5 ways to book a speaker at no cost—or at a greatly reduced fee

By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster,
No More Boring Meetings

A gift that keeps on giving: Five ways to secure a speaker at no cost, or at a greatly reduced fee. By making some investments in research and strategic partnership, you can reap big dividends as you secure top speaking talent.

While it may seem surprising to get these ideas from someone who makes her living in part by booking speakers, I am committed to supporting your quest to stage top performing meetings by offering resources and ideas you can’t get elsewhere.

So, how to secure a great speaker and generate the impact you need without breaking the bank?

1. Share the Wealth-and Raise YOUR Stature

If your organization has multiple layers or departments, you’re likely sitting in the midst of a missed opportunity. Let’s say you work in customer service, hold an annual conference for your employees or your customers, and plan to invite a “name” keynote speaker.

You can save money and spread the learning across the enterprise by teaming up with your cohort in, say, sales or HR. Offer this other department the chance to share the speaking talent you’ve invited by joining you at the event OR scheduling their own program on the same day. Cost splits could work in a number of ways:

  • Offer to split expenses 50-50
  • Alternate years or quarters: for the first event, your departmental budget is tapped; then next quarter, or next year, your partnering department covers the full cost.

In the process, you save money, align a much broader number of employees to a central message, build organizational cohesion and become a more resourceful, visible contributor in the company.

Why be a lone ranger when you can be the hero??


2. The Power of Two:

If you stage events for a nonprofit:  highlight a company(ies) in your region with a strong desire to provide community support and with missions aligning with yours. Then reach out to their Corporate Social Responsibility or executive teams to arrange the following win-win:

The company covers the cost of a speaker, chosen for his/her relevance to their challenges and yours. Your organization covers the cost of the event venue.  And on event day, the agenda could include:

  • 45- to 60-minute keynote for the corporate audience, followed immediately by…
  • A second, perhaps shorter keynote, or Q&A, or informal social reception, for your VIPs or primary audience.

Most speakers, when approached with this “dual-program” offer, will be willing to present both sessions at no or little added cost, since they’re back to back and at the same venue. If the corporation and/or speaker needs a little nudge, sweeten the pot by having your organization cover:

  • The speaker’s travel expense if applicable.
  • A group book purchase (assuming s/he’s published a book)
  • A special meeting with the company executive team
  • A one-of-a-kind local experience of value to the speaker, and one that’s a natural extension of what your organizational value. For example: if you’re a nonprofit in healthcare, can you arrange a special “behind-the-scenes” tour of a research facility? Videotape the session for the speaker’s use?

This scenario may require a longer lead time to ensure your speaker is available, and that you can arrange a venue on the date that works for both your organization and the company.

On a related note, some speakers will add a pro-bono speech to a charity group whenever a corporation books them at their standard fee. Ask us for details.

3. Super-Charged Sponsorship

Identify a sponsor whose target market aligns with your organization’s audience. In exchange for giving that sponsor exposure to your audience and other benefits they value, the sponsor covers your speaker’s fee. While this concept is somewhat common, you can make it fresh by securing, recognizing and rewarding sponsors in new ways:

  • Via slides or videos….share “3 things you didn’t know about (xsponsor)” EG: how they’ve helped change lives; work in community, offer new services, or invented cutting-edge technology
  • Highlight accomplishments and/or create questions around positive media hits the sponsor has enjoyed.
  • Calculate and communicate the per-person cost of your event if there were no sponsors-that always hits home for everyone and reinforces sponsorship value
  • Most who offer sponsorship deeply value access to executives. What opportunities exist within your constituency for this?
  • Give sponsors the chance to introduce a keynoter after they say a few words about their organization
  • Provide preferred seating to sponsors at your event and/or chance to invite a few of their key contacts to certain aspects of event
  • Add a sponsor-only reception during which sponsors can meet and mingle with your headlining speaker in exchange for their sponsorship

4. Quadruple Win:

  • Reach out to your favorite hotel vendor(s) or local Convention and Visitors Bureau.
  • Ask them what other organizations are renting space on or on either side of your event date. Most CVBs offer a by-date list of conventioneers scheduled many years into the future.
  • Create a win-win-win-win among your organization, the partnering organization (the one also using the space), the event venue and the speaker by sharing resources and expenses the keynoter(s).

For example, one of the hundreds of conventions scheduled via the Seattle CVB features a world-renowned expert on innovation and growth.  Such a broad-based expert offers a wide enough range of programs that a variety of organizations would find his work relevant. So, if your event is scheduled anywhere in the Seattle area on, say, the day before or after his session, you could find yourself in a Quadruple Win.

Making these arrangements may be a bit more time consuming, and yet the cost savings may be well worth it, particularly if you have the chance to bring an otherwise unaffordable headliner to your event. And just one call to a speaker’s bureau will be indispensible in fast-tracking your Quadruple Win speaker booking at no added cost.

5. One final alternative:

Last, and least: Add your pro-bono speaker inquiry to the PILE of such requests that most speakers receive-and hope for the best.  That’s what many planners do, at their peril.

Let me know how we can help you take a more innovative, “yes-and” approach to booking speakers-and saving money in the process.