Should You Speak For Free?

speak-for-free

When starting your speaking career, a lot of new speakers believe (or have been told) you have to speak a lot for free in order to get your name out there or earn your stripes or go through some rite of passage. Often times speaking for free is looked down upon as if you’re not a “real” speaker (whatever that means).

While I wouldn’t recommend bouncing around speaking for free just for the heck of it, there are a lot of very valid reasons to speak for free.

1. Get In Front of Decision Makers

One of the best marketing tools is having decision makers see you speak live. In fact, there are some event planners who will not book you unless they (or perhaps someone they massively trust) has actually seen you speak. I’ve had this happen many times.

Depending on your niche, there are some events that have large groups of decision makers attending. In those cases, you may have the opportunity to get a lot of spin-off business by presenting in front of that audience.

In those situations, the potential upside for future business is greater than whatever fee you may have missed out on.

One caveat here…if you’re going to speak for free at an event in hopes of spin-off business or connecting with decision makers, you need to know that those people will be there in the audience and not just trust the event planner’s word on it.

In an effort to get you to speak for a reduced fee or for free, an event planner might try to tell you that there are “lots of business opportunities” that could come out of their event. And maybe that’s true. But you need to know it for yourself.

2. Offer A Product/Service

If you have a product or service perfect for the audience you’re speaking to, it may be fine to speak for free. In fact, in some situations, you may even make more from product sales than from what your speaking fee would have been (I’ve had that happen a few times…it’s pretty fun :).

But if you’re going to do this, follow these rules…

  1. Make sure the audience is a good fit for your product/service. It doesn’t matter how big the audience is if your product/service isn’t for them. I have a book for high school students that has sold over 30,000 copies. But do you know who I don’t pitch it to? Small business owners or entrepreneurs. It’s not for them.
  2. Make sure your topic connects to your product/service. Even if your audience is a good fit for your product/service, you want to make sure your topic is related as well. If you’re speaking to moms about budgeting, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to offer a product about fitness for busy moms. Yes, it’s the same audience, but that’s not at all what you talked to them about.It would be like if Netflix made recommendations of what you should see next but their suggestions were completely unrelated to the previous thing you just watched. There’s just a disconnect there.
  3. Make sure you can sell at that event. You want to make sure not only that the client is okay with you selling at the event, but also that there is an opportunity for the audience to buy. Meaning, if you do a workshop and then right after, everyone has 5 minutes to get to the next session, there’s going to be very little opportunity for them to actually stick around and buy.
  4. Your first priority is to offer value to the audience, not to sell your thing. Maybe you’ve been in a session before that felt more like a sales pitch than an actual helpful workshop. Not a good feeling. It feels a bit like you’ve been suckered.Your presentation should offer so much value to the audience that they WANT more of what you have to offer.
    When I sell through a presentation or a webinar, I want someone who didn’t buy to be able to leave saying it was still an amazing session and they learned a lot. I don’t want them leaving with a sour taste in their mouth.
    But if you’re in front of the right audience with a product/service that ties right in to your topic and you have the green light from the client to sell, by all means, you should sell!

3. Get “At-Bats”

The old adage practice makes perfect isn’t 100% accurate, but it is true that one of the best (and perhaps only) ways to become a better speaker is to…..wait for it…..actually speak.

Shocking, I know.

You don’t become a better speaker by thinking about speaking, watching other speakers, or even just practicing in front of the mirror. Those things can help, but you have to actually speak if you want to improve.

In addition, the more at-bats you have, the more comfortable you feel in different environments and situations. When speaking, crazy things can happen like…

  • A dog coming in and running around the auditorium in the middle of a talk.
  • The mic dies or cuts out intermittently.
  • A hail storm hammering the tin roof of the building you’re speaking in.
  • The fire alarm going off and people start rushing out the door.
  • The power in the whole place going out and you have to speak in the dark.

(I’ve actually had all of these happen to me 🙂

These situations (while they may suck in the moment) help make you a better speaker. You become more confident in your presentation skills and these distractions don’t phase you.

Not only that, but you just get better over time as a speaker. Your jokes before more refined. Your stories get tighter. Your punch lines are stronger. You feel more confident.

