Should you speak for free?


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Should you speak for free

Have you ever had an organizer ask you if you would speak for free at their event? 

Maybe they have promised exposure to a new audience. 

Or the chance to sell your book, consultations or training course.

Where is the line between it being a great opportunity to build your business and selling yourself short?

47 speakers from our community weighed in on this question, offering advice and opinions about whether speakers should speak for free or not. 
While their opinions were diverse and sometimes contradictory, what we did find was there are a handful of factors you should consider before agreeing to speak for free.

Key deciding factors:

  • Whether speaking for the event will directly benefit you in some way
  • Where you are in your speaking career
  • Whether you believe the event is a good cause that you want to support
  • How often you speak versus how often you speak for free
  • Whether you will have to pay out of pocket to make the talk happen.

By polling the speakers feedback, we found the majority of speakers will speak for free- but only if it will directly benefit their speaking business.

speak for free

So, should you decide if you are should speak for free or not?

Scroll below to read through the advice and opinions offer by our community of speakers:

Yes, speaking for free is great.

  1. 1. Have performed several times for free simply to get exposure. It all depends on what you are prepared to do. I love speaking and would prefer to get paid for it (I am a single dad) but I also believe free gigs provide an opportunity for paying gigs. -Robert W.
  3. 2 .Do it, because you never know who is in the audience. Just kill it so they won't even think to ask you to speak again for free! -Joann B.

speaking for free is great

  1. 3. Every opportunity to speak into the lives of people in an audience on some else's stage is a blessing. You give value, be authentic, people will want to connect with you because of your message. If you have permission: make them an offer that builds your email list, invite to a webinar or group coaching online. The tools at our disposal are vast to connect with people. This is an opportunity- treat it as such. -Alex G.
  3. 4. Welcome to a new business model. Time to get your shift together. Book, program, packages. And learning platform sales skills. Big potential upside if you are sharp. -Tony D.
  5. 5. It’s a great way to get video testimonials from the attendees! No matter how big or small you are- they're gold!! -Michelle W.
  7. 6. Yes, if you want the experience. Go and speak, charge your usual fee and issue an invoice with 100% discount. -Davison H.
  9. 7. I have found that speaking for free sometimes exposes me to a different audience; which in turn opens up future speaking opportunities. Free is not always bad.  -Steve B.

I have found that speaking for free sometimes exposes me to a different audience; which in turn opens up future speaking opportunities. Free is not always bad.

  1. 8. I have gotten some of my best speaking contracts from conferences where I spoke for free (one lead to a 90-day consulting contract). I always have my contact information and website on the materials I provide during the session and I let the audience know at the end of the session that they can contact me if they are interested in my working with them further. -Laurie W.
  3. 9. We don't have to do things only for money. Maybe speaking at an event is a good opportunity that can "open a new door ". The life secret is "to give". Give a lot of value to your audience and this you will get back! -Alina Paula B.
  5. 10. There are a few reasons to speak for free. 
    1) For practice, feedback or to record yourself speaking (for a future speaker reel). 
    2) Because you will be in front of your target market and you are allowed to either sell something or gather leads. 
    3) To give back to an organization you believe in.  -Nancy R.
  7. 11. If exposure opens the door for future speaking engagements then go for it. What I have learned building my platform as an author and now as an entrepreneur: the more people who learn of your work, the more doors will open. My dad use to say to me growing up that first you get the experience...then the money will follow.  -Memoirs R.
  8. 12. I regularly speak for free. I use the opportunity to share relevant stories with an unhappy ending - cautionary tales. The outcome is typically someone coming up to me with their business card worried about the issue highlighted in my story. For me speaking is marketing. -Jeff D.
  10. 13. Have your speaker representative (or yourself if you are representing yourself) ask if you are able to end with an action step to find out more about your life coaching by visiting your website or contacting you another way. It doesn't have to be a book you're selling- your life coaching service would benefit from the exposure. -Monique W.
  12. 14. I have spoken at so many (and maybe too many) places where I knew I was brought in to keep the event alive and to motivate, inspire and entertain-which meant I was valuable but was never offered or given compensation. In the beginning, I was so passionate and grateful that I was asked, that I didn't think about compensation because I didn't know my value. Then I saw that so many speakers who were not as skilled were getting paid as a rule. Exposure is invaluable as well as making new contacts, networking, etc. But the trick I think is knowing your worth, the venue you're at, their history of paying speakers and then weighing it all. Truthfully, sometimes I'll speak for free simply because I like, respect, and/or believe in strongly what the people who invited me are doing. -Gil G.

