Open Letter to Speakers in the “New” World of Virtual Events from an Event Organizer

Why accepting speaking gigs on fee alone might actually be hurting your bottom line

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Jenna Atkinson, P5 Women's Summit Behind the Scenes
Jenna Atkinson, The P5 Project Founder & CEO, Behind the Scenes at the P5 Women's Summit Live Virtual Event Experience

If speaking at in-person events has been a part (or all) of your business, or even if you’re just now considering becoming a speaker, you aren’t alone in navigating a new event landscape…at least for the time being.

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of posts from speakers, especially women, demanding their typical full, in-person, speaking fee for virtual events and “empowering” other speakers to do the same. I have seen several posts about speakers who were offended that an event organizer would even inquire about their participation if they have a small or even no budget to pay speakers.

As someone who plans in-person events and now has had to transition to virtual events and has worked with/hired a variety of speakers from those just starting out to those with national and global recognition (*read: very high speaker fees*), I wanted to offer my two cents in case it might help speakers still looking for tips to navigate and, more importantly, be successful in the changing event landscape.

First, let me say that I am all for gender pay equity, knowing your value and asking to be compensated accordingly. I absolutely think that there are times when women may not get paid much as they deserve for a number of reasons- and that needs to be addressed and corrected. However, it has also been my experience, specifically in the event planning world, that the majority of event organizers are not looking to “take advantage” of female speakers or pay them any lesser amount because they are a woman or to imply that their time and expertise is not valuable. Everyone, especially those in the live event space, are trying to “pivot,” navigate and survive these…dare I say…”unprecedented times.” I get it, I’m sick of hearing all those buzz words by now too, but the fact of the matter is that it is the truth. Everyone is trying their best to add value to their audience/clients/customers even with tighter budgets and still stay afloat.

What bothers me about some of the posts I’ve seen is that it seems like some speakers are looking at things in a very one dimensional way and encouraging others to do the same without knowing the full picture which can be incredibly detrimental to speakers, agencies, sponsors and organizers. Is seems their mentality is one of either “pay my full in-person fee or don’t even consider reaching out to me with an opportunity.” Which, in my opinion, whether it is business, politics, relationships, or anything important…is not the smartest way to evaluate options and give yourself the greatest potential for success.

Instead of drawing a “hard line” of “this is my fee and I’m sticking to it no matter what,” I would encourage you as a smart speaker and business-person to not position yourself in a way that closes the door to potential opportunities based strictly on fees.

Here are a couple different areas you should think about considering when it comes to each individual event/speaking opportunity:

