Who gets paid what in a seminar, workshop or speaking engagement?
February 21, 2013 2:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting to get a few requests for speaking engagements and seminars, and I'm not quite sure what to expect on the business side of things. At the moment, these are private individuals who have a little experience with event planning, and know that I could draw a decent audience to a workshop. I'm a little unsure about how profits should be split between me and the organizer. I don't have a problem with the organizer making some money, but I'm the one providing the content, and I want to be fairly compensated. How does this generally work?

Also, is it reasonable to set a minimum? (As in, I'd be willing to do this as long as you can guarantee me $X, or as long as you can guarantee me $X or 75% of the profits, whichever is larger)
posted by sdis to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Most people that get paid receive a flat flee for speaking engagements, plus travel expenses.
posted by empath at 3:28 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a relative who speaks at conferences and she charges a fee (based on the number of talks) plus her expenses.

The problem with a percentage of profits is that it is easy for people to cheat you with inflated expenses (a Hollywood classic). Even with the best will in the world you'd need to spell out in advance which expenses are included and how profit is to be calculated.
posted by Area Man at 3:34 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The economics of lots of conference/speaking type events work on low/no margins unless they really fill up. In my experience, as someone who has talked at conferences (I'm talking 50-500 attendees) and worked alongside colleagues who organise conferences, payment of expenses only is very common. Some pay fees, but they are rarely more than token. Unless you're the keynote speaker. In theory, the draw for you as a speaker is business development and marketing.

Even though I got on well with my conference colleagues, they were take, take, take with very little back. That culture is heavily built into the events/conference/seminar business.

If it's a workshop, then it's a different business model, and tends to work more on consulting rates. It's still fee-based in my experience, and the charge is typically some version of the number of days it takes to put the materials out there and the fee for the day itself. Depending on the type of seminar, it can work more like the flat fee version or more like the do it for free version.

If it's private, i.e. if you're going in to a company and delivering your expertise it is unequivocally consulting and a paid gig. The more the event's success is dependent on you and you only the more likely you are to be able to charge fees or profit share.

However, unless you are going to take on some of the risk of the fixed costs like venue hire, marketing costs etc then profit share is out of the question. Or unless you can guarantee attendees, either directly or by being such a drawcard. Nobody, unless they're bonkers or desperate, is going to guarantee you 75% of the profits of something in the event it is a low turnout. They just won't. Events organisation is not a science - new events often take time (i.e. years) to get traction, there is a lot of risk and the successful few events subsidise the rest that break even or lose money.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:38 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider getting an agent. That way it is normally the agent who has the responsibility for negotiating the deal. It is not in the agent's interest to under (or over) sell you and it is their responsibility to promote you and find you gigs. If you can find a good one I suspect you will feel that have earned their commission very clearly. An agent can be a particularly good idea if your main line of business is not the conference/workshop speaking itself and if you would rather spend most of your time doing whatever it is that audiences want to hear you talk about.
posted by rongorongo at 3:59 AM on February 21, 2013

In my (limited) experience, there are three patterns if you are not a Kahuna:

1. Conference sponsored by an organization of professionals - no pay, expenses if you're lucky.
2. Conference of any kind, where you appear to promote your own knowledge and availability - the same.
3. Conference by the profit-making companies - some pay plus expenses. You may have to insist.
posted by yclipse at 4:06 AM on February 21, 2013

I'm not entirely sure if you're talking about people who would be basically promoting YOU and trying to do an all-new event around that ["Come hear sdis explain how to manufacture widgets at home for fun and profit"] or if it's a regular event or set of events that you're being asked to speak at more often.

In my professional world, for example, there are a lot of library conferences. Every state has a library association. Every association has a conference every year. They go through a lot of speakers. I've spoken at a lot of these events, both as a keynote and as a regular person giving a talk. I've also spoken at events outside of my professional area like SXSW. My experiences have been

- If I'm keynoting I get paid decent money plus all expenses
- If I'm speaking at a local-ish event and not keynoting I sometimes get expenses and rarely get paid
- If I'm doing a training or all-day type of event I get paid at a consulting rate and also get all expenses covered
- I tend to speak to library schools for free if they can get me there and feed me
- At a fancy thing like SXSW, regular speakers speak for free but you also get into the conference for free which has value for attendees

In no cases in these sorts of situations does the amount of money the event is making come into what I am getting paid, except that for a for-profit event (which rarely come up in the library world) I'd make sure I was making a decent rate. Again, I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing you're talking about, so perhaps you can elaborate?
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do a lot of speaking. If you're talking about for-profit public events, I agree with others that profits should not be split. You should negotiate the fee that makes it worth your while, and it's up to the organizer to make money by getting enough people in the hall, charging them enough, etc. As your profile grows, you can raise your fee.

If you want to be rewarded for pulling in people to the event, you might charge a flat fee plus a smaller fee per person who shows up -- $X to speak and $Y per person in the audience. One big conference paid me that way.

To find out how much to charge, look at the web sites of other speakers in your industry to see how much they charge. In my niche, people with decent name recognition charge $2k and up for a one-hour, non-customized presentation. Fees for a half-day workshop aren't much higher, since the main hassle is being there. Full-day workshops start at about $5k and go up to about $9k plus travel. None of these people charge per attendee, that I'm aware of. Your mileage could vary a huge amount.

If you have a book or other thing/service that you sell, make sure that the venue will let you sell it, maybe at the back of the room after the talk. They might want a cut of that. Don't let them talk you into speaking just for the book/whatever sales. Charge a decent fee.

I vary somewhat from the usual in that my fee for speaking includes my travel costs -- the client/organizer pays one amount, period. So when I get a request to speak, I do a quick estimate of flights, hotels, rental cars, etc., add that to my speaking fee, and then send the final number to the client. It's less risky for the client, gives me more privacy, and avoids the hassle of submitting receipts.

For gigs in the US, the per diem rates that the government is willing to pay its employees are a handy reference to get a sense of how much you might end up spending in a particular city for hotel and incidentals.

There's a similar site for international locations, again from the perspective of the US government.

I've begun to organize my own seminars to have more control over the setting and quality and to get more of the money for myself. Since it's my name that's pulling people in, I figure it should be my name that gets all the money.
posted by ceiba at 7:05 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wonderful input, thank you everyone! Based on it, I decided to ask for a fixed fee, which was much simpler than any strange profit-sharing ideas I was entertaining earlier. To answer your question, Jessamyn, this is a "Come see sdis explain widgets for fun and profit" sort of event, and the organizer's role is marketing and organizing the venue.
posted by sdis at 7:37 AM on February 22, 2013

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