Truthfully, sometimes I'll speak for free simply because I like, respect, and/or believe in strongly what the people who invited me are doing.

Sometimes, but only if it benefits you.

  1. Speaking for free is neither good nor bad. Speaking for free is a marketing strategy. If you are not strategic in accepting this opportunity, then you probably will receive minimal benefit. If you have an alternate marketing strategy, then you may not want to speak for free. However, if you have no strategy to obtain speaking engagements, then speaking for free can be an easy way to get "stage time," which could lead to paid engagements, important feedback about your presentation, and an opportunity to refine or alter your speech to fit the intended audience. In the speaking world, there are many, many options, choices, and alternatives. Most of these decisions can only be assigned positive or negative based on how you will include that decision with your business plan or your strategic positioning. -Richard M.

  2. It all depends upon your agenda in terms of branding and what value it would bring. For example, many speakers on my podcast have spoken for free and have gotten lots of exposure. Also, there may be times when you are going to have to pay to speak, to be in the room. So come up with a plan for your speaking gigs and what end goal you are trying to reach. -Anissa A

  3. The short answer is: absolutely. Recently I spoke for free at a large HR conference (my ideal audience) which also had a bookstore which sold my book while I did a scheduled signing. I tailored my presentation very specifically to the audiences' needs and held a raffle at the end giving away copies of my book (and collecting over 200 business cards). I've been keynoting for a long time and also teach it, so not to pat myself on the back but I know how to do it. Just two months later I had two very large consulting contracts that came from folks who attended that program and a slew of potential coaching clients. Conditions for speaking free: 
    1. Must be your "ideal" audience. 
    2. You should have a book you can sell at the back afterwards. 
    3. You should tailor your presentation EXACTLY to the needs of your potential audience.
    4. You should ask to be allowed to raffle something off while collecting business cards. 
    5. Follow up with each person with a thank you. 
    Go for it! -Gregg W.

  4. Every situation is different - some may be purely charitable, others you want to be aware of who is going to be in the audience and if the right people or person is going to be there - all is good. if you aren't careful, you CAN be taken advantage of and find yourself forever doing "free" talks. -Tom G.

Every situation is different

  1. 5. Will the people in the group be in your target market? Will you incur travel expenses? If so, can you combine it with some other income-producing event (another meeting in the area, perhaps)? I have spoken for free at various events because the event sponsor referred business to me or would be a good referral source. (Sometimes just because it was a friend who was asking.) If you can collect names for a mailing list, either by raffling something off (collecting contact info on the raffle ticket) or sending people to your website for a free download (again, collecting contact info), then do it. Or if you feel you need the exposure or the practice. But at that point, go back to the first question -- do these people fit your target demographic? -Barbara G.
  3. 6. It depends on your audience and if you think your speech will demonstrate your expertise and USP. Maybe this speaking engagement can be thought of as a marketing opportunity ... as long as the audience is comprised of potentially high-value clients. -Matt R.
  5. 7. There are a lot of factors, including how much experience you have.  As far as having a book to sell BOR (back of the room), it doesn't have to be your book. Find a good book on your topic and see if you can buy wholesale from the author or publisher. The challenge in speaking free is it can become a habit. Like others, I'd rather speak than not but you can get played. I delivered several no fee talks at my local community college over the years. When I asked for a $500 honorarium, it was the last I heard from them.  The "straw" was when I looked out over the audience, which included the college president, and realized the only one not being paid to be there was me! You need to have a reason for speaking free, whatever it may be. That said, I'll always do a free gig for a worthy cause. If you are speaking for free, make sure you can get some publicity if nothing else. -Jim D.

