Getting asked to speak for free is like a pimp slap to professional speakers. People wouldn’t ask their dentist to work for free and they wouldn’t expect others to ask them to work for free…but they have no problem asking a speaker to work for free.
So how do you handle the dreaded question… “Will you donate your time and speak to our group for free?”
The answer to that question is more simple than you think but first, why do you think someone asks a professional speaker that question?
Maybe they really don’t have the money
The obvious reason is that they might not actually have the money. And smart people know that it’s better to ask and hear a “no” than to not ask at all…so maybe they’re just hoping they get lucky.
(btw…don’t be fooled by non-profits, they have a budget…sometimes a bigger budget than normal companies)
Maybe they don’t see the value in you as a speaker
Most speakers who get asked to speak for free are usually in this second category….the client doesn’t see the value in that speaker.
The client might have a budget but maybe they looked at the speaker’s website and it doesn’t look great. Or maybe the speaker doesn’t have any video footage so the client doesn’t want to take the chance. But in some way or another, the client doesn’t really see the value.
How do you know if this is the problem?
A simple way to figure out if a client doesn’t see value in you as the speaker is to figure out what else they have going on at their event and who else is getting paid. Is the event in a hotel? The hotel is getting paid. Do they have a DJ? Is that DJ getting paid? If everyone else is getting paid and they come to you saying that they don’t have the money then you need to increase your marketing efforts…step up your game!
Maybe they just want to see what you say
Some people just want to negotiate because they’re constantly getting deals. They know that if they ask then they might just get a yes. So if they ask a speaker to speak for free then maybe the speaker will say yes or give a discount.
This is harder to spot but it is possible. If the person asks you to speak for free and you say you need to get paid, then one or two things can happen.
1. They say they really don’t have the money
2. They say they can give you a little
If they say they can give you a little then you’re dealing with someone who likes to negotiate. After all, why didn’t they offer you this “little” to begin with instead of asking you to do it for free? Slick!
But what do you say when someone asks you to speak for free? You’re not a charity, you need to eat too and can’t be giving free speaking engagements to everyone who asks…so what do you say?
Some speakers feel bad for turning down these engagements….don’t!
Some speakers want to give a full page answer about why they can’t speak for free…don’t!
In fact, the worst way you can deny a free speaking engagement is to give a huge list of reasons about why you can’t do it because it just confirms the perception they already have of you (that you’re not in-demand). Think about it…would they ask Bill Clinton to speak for free and expect a long answer about why he can’t? If they do get an answer (which they probably won’t) then he will just say… “No.”
So the best way to answer is to just say something like,
“Sorry, we don’t do any free events. The speaking fee is X. Thanks.”
Just get straight to the point.
As a professional speaker, you need to focus your time on the clients you want to speak for. Spending your time writing a brilliant email about why you can’t do speaking gigs for free is a waste of your time (even if it’s just 2 minutes). Focus 100% of what you’re doing towards getting high paying clients.
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