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How to Pay for High-Quality Conference Speakers

Posted by Michael Reynolds on Oct 29, 2014 12:00:00 PM

Conferences can be a great way to bring people together, create a space for networking and deliver valuable education.

Most events have speakers that present educational sessions to help attendees learn new skills and get inspiration. These can be keynote and/or session speakers and as an event organizer, your goal is to provide as much value as possible to your attendees so they keep coming back.

In order to do this, you need great speakers. In order to get great speakers, you need to pay them.


There is a disturbing practice among conference event planners to try to get speakers for free (or cheap). This does a disservice to both your attendees and your speakers. High quality conference speakers are professionals who know how to deliver value to your attendees. They spend hours creating presentations, preparing for the event, and this doesn’t even count all the years of experience they have that makes their educational message useful to attendees.

So, please…budget for speakers. It’s the right thing to do, and you’ll get great speakers as a result who will be thrilled to help you promote your event, as well.

Ok, so right now you’re thinking, “But our budget is already so tight…how can I afford to pay thousands for great speakers?” I'm glad you asked. Have you considered using presentation sponsors?

A conference presentation is a fantastic opportunity for a sponsorship. During the event you’ve got a captive audience who is ready to listen. Before the event, you’ve got a speaker that you can use to promote the sponsor. Finally, there are opportunities to promote the sponsor after the event, as well. It’s a very high-value sponsorship.

So how does it work? Let’s say you’re paying a speaker $3,000 for a presentation at your event (I just made that up... some speakers charge more, some less). Now you need to come up with an extra $3,000 in your conference budget. So you set up your sponsorship as follows:

  1. Find and recruit a sponsor that aligns with the topic of your speaker’s presentation. For example, it your speaker is teaching a sales training session, a good sponsor might be a CRM provider or sales enablement software.
  2. Before the event, connect with the speaker and get their commitment to promote the sponsor to their own email list and social networks. To make it easier, provide them with predefined email templates and social media posts so they can just copy and paste.
  3. Set up a pre-conference three-way interview between a member of your team, the speaker, and a representative from the sponsor. Pick one question (related to the speaker’s presentation) that the three of you can discuss and unpack a little and conduct the interview via Google Hangout so you can record it and post it on your blog to generate interest in the conference presentation. This sets up the sponsor as a trusted expert by association.
  4. Any time the speaker is promotion on social media leading up to the conference, add “sponsored by ______” to the messaging to create awareness of the sponsor.
  5. At the event, give the sponsor some spotlight time before the speaker’s presentation. Allow a sponsor representative to spend a few minutes discussing what they do and (this is really important) – giving the audience a “gold nugget” takeaway. It’s important that they don’t just sell…the audience will just zone that out. Instead, they should give a 2 or 3-minute “mini-presentation” that provides a quick solution to a common problem that the audience might face.
  6. Obviously, create prominent signage at the presentation featuring the sponsor’s logo and marketing imagery.
  7. Following the conference, send copies of the speaker’s presentation out to attendees via email and include a slide featuring the sponsor in it with a call to learn more.

As you can see, this creates a really high-value sponsorship package and aligