A Speaker’s Worth Versus A Speaker’s Value To Determine Speaker Fees

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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Advice on how to be a motivational speaker.
Stepping Into the Role of a Meeting Planner

As speakers, we try to see life from our client’s (the meeting planner’s) perspective. But rarely do we really get a chance to step into that role and experience life from the buyer’s side.  Recently I stepped into the meeting planner’s shoes – responsible for putting on that meeting – every aspect from money going in to money going out, to education, to brand, to whether lunch will be chicken or steak, or whether we’ll stop at 4pm or 5pm.  It was very enlightening for me because suddenly I got a view from the other side, and a remarkable lesson in worth versus value that I’m bringing back to my speaking business.

As I’m planning this meeting, the main goal is delivering what the attendees were sold, wanted, and paid for in an experience that they find remarkable. Tough challenge to pick between chicken and steak knowing somebody will ask for fish. I only had so much to spend, and every decision had to be weighed in terms of how important it was to the meeting. There is only so much money, you have to decide how much value is in that thing you are offering.  Even more challenging, how much you think the attendee will value this over that.

The question in my mind was always whether this was worth it to add to the meeting.  NOTE: I almost chose a different word in that sentence from “worth” because it would make my point confusing. But it’s what I was really thinking as the meeting planner, “Is it worth it for us to buy one of these bags for every attendee?”  What I was REALLY doing was deciding it’s value to me, not it’s actual worth. I wasn’t deciding whether that precious bag was worth five dollars. I was deciding whether it was worth it TO ME.

When it came time to booking the speaker for the meeting, it was the SAME THING.  No, I’m not saying the speaker was the same thing as booking the chicken. Far more important.  So I had to weigh how much this is worth to me and this event and to the people coming. In short, I was determining the value of that speaker on Sunday afternoon at 2pm.

As a meeting planner, the first question was what value does this have to me and my meeting and therefore how much will I spend on this value?  The second question, once I had a number in mind, was what speaker could I get at that price?  Of course I wanted to know the speaker was good and I wanted proof of it – not just their word. But the main objective was finding the best I could at the budget I had.

And that’s where my big ah-ha moment came in.

As speakers we get wrapped up in what we’re worth. And YES there is a place for that in your conversation and business planning. You have to determine how much you charge and what you think that value is to the client.  BUT in order to get booked, you have to find the market who has determined that this role in their meeting is the same value as the price you put on it.   You can think you’re worth $500 an hour as a photographer, but if your market is starving artists wanting a head shot, they aren’t going to have the money or determine that worthy of their $500. But they would work three jobs to save up for a new guitar.

I see speakers out there tacking on these amazingly high price tags on their work – mainly because their neighbor did, or they heard about a job that paid it and they thought, “I’m worth that!”


Yes, you do need to figure out what you are worth so that you don’t give away what you should be compensated for. But, even more important than figuring out your worth, you need to figure out your market and what value they place on what you do, and the value they place on that one speaker they are bringing in at 2pm on Sunday.  This is just one cog in their wheel. The meeting planner (or whatever role your client plays) determines what they want and what it’s value is to them.   That’s what we mean when we say that it’s all about the market’s perception of your value. Not how good your are, or whether you are worth the price (which they will decide too – we’ll cover that in another conversation) but what VALUE YOU HAVE FOR THEM IN THE CONTEXT OF THEIR ULTIMATE OBJECTIVES AND GOALS IN THE MEETINGS.

Just because you walk in there and “educate” them on how much you will change those peoples’ lives – doesn’t mean that’s the decision they are making.  Many of my clients who can’t afford me say, “We KNOW you are worth every penny. We just don’t have that.”  Or they say, “We know you are worth every penny, but we have seven other speakers we have to bring in too, and we  promised our attendees an expensive dessert.”   They are not really saying I am worth every penny, what they are saying is we don’t value that piece of the puzzle as much as you do. We’re not willing to spend that much on this perk.

So that was my ah-ha moment. Amazing lesson. What a gift to see things from the other side.  Which leads me to one last question….

What is my market, how do they value my piece of the puzzle, and do they perceive my value to be the same that I perceive my value?

Give us your thoughts!