How to Book a Keynote Speaker: Negotiating Your Booking Request

In my last post, I talked about the best ways to identify a great keynote speaker for your event. In this post, we’ll get into the speaker booking process, starting with the best way to set your speaker and event up for success.

Once you’ve identified the speaker you’d want to book, consider the task of making the offer as you would any additional marketing push. You would carefully craft wording for any other communication about your event, so consider this offer to be an extension of that approach. Helping the speaker understand the value that your event brings to its audience will be a great starting point. If this is an annual event, share highlights of past years’ successes to demonstrate the impact this event has on attendees and your organization.

Before you extend the offer, do your homework. Consider adding why you chose to extend an offer to that speaker, which likely includes that the speaker’s area of expertise and/or presentation style is closely aligned with and preferred by your audience. If you viewed a particular past presentation by the speaker, share what it was about their presentation that spoke to you.

Next, you’ll want to explain who is in the audience, its overall size, and whether any VIPs will be in attendance. This will help your speaker identify future potential opportunities that they might secure following your event, and this can be highly appealing to a speaker when deciding to accept an offer, especially if they have several to choose from. 
In the 2023 Speaking Industry Benchmark Report, we asked speakers about what makes them most likely to accept an offer to speak. Here were the top responses to this question, of which speakers could select their top factors. Paying the ideal speaking fee and having a relevant topic were the top two answers as expected.

What is most interesting about the findings from this question was this emerging trend: Speakers are more likely to accept an offer from an organization if their values are in alignment. Helping your speaker understand what your brand or organization is all about will improve your chances of having your speaking offer accepted. Whether your company is passionate about the environment, or your association is committed to focusing on DEI initiatives, sharing this information is always a good idea.

What to include in your speaking offer

When preparing to extend your offer to speak, there are a few decisions you’ll have to make at this point in the process, including the following:

  • Presentation format such as keynote address, panel interview, fireside chat, etc. Include also whether you’d like the speaker to join you in-person, virtually, or plan to stream your live event to an additional virtual audience. 
  • Travel expenses you agree to cover, including covering transportation, hotel, and incidental expenses related to the speaker attending your event. An important item to mention here is that in the 2023 Speaking Industry Benchmark Report, only 12% of speakers surveyed said they include travel expenses in their speaking fees, which means you need to budget for this item in addition to paying the speaker for their presentation. Also, some speakers request arrangements for a travel companion, so be sure to clarify whether that is included or not in your offer.
  • Additional promotional requests from the speaker, like meet & greets, book signings, press interviews, advance promotional video or social media promotion, and whether you want to be able to promote their appearance at your event to the public. Even if your event itself is not open to the public, be sure to get this in writing so that all parties know what’s expected. 

In addition to including the answers to the above questions in your offer, it is also very helpful to include the names of previous speakers at your event. This can give your next speaker additional insight into both the event’s theme, tone, and audience by having this information.

For more recommendations into this part of the process, check out our earlier blog post on Event Planning Contracts: 5 Strategies For A Smoother Negotiation.

Cover your T’s and C’s

Once an offer is accepted, it’s time to put this arrangement in writing. Items to mention in your contract should (at a minimum) include:

  1. Scope of Services – the date, time, and duration of the presentation plus any additional services like workshops or Q&A sessions.
  2. Compensation – the agreed-upon speaking fee, plus any additional expenses the event organizer will cover (e.g., travel, accommodation, meals), and the payment schedule.
  3. Intellectual Property – clarifying the ownership and usage rights of any materials the speaker presents or provides. If the event organizer plans to record or distribute the presentation, include provisions addressing copyright and usage permissions including for how long these will apply.
  4. Cancellation and Termination – how either party can cancel or terminate the agreement and the procedures for notifying each other in such cases. Outline any potential penalties or fees related to cancellations.
  5. Force Majeure – this was critically important during the pandemic. Outline what happens if unforeseen circumstances, such as natural disasters or other emergencies that might prevent either party from fulfilling their obligations.
  6. Indemnification – meaning that each party shall indemnify and hold the other harmless from any claims, damages, or liabilities arising from their own negligence or breach of the agreement.

At this point, I can not stress enough the value of having your own legal counsel or representation involved in this part of the process. Speakers and talent often have their own representation, and so should you as the other party in the transaction. If you don’t have access at your organization to legal counsel, consider partnering with a speakers bureau or agency who has this expertise in house, like we do here. This will potentially help you avoid very costly mistakes down the road should something unexpected happen.

Another important thing to mention at this stage. In the speaker-booking industry, there is an understanding that speaking offers are taken very seriously by speakers. Once an invitation is extended and accepted by a speaker, the sponsor or host organization is expected to honor the invitation by moving to and executing a contract. In other words, it’s unwise and strongly discouraged to extend multiple formal offers at the same time if you plan to book only one of the speakers or entertainers to which you’ve extended offers.

Once parties are in agreement on the contract, everyone should sign and receive a copy. It is at this point that the speaking agreement is in force, and any financial stipulations such as deposits should be paid.

Set the right tone at the beginning

This will likely be your first engagement with the speaker you chose so be sure to demonstrate your organizational skills, responsiveness, and eagerness to work with them. Always be as respectful of the speaker’s time as you would be of your own time.

By positioning your speaking offer thoughtfully and professionally, you enhance the appeal of your event and demonstrate the value the speaker will gain from participating. This approach will serve you well when asking professional speakers to seriously consider and ultimately, accept your speaking offer.

Jennifer Best: Jennifer Best is the Head of Marketing for All American Entertainment. Jen has been featured in print and digital publications, including, on digital marketing trending topics. She is a former SBA award-winning entrepreneur for her digital marketing work with small businesses. When she's not geeking out on Google Analytics and marketing automation, you'll find Jen cooking for her growing family or enjoying a great book.
Related Post