Money-Saving Tips For Your Speaker Budget

When was the last time you thought of questions like these: "If we purchase 600 copies of her book, will she reduce her fee?" "If he's already in Scottsdale, won't he give us a price break?" "Our audience is 100 of our top customers, they're sure to use this speaker at their next event—can't we get a discount?" If you sit on the supplier side of the desk, you hear this a lot. And these questions—and a whole lot more—are smart questions to ask that can save planners a lot of money on your upcoming meetings.

In the large scheme of a corporate meeting, speaker fees aren't typically making up the largest percentage of the budget. But we all know the value that the right speaker can bring to a meeting. I'll give you a few ideas of how to best spend whatever dollars are allocated to the speaker slot.

First and foremost, please understand that this is not a piece about speakers or speakers bureaus doing anything unethical to change fees for certain customers. Most speakers, as you know, have set fees that include commissions for the lecture agency. Most speakers require that their travel and hotel costs be paid for as well by the booking party. But as long as a presenter is being proposed at his correct fee, it will never hurt to see if that speaker can be accommodated for less. So the first point to is this: You should always make an offer.

Speaker fees can be quite arbitrary. I'm sure that you've all seen many $5,000 speakers who should have been $15,000, and vice versa. But how realistic is it to think you can get that $25,000 speaker to do a date for less? It is possible. Here are some effective strategies you can try.

Get Them Before They're Hot. Later this year, two major movies will hit the silver screen. One is the Disney release Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg. It's the story of Vince Papale, a Philadelphia Eagles season-ticket holder in the mid-1970s who went to an open tryout for the team and not only made it, but became the team captain. The other movie, Freedom Writers, stars Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell, the famed high school teacher who took 150 kids deemed "unteachable" by the system, and turned them into graduates and college stars. Vince and Erin share a common bond: They are both wonderful speakers. And once the films arrive, they'll be bigger than life. Book them now and you'll be the hero, since their fees will rise with the demand about to hit.

Your Meeting Is A Showcase. Association planners understand this thinking best, but it is true for many corporate planners as well. There are very likely individuals from other divisions of your company attending this conference who potentially could use this same speaker at their events. And CEO conferences, where executives from many companies are invited, are perfect platforms for a speaker looking to get referral business. You can also allow the speaker to invite other interested meeting planners to hear him or her at your event. As long as they aren't competitors and there isn't proprietary information being disseminated, a speaker will be greatly appreciative of this opportunity (since nothing beats a "live" preview). One of the hottest inspirational speakers in the country is sports psychologist Kevin Elko. Kevin was the highest-rated speaker at 2005's Million Dollar Round Table (the conference for the insurance industry's highest achievers). With 6,000 attendees representing multiple insurance and financial services companies, MDRT was able to get Dr. Elko to accept the date for a minimal fee. Leads from the event? Kevin's gotten more than 100 standing ovations since.

Ask For More Than A Speech. Charlie Rose. Jane Pauley. Ben Stein. Bob Costas. These high-profile newscasters are in constant demand by meeting planners wanting their audiences to hear first-hand accounts of current events in politics, sports, and business. But with broadcasters' speaking fees in the $50,000-and-higher price bracket, many planners are hopeful of getting more than just a speech. So after Charlie Rose gave a recent morning speech for Wells Fargo, there he was again at the afternoon session, moderating a panel with the company's top customers—all for the same fee. Likewise, when Epson brought CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz to Mexico for a recent top producers meeting, not only did he give a terrific behind-the-scenes look at winners and losers, but he led a "search for the next CBS golf analyst" reality event. And Mike Ditka always brings his clubs to golf-resort events—do you think they'll remember Mike's talk or playing a round with him?

Make Your Speaker A New Tape. Speakers always want to update their tapes. A speaker with an outdated video can get sacked by the "speaker decision-making team" 30 seconds into the video. If you have the right venue (150 attendees, nice staging, good sound), you just found your value point. Tell the speaker you'll give him a two-camera, digitally edited reading of his talk, and figure in an approximate $2,000 cost for the process. Put the speaker in personal contact with the AV company for editing purposes, and make an offer.

Offer Multiple Dates. There's always strength in numbers, and if your speaker is given this opportunity to deliver the same message to multiple audiences for your company, he or she will certainly accept less per speech. This idea not only gives the speaker a great ability to learn your organization inside out (meeting many of the key executives at these varied sessions), but it gives the sponsoring company the feeling that the speaker is a part of their team—and that is clearly evident when you listen to a presenter on his fifth date for the same company. Meeting planners in the financial services industry understand the value of multiple dates for a speaker; a presenter can learn about specific products that a mutual fund company offers, and as he gets more programs under his belt, it's almost as if the speaker has become a salesman for the sponsoring company. Motivational hypnotist Anthony Galie has given over 50 speeches for Prudential, and NBC Financial Consultant Suze Orman has presented multiple times for Fidelity Investments.

Plan Your Event During A Motivational Seminar. The television ads that The Learning Annex has been running recently for their seminars featuring Donald Trump Live (in person) should be of interest to a planner looking for a bargain speaker. Want to book The Donald for your meeting? Be prepared to pay $300,000 plus. But if you take your sales team to The Learning Annex's event at $99 a person, you may not have a "private" audience with Donald Trump, but your team will learn his motivational techniques for a fraction of the price. And many of these seminars take place at major sports venues that have suites for rent; that's the way to privatize this seminar for your group. There are a few such major events that come to first-tier cities throughout the year: Peter Lowe's "Get Motivated Seminars" with Tony Robbins bring some of America's most popular (and most expensive) speakers together for full-day events. These events are opportunities to hear from one million dollars' worth of speakers in a single day—-for as low as $49 a person!

There are absolutely some great speaker bargains out there, and they don't have to be up-and-comers. These ideas should get you thinking before you sign on the dotted line.

Marc Reede is president of Beverly Hills-based Nationwide Speakers Bureau, Inc., which has booked speakers and entertainment at over 6,000 corporate events. Marc will be addressing Meeting Professionals International at annual WEC conference in Dallas on July 10 and 11, 2006. He can be contacted at [email protected] or call (310) 432-1173.