  1. Where are you at in your career? What are your credentials? Your actual professional accomplishments or accolades? How big is your social media following/email list or fan base? Knowing your worth is definitely important, but you also need to be realistic. In many cases, organizers are looking for speakers who not only can provide subject matter expertise, but also whose name recognition or even direct help with promotion can help drive registrations or validate attendance.
  2. Who is the audience and how big? I know people are sick of hearing the “exposure” as a perk pitch, but I don’t think it should totally be discredited. There can be real value in getting your name, brand and business in front of an appealing target audience of potential clients, customers, partners etc. that might not have heard of you otherwise. Am I saying you should take every “exposure” as “payment” gig- absolutely not, but it IS one factor to at least take into consideration.
  3. Can you “sell” from stage? This can go hand-in-hand with the question above. For example, if you sell a high ticket product or service, even with a small audience, if they are your ideal target market- you could close more in sales than you would with your fee alone. Ask the organizer if there are opportunities to “pitch” the audience either during your actual presentation or through other avenues like a “virtual booth,” event program or email to all attendees. This is important to consider because if this option is a possibility, even with no speaking fee, your potential revenue from the event could be even HIGHER than if you just were paid your flat fee.
  4. What kind of time commitment does it require from you? This is an area that is even more interesting in a “virtual” event world for a number of reasons. Most likely, at least for now, accepting a speaking gig, no longer requires any travel or for you to block off days of your calendar for one event. You could potentially get in front of a large audience of your target customer or client by taking as little as a few minutes out of your day from the comfort of your own home to login and share a couple strategies or do some Q&A. Some events are pre-recorded or interview format, so take little to no “prep” work. Get a specific idea of what they expect from you leading up to the event and during the actual event- virtual events especially can often provide high value if they are the right fit for a speaker for a minimal time commitment.
  5. What does event promotion look like? Ask about the promotion plan for the event. Will the organizer be in charge of all the promotion or are the speakers also expected, or even required, to do a certain amount of promotion? If you as a speaker are required to do some level of promotion, that is a much different scenario than an organizer that fully coordinates and executes (and pays for) a promotional plan that not only helps get the event out there, but can also essentially be free advertising for you and your brand on their dime.
  6. What is the purpose of the event? The purpose of the event can be an important factor to consider, because it helps you determine if it aligns with your goals, mission and beliefs as well. For example, if the goal of the event is to help support and give back to female entrepreneurs who are struggling because of recent #2020 situations, and supporting women or women-owned businesses is important to you or part of your mission as well- then regardless of your personal financial benefit, participating in the event might make sense just as a way to help give back and support a group or cause that is important to you.
  7. Who is putting on the event? I have seen several posts from speakers mentioning whether or not the event has a ticket or registration price as a way to determine if/how much their fee should be. More importantly than ticket cost-if any, I think what really needs to be considered is who is putting on the event. If a multi-billion dollar corporation asks you to speak, but then says they don’t have a budget- that is a little more questionable than if a solopreneur or small business is hosting an event and has little or no speaker budget. This one is really personal to me- because as a solopreneur who had to quickly transition months of planning for an in-person event to a virtual event, I was extremely thankful and grateful for the speakers who were flexible and understanding with their fees or payment schedule. Just because there is a ticket price- doesn’t mean the organizer is making loads (or even any) money. With ticket prices for virtual events dramatically lower in most cases than in-person events, it can be extremely hard to even cover the total cost of putting it on. Yes- there are ways to host a virtual event at a low cost or even free, but to put on a high quality, high value event (like the P5 Women’s Summit Live Virtual Event Experience), there are often still substantial costs that could include the technology platform, paid advertising, new tech or hardware purchases needed and much more.
  8. Are there any long-term opportunities? Thinking of strictly the speaking fee is also fairly short sighted, in my opinion. No matter what industry you are in, people and companies are being forced to be more innovative that ever to provide valuable, win-win solutions that accomplish a larger goal. Is the organization or person putting on the event someone that you could see yourself doing additional business with down the road? What about their event partners, sponsors or other speakers? Would they be able to make any introductions that would be valuable to you or partner with you for longer term, even ongoing, business and revenue generating opportunities? This is a tough time for a lot of people and organizations and people remember and reward those who are flexible, understanding and willing to be creative to find win-win opportunities. We also remember *very clearly* those who aren’t.

Overall, switching from in-person to mainly virtual or hybrid events and working with many speakers across a wide range of experience and speaking fees during this time has been really interesting and a great learning experience. I am all for compensation equality and saying “no” to things that aren’t a mutually beneficial situation in some way- but drawing a hard black and white line on participating because of getting a fee or not is something that doesn’t necessarily make sense and can actually be harmful for many different shareholders in the event ecosystem.

As a speaker, if you can be open to all opportunities and evaluate each one based on the criteria above (and maybe even some others…) you will not only have more success during this “virtual event era,” but you will also be much better positioned to receive more paid gigs and referrals when more in-person live events return….because they WILL return!

As an event organizer, I am personally committed to finding creative ways to add as much value to attendees, sponsors, speakers and anyone involved with our organization and events. Although that may not always come in the form of a “full cash fee” for speakers, at least for now, I can guarantee I am working day and night to make sure the time you give as a resource for us- is MORE than worth it for you now and in the long run. I’ve always found that when I focus more on the value that I can give vs. the direct and immediate value I receive…it has paid off ten-fold.

I know times are tough for you as a speaker, they are for us as event organizers too, but if we work on finding solutions together– I’m extremely confident we will ALL come out on top.

Jenna Atkinson is the Founder & CEO of The P5 Project, an organization dedicated to helping women set and achieve bigger goals to increase their income, impact and influence to make a positive difference for the causes, communities and people that are important to them. They achieve this goal through dynamic, no B.S. live events, resources, connections and funding opportunities. To learn more or get on-demand access to the P5 Women’s Summit Live Virtual Event Experience- visit TheP5Project.com

Interested in speaking at an upcoming P5 event or partnering on an initiative to support women entrepreneurs and leaders? Email [email protected]

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