- Traveling takes time away from being productive in your business
- May be perceived as a lower value speaker because you were free
Even More Reasons to Speak for Free
Obviously, you want to do everything you can to see if there is any way to get compensated, but if that’s absolutely not possible, there are a lot more reasons to speak for free than not to. One of my NSA Oregon colleagues, David Rabiner, CSP, has always preached that speakers need to speak. He is an accomplished speaker who I’ve always looked up to, and at first, his suggestion surprised me. David wants to be in front of an audience practicing his craft at least every two weeks, even if it’s free. At first, this seemed like a step backwards. If you really think about it though, 95% of the time we are not on stage because we’re running the back end of our business. The 5% of time we’re physically on stage is the only time that actually earns us money so it makes sense that we would want to make sure we’re continually getting in this repetition. As a speaker, are you speaking enough?
Maybe instead of searching for reasons on why you should speak for free, consider looking at it from the standpoint of why you should not speak for free. I’ve shifted my mindset from contemplating whether I should do the speech to just assuming I will do it unless one of the reasons under the CONs category prevents me from saying yes. If I can reuse material I’ve already created, I don’t have to invest much time traveling to the speech, and it doesn’t put me in a bind with previous commitments, then I’m happy to do it. Being perceived as a lower value speaker doesn’t usually keep me from doing a speech because you can make sure to explain to the planning committee that you normally charge X amount, but for these reasons I’m able to do the speech without charging this time.
To speak or not to speak, that is the question. Throughout the last 7 years, by saying yes whenever I can, I have made incredibly valuable contacts that have led to multiple speeches down the road. Speakers need to speak!
For more information about Jake, visit his website.
Jake French is the author of Life Happens: Live It!. He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association and past president of the Oregon Chapter. Jake is a full-time keynote speaker and is the very definition of inspiration, teaching what fuels it and the strategies you can use to leverage it. Jake’s personal story of a life-altering injury and how he now rocks the stage teaching groups about inspiration is amazing.