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Negotiating to Fill the Gap in Your Speaker Budget

You’ve just found out your vice president wants a professional speaker for an upcoming event. You don’t know where to begin, so you network with your peers, getting their suggestions. When you have exhausted your contacts, you call a speakers bureau. Then you have an in-depth discussion about what kind of speaker you need, along with the purpose of the meeting, the demographics of the group, speaker budget requirements, and all the other details involved.

The bureau works with you by suggesting candidates and providing their videos for your viewing. Bingo! You find the perfect speaker! His message is right on target and you can’t wait to book him; however, you realize there is a gap between his fee and your budget. You have heard of fee integrity, the fact that speakers do not negotiate. So now what?

The next step is calling that helpful speakers bureau again. Unless you are requesting a high-level celebrity, chances are your speakers bureau can work with you to negotiate acceptable trade-offs that will benefit the speaker while keeping you within your budget.

But you have to be willing to fill in the gap between the speaker’s fee and your budget with things that work for the speaker, not just for you. Most speakers I know are happy to collaborate with the planners who want to hire them, but you must be willing to give them things they value in terms of sales, marketing and publicity. Now what does that mean? Here are several things that could work:

  • Sell or purchase the speaker’s products (tapes, books, workbooks).
  • Publish the speaker’s articles in your company’s magazines, newspapers and newsletters or on your website.
  • Publish articles about or interviews with the speaker before and after the conference.
  • Place speaker’s bio and contact information on all your websites.
  • Include the speaker’s promotional materials in any preconference mailings you produce.
  • Feature the speaker in a welcome video on your conference website.
  • Script a message about your conference and ask the speaker to record it on your main telephone line.
  • Allow the speaker access to social media so he can interact with your members to understand their issues and can tailor his presentations to their interests.
  • Have speaker book-signings or photograph sessions during the conference.
  • Host a forum or poolside chat with key decision makers and sponsors.
  • Produce letters of endorsement focusing on the results the speaker presented and allow the speaker to share them in his online or written materials.
  • Write referral letters directly to an agreed-upon number of your peers or to organizations the speaker targets.
  • Book the speaker for several engagements with your organization, such as district meetings, leadership trainings and board meetings.
  • Offer to make a professional video for the speaker.
  • Distribute the speaker’s materials during your tradeshow.
  • Provide the speaker with a list of attendees and contact information for direct marketing to your participants.
  • Make a donation to the speaker’s favorite charity.


In short, don’t be afraid to barter to fill the gap between your budget and the speaker’s fee. I know of a speaker who needed a new door because he was building a new home. He was presenting to a door manufacturer that could barter for part of his fee. Consider what services your organization provides that could be valuable to the speaker. The list is endless, but you have to be creative and partner with your bureau to make it happen. Keep in mind that smaller, boutique bureaus are generally more flexible than the larger bureaus when bartering or negotiating the gap. By collaborating with your bureau, you can get the best speaker for your conference and make your speaker happy—an ultimate win-win.


Betty Garrett has spent more than three decades in the training, travel and hospitality industries. Her company, Garrett Speakers International, is based in Irving, Texas. Reach Garrett at Check out our website at