You need to have a reason for speaking free, whatever it may be. That said, I'll always do a free gig for a worthy cause. If you are speaking for free, make sure you can get some publicity if nothing else.

  1. 8. You do not have to speak for free and you do not need a book. You can create an audio CD based on your talk with additional content on it, and offer it to the audience. You can also offer a coaching session based on your talk. I've done each of these things for many years and always made money. There's no reason you should leave a free event without a few dollars in your pocket or at least some gas money. Free does not pay the bills or keep the lights on even if your speaking to your ideal audience. -Johnny C.
  3. 9. This is a good lesson to all "wanna-be-speakers”. Just what is it that you think you will accomplish if you don't have a book to sell at the back of the room after you speak? Speak for free? Yes! if you can sell your books after your talk. Sorry to say this, but it is true - if you think you will be a "great speaker" without having a book to back up what you said, you will never become a great speaker. -Jerry X.
  5. 10. It really depends on who you are speaking in front of. If they are your audience a whole group of people that are your segment market all in one room-then absolutely. Sweep them off their feet, or the online and offline marketing of the event is great to help your branding. -Sahar A.

It really depends on who you are speaking in front of. If they are your audience a whole group of people that are your segment market all in one room-then absolutely.

  1. 11. Now...what can you get them to give you in-kind? My demo video is from several gigs where I was able to get video footage instead of a fee. I've gotten freebie speeches to pay my travel. Of course, I sell back-of-the-room at freebie talks. As others have said, be strategic. Also remember that speaking at expensive conferences is a way to attend them without paying, and that you as a speaker have a much easier time networking. I recently moderated two sessions at a professional conference and came away with about 40 business cards, some ten or so from high-level execs at Fortune 100 companies. The conference was driving distance. When they asked me to do it again on their West Coast conference and when they would not cover travel costs, I declined. But I have been flown out and had my hotel covered sometimes. -Shel H.
  3. 12. Never speak for no pay except if you are launching your book or product. -Carole Ann G.
  5. 13. Think strategically. Ask yourself the hard questions. Are you really likely to get a paid event from someone in the audience? Or do you just like speaking/performing? If you are a good speaker, or even a great one, then charge for your awesomeness!! At the very least have them cover your travel and out of pocket expenses and insist that you be able to record the session and interview audience members after the event. At least get some marketing materials for yourself. There are event planners who prey on the insecurities of speakers -- don't let yourself be that dude. Your fee is a measure of the value you create and free says what?......... 0 value. -Tom D.

 At the very least have them cover your travel and out of pocket expenses and insist that you be able to record the session and interview audience
  1. 14. I speak for free to small, nonprofits if I can sell my book at the event. For larger groups and those that don't allow direct sales, I request an honorarium; the amount is negotiable. -Bonnie F.

  2. 15. Collect the contact data of the audience. I use an app that immediately sends a free gift when they text the specific number I give them. This call to action should appear on your slides, or if you're doing a keynote then have your logo and the number projected onto the screen for your entire speech and stop at least twice and ask them to pull out their phones and text you for the free gift you have for them. I provide my eBook. This data you collect is equity. Specify this deal up front. Also, request they provide the contact list with phone numbers and email addresses in the event there are people who didn't attend and registered or they just didn't text you. Also, provide a paid offer to engage in with a finite call to action on the spot. These are my deal breakers....I respect my gifts far too much to not leverage my audience. You deserve that. -Deborah P.

  3. 16. It is beneficial if you have InfusionSoft (or some other list building product) that allows for text messaging. You could always invite the audience to text a code to a number that will give them a free "one-page" sample of your services or trip for supporting them or - the first 50 of the 200 of you that text this code will receive a free 30 minutes of coaching with me personally. There are lots of things you can do with your talk to encourage them to get on your list. Be creative and ask what you are specifically allowed to do and not do at their event. -Niki C.

  4. 17. Speaking for 'free' is fine provided you get something out of it. If you're speaking free at a conference, ask if you can get a good quality recording of your speech/talk etc. Or if you can promote/sell your book/training course etc. Make sure the audience is your target audience too, especially if you're doing it for 'exposure'. Nothing for nothing! -Jacqui H.

  5. 18. Speaking for free is a great option for someone starting out as a professional speaker...or a more seasoned speaker trying out some new material.  When doing a freebie, let them know that you want them to connect you with at least three referrals of key decision-makers from other organizations who may want to hire you for one of their future events.  The challenge with that is this: Organizations who want you to speak for free are generally connected to other organizations who will want you to speak for free. It is what it is. Tell them you will need a reference letter. This is perhaps the most valuable takeaway. Plus, you can have a friend stand in the hallway at the end getting video testimonials from participants who are extolling the positive impact of your educational, funny and passionate delivery. This is like gold for your website. Do 10 free speeches and you now have 10 reference letters and 30 warm market referrals. Could be the start of something huge!  -Joel F.

  6. 19. Look at the opportunity strategically. That is, do you need/want the experience of getting comfortable in front of a live audience? Do you want to test some new material that has not been tested with a live audience? What size audience - will you have exposure at a breakout session that may attract 30 people or a keynote opportunity that will expose you to 1000 people, etc.? What opportunity do you have to collect attendees contact information if you want to pursue testimonials? And as others have stated, the exposure may lead to other paying jobs. -Jerry B.

  7. 20. Find something related to your talk that you can use as a product to sell and which will help people remember you. -Barbara J.

  8. 21. Look at the organization's commitment and ability to market you as a speaker - free press- and who will be sitting in the audience that might respond to a call to action. You can also do a raffle for a free 20-minute consultation. -Jackie K.

  9. 22. The VERY VERY VERY best marketing you can do is to show what you can do rather than tell people what you can do Find a way to get your audience's details and make sure they pay your expenses. Follow up and add the audience's details to your database. -Will K.

  10. 23. It's not just exposure, it's assets. Get images, get a recording if you can, give the audience the opportunity to sign up to your mailing list etc. Freebies are worth it if the assets/connections are good enough and, of course, if you need them. -Taz T.

  11. 24. If I had to do it again from scratch, I would never speak for free with the exception of chapter meetings where my ideal clients are and I'd be practicing my talk. What I would do is my best to do is get paid as much as I can wiggle out plus as much in-kind as they can provide me based on what I want as in-kind. So, last year (may) I spoke to 25 of my ideal clients for free. I got a fancy dinner, 3 testimonials, and because they were my ICP, I got a client who paid me 8K in 6 months. I am also speaking to 150+ of their other ICPs next month, and am getting the usual travel money, meals, and room plus conference to do so. And for the same group paid me for a webinar. Get the demographics of the audience (including income level). Never expect clients from a group, no matter what they say. If they don't pay, get as much in-kind as possible.  -Maria M.

  12. 25. I've spoken for free before and been able to use the connections I made to land clients and increase my revenue stream. That said, I won't be doing the speech I've been giving (based on a public speaking book I co-authored) for free anymore because I've honed it to the point that it's too valuable to give away. Weigh what you'll get, the audience you'll get in front of, an opportunity to build or add to your email list from the opportunity, and/or land new clients. If you can, it might be worth it. You didn't mention travel for the speech but if the gig is out of your area, you'll want to weigh if you want to spend the money on travel to speak.  -Aurora G.

Weigh what you'll get, the audience you'll get in front of, an opportunity to build or add to your email list from the opportunity, and/or land new clients.

  1. 26. I will speak for free under a couple of conditions. 
    1. If I can get the database of attendees. 
    2. If I'm allowed to sell my book. 
    Sometimes you can even get the organizers to buy the book up front. If I can sell $500 books at $20 each: I make my speaking fee. -Lisa Ann L.
  3. 27. When I was first starting someone told me to speak for free as much as possible until I had so many paid gigs that I didn't need to give any more "free" talks. I still talk for free sometimes IF I think that I can gain valuable contacts -- e.g. a school district asked me to be on a panel of experts for no fee and later hired me several times since at full price. Just recently I had been asked to present at a local non-profit for free. I had put them off until I figured out how to leverage that with another client's needs --- they will sponsor the event and pay me. Win- win -VJ S.
  5. 28. It depends on where you are in your journey as a speaker as well as the opportunity. If you don't yet have lots of speaking video clips , then free speaking can be a great way to get those captured. I would at a minimum, see if you are able to sell from the back of the room (or the stage), and get a testimonial from the event promoter (as in, make that a part of the agreement). If you get to share the stage with a very well known (speaker, author, presenters) that can also bode well for your speaking career. Lastly, if your gut tells you this is a great opportunity to reach your target audience and you have sort of product or service that can help them, it might be a good opportunity. At some point, you do have to make the transition from free to fee if you want to make a living at it. I do believe there are ALWAYS exceptions. Even the highest paid pros do free work, especially for people and organizations they have relationships with. -Anthony K.

  1. 29. I decide based on the audience profile I get; if it's a target market I want to offer my other coaching and workshops, then I don't mind a pro bono gig. But I make sure I am allowed to sell my back of the room products like my upcoming open workshops or leadership coaching. It's a personal decision. -Amruth K.
  3. 30. I speak for free if I know the audience is my target market. In November, I spoke to a mixed group of lots of different target groups. I received four bookings within next three months from that one talk. I call free events " opportunity events" and ask the hosting organization not to divulge that I've agreed to no fee because it would hurt my business. -Barbara R.

No, never speak for free

  1. 1. Many times speaking for free can lead to more opportunities ... to speak for free. Unfortunately, professional speakers are now competing against consultants, coaches and people selling products (books, and even higher-profit DVDs, boot camps, or online courses) who are willing to speak for free, to make their money elsewhere. In other words, they will give their audiences just enough information to "hook" them. The more that conference organizers are trained that they don't need to pay their speakers, the more often they will use these "free" speakers. The organizers may promise you a non-paying gig in exchange for "exposure." Remember that people have died from exposure. -Ted J.

  1. 2. I forget which big speaker once spoke for pennies because a group told her that there was no money to pay her. She took the gig BUT while in the ladies room with other speakers learned that they were paid handsomely. From that day on, if she couldn't earn what she deserved, she said no. -Maria M.
  3. 3. If you don't have products/services, etc. that you can sell from the platform, then it's an expense and not good exposure. They may like your talk, but you have nothing to offer. I recommend you create products to sell first and then prepare for how to speak and sell from the platform. I hear from meeting planners who say, “it'd be great exposure.” but if it is not my target audience and I'm not allowed to make an offer, then it's a waste of my time and yours. And it is correct, don't believe a meeting planner who says, we don't pay speakers. -Ron H.

Should you speak for free?

There are no hard and fast rules for whether or not speaking for free is right for you and your speaking business.

You can speak with other speakers in your field and your mentor, but ultimately, you will have to decide whether or not you can see the benefits of volunteering your services as a speaker.

SpeakerHub would like to acknowledge the various speakers who shared their views on this in the Need a Speaker/Be a Speaker LinkedIn group. Want to be a part of the 20k+ group of speakers from around the world? Join here.


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