So when you’re getting started, it’s okay to speak for free just to get some at-bats but just know and acknowledge to yourself that’s why you’re doing it.

4. Get Video Footage

One thing we teach in the Booked & Paid To Speak course is the importance of a demo video. People generally want to see you speak before they’re willing to put you up on stage.

But if you’re brand new to speaking and don’t have any video footage, you may feel a chicken/egg tension.

How do you get speaking engagements if you don’t have a video? And how do you get footage if you can’t get speaking engagements?

The good news is you can generally get free speaking engagements without a video.

So if you’re just getting started, there’s nothing wrong with speaking for free in order to get video footage. You could do one of three things…

  • Depending on the size/quality of the event, the client may be recording your presentation anyway. In exchange for speaking for free, you could ask for a copy of the footage that you could use for your video. You shouldn’t have much trouble with this, but you’d want to discuss it upfront.
  • You could just set up a tripod and your own camera in the back of the room and get someone to hit ‘start/stop’ for you. That’s what I did with my first few videos. If you don’t have a camera that can shoot video, you may check with some family/friends and see if either they have one you could borrow or if they’d be willing to come and shoot it for you.
  • You could hire a videographer in the area you’ll be speaking. I’ve done this before. You could find someone on Craigslist or even ask around for referrals. Depending on your budget, you may just be able to hire someone who has a nicer camera than what you could get on your own and can mic you up properly. That may be worth a few bucks in the beginning.

5. Build A Relationship With A Client

One of the things I say all the time is that speaking is a relationship business. People do business with people they know, like, and trust.

So if there’s a client you want to connect with that has the potential for a long-term relationship of speaking opportunities, referrals, product sales, etc, you may want to consider going initially to speak for free just to build that connection with them.

There’s no better way to build a connection with another person than by meeting them in person. Speaking at someone’s event for free is a great way to do that.

6. To Attend A Conference For Free

Each year, there are a few business conferences I attend to learn, network, and connect with others. Often times, the registration fees for these conferences can be several hundred dollars. Add in travel and many of these conferences will easily cost you over $1,000 to attend.

But one of my favorite things to do is to try to get a speaking slot at a conference I was planning on attending anyway.

Why?

Because they will almost always waive your registration fee (hello savings) and may cover part of your travel (not as common).

So let’s say you were planning on attending a conference that cost $500. But instead you go speak for free and they don’t charge you registration.

In affect, wasn’t that basically a $500 speaking engagement for you?

Bingo.


So…is it ok to speak for free?

YES! It’s fine to speak for free as long as you know why you’re doing it.

If you’re trying to build a speaking business/career, you can’t speak for free forever. At some point you have to charge for the value that you offer. But even as a veteran speaker, I still will occasionally speak for free for one (or more) of the reasons I listed above.

Let me give you an actual example…

Last year I did a free workshop at FinCon. It started as the financial bloggers conference but now attracts a much wider audience from people in the online business space.

  • I submitted to do a free workshop for a few of the above reasons…
    I wanted to connect with the client (FinCon was started and is run by Philip Taylor who blogs at PT Money). PT and I had talked a few times online but I knew speaking at his conference would be a good chance to connect with him more.
  • I was interested in attending the conference anyway (several friends were going to be there).

So I went and did the workshop which went great. We had a packed room and lots of good feedback from the audience.

And while I accomplished the two objectives from my list, I also (somewhat unexpectedly) added another bonus outcome to the list…selling product/service. And this actually happened in 3 ways…

  1. I picked up a new coaching client (value: $$)
  2. Once I released the Booked & Paid To Speak course, several people who were part of that workshop ended up joining (value: $$)
  3. PT ended up booking me for the closing keynote at FinCon this year (value: $$)

So even though I technically spoke for “free” last year, that engagement paid off to the tune of around $7,500 from three different revenue streams.

I’ll take that 🙂

So let’s summarize everything…

  1. Don’t speak for free just for the heck of it.

  2. If you’re going to speak for free, be very clear WHY you’re doing it and what value you hope to gain.

  3. Speaking for free is ok, but also be confident in the value you offer and be willing to charge for the work you do.

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