How Much Should I Charge to Give a Keynote Speech?

by Janice Tomich

Someone has just asked you how much you charge to give a keynote speech. What should you answer?

It depends.

I’m a public speaking coach. That gives me an insider’s view of keynote speaking costs and fees in different contexts:

  • Across a wide variety of industries (tech, finance, construction & the trades, academia, non-profits, NGOs…) as well as
  • different event types (corporate events, fundraising events, conferences…)

If you’re a public speaker, then it’s in your interest to know what the “going rate” is for a keynote speaking engagement. You don’t want to set your speaking fee too low and undervalue yourself. And you don’t want to leave money on the table.

But you also want to make sure that the fee you quote when someone asks “what’s your keynote speaking rate” is realistic, within the range of what the event organizers expect. Ideally, you should quote a number that’s more-or-less aligned with what’s in their conference budget or event budget.

Note: In this article I’m speaking directly and exclusively to the topic of keynote speaking fees. If you’ve been asked to give the keynote, that suggests to me that you’re an established, seasoned public speaker.

If you’re not giving a keynote speech (if your speaking engagement is another kind of speech or presentation), then read my other article on setting your speaking fees. Get your reps in, hone your craft, and then come back to this article when you’re offered the opportunity to be the keynote!

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Keynote Speaking Fees: $10,000 to $30,000

I’m based out of Canada but work with clients all over Europe and North America. The typical rate for a keynote speaking engagement across Canada, the United States, and Europe is USD$10,000 to USD$30,000.

Some people will see those numbers and gasp. How is it even possible to charge so much for what is, on the surface, a 45-60 minute job?

The reason keynote speaking can command such high fees is because there is so much more to researching, writing, and delivering a memorable, impactful keynote speech than simply getting up on stage and talking. The speech itself is just the “public” part of public speaking. (Because let’s be real. No one who “wings it” for their keynote speech gets invited to do it again.)

Some of the costs associated with giving a keynote are obvious. If you’re travelling to another country or city to give the speech, you’ll need to account for your direct costs—travel, hotels, and meals. Even if your travel and accommodation costs are being covered by the conference or event, there are always incidentals that you should budget for.

But what most keynote speakers (especially new keynote speakers) fail to account for is all the time and effort that they need to invest to create and deliver a successful keynote. “Success” with a keynote speech isn’t simply getting up on stage and talking; success needs to be measured in the impact of your speech.

Keynote speech preparation needs to be measured in weeks and months, not hours or days.

It’s not unusual for me to work one-on-one with my public speaking coaching clients for two, three or even four months in the lead-up to a keynote speaking engagement.

While they won’t be working on their speech full-time during that period, they will be working on it at 5 to 10 hours per week. In the final weeks leading up to the event, as they move from planning their speech to practicing it, that raises to 10 to 15 hours per week. (How many times should you practice your speech? More than you think!)

If you’re a professional speaker (or wish to become one) then you’re a business owner. In my experience a keynote speaking business simply can’t be successful and profitable unless the speaker is charging at least $10,000 per engagement. Any less, and you’ll be forced to book an unsustainable number of speeches per year simply to turn a profit. And filling your schedule with too many individual speeches means that you won’t have adequate time to prepare for each one.

Here’s the kind of preparation tasks you should be considering, as this is the type of in-depth work which makes the difference between a keynote and other types of presentations.

  1. Researching your audience. Who are they and what do they need to learn from you?
  2. Researching the event. Why have you been asked to give the keynote? The event planner likely set the theme of the event before they hired you. It takes time and effort to align your message to the theme of each new event.
  3. Identifying and refining your core message, identifying the stories that you’ll tell to illustrate it.
  4. Writing and refining your speech.
  5. Practicing until you know that you can deliver your keynote flawlessly.

Some people might think that over time you’ll have to spend less time preparing your speeches, and thus—maybe—you should or could charge less per speech. I disagree.

When you’re a professional public speaker you’re never going to give the same speech twice. Because you’re never going to speak to the same audience twice. Giving a speech is far more about the audience (and what they need to hear) than about you (and what you want to say.)

Even if you’ve given a similar keynote in the past, you should expect about as much time refining your speech for your new audience as you spent giving your first speech on a topic.

Keynote speakers have always known this (that you never give the same speech twice) but it’s taken on an increased relevance with the rise of YouTube and the easy accessibility of nearly every keynote speech you’ve ever given online.

You can and should be paid $10,000 or more for a keynote speech, but you’ll only be successful in commanding these rates if you provide real, unique value to the audience and to the event. If you’re a motivational speaker, you can’t simply re-use content that someone could easily learn, for free, by watching your past keynotes on YouTube. There is value in exclusivity.

When you’re a professional keynote speaker, you need to stay on message while staying fresh—not saying the “same old, same old” for every speech, but digging deep and really aligning your message with the audience. It’s how you’ll have impact, again and again.

Getting from 10K to 30K per Keynote Speech

Of course, there is a big difference between 10K and 30K. Why such a wide range? And what can you do, as a speaker, to be able to be paid on the higher end of that scale?

How do you get to 30K? And how many years (or how many speeches) do you need under your belt to get to 30K?

First, you should know that keynote speaking fees do vary by industry. Business speakers and technology speakers get paid more than speakers at academic events. In some industries no one is getting paid $30,000 to be the keynote. So, in some cases the difference between a 10K speaking gig and a 30K speaking gig has less to do with you and more to do with what the market will bear.

The industry and the venue/event are important determining factors. If the ticket fees for the event you’re speaking at are high (for example, a specialized industry conference where each attendee pays 2K or 3K for their spot), then it stands to reason that the keynote speaker should expect to be paid well for the engagement. Quite often, your name recognition as the keynote speaker is a core aspect of the event’s marketing plan.

More broadly speaking, your ability to raise your keynote speaking rates depends on you becoming known as a specialist, not a generalist. Being known in a specific industry and becoming the expert on a specific topic means that you’ll be able to command 30K (or more) for speeches.

To do that, your message needs to be ahead of the curve. Your mission and vision need to be your own. You need to be talking about things that, by virtue of your life experience, only you can say.

For a keynote speech, you cannot simply restate what everyone else is saying. Collating and curating known topics and ideas (ones that other people have popularized) isn’t enough.

But in my experience, after working with hundreds of keynote speakers over the years, I’ve found that there’s something else that speakers who charge 30K have in common.

Speakers who charge 30K (or more) believe in themselves.

Charging 30K (or more) for a keynote speech is partly a function of the industry you work in. And it’s partly a function of the event. But without the right mindset, you’ll never get there. You need to believe that you can charge that much! You need to believe that they’ll say “yes” when you quote your price. You need to be willing to walk away if they can’t afford your rate. Above all, you need to believe (and be able to prove) that what you have to say—the value you’ll bring to the organization—can and should command that price.

Even if you have a considerable amount of experience with public speaking, planning a keynote (your 1st one or your 100th one) can be overwhelming, a real challenge.

If you need help working through your ideas to find the one message that your audience needs to hear and only you can teach them, get in touch.

I’d be honored to be your thought partner and help guide you to a successful keynote speech and a profitable keynote speaking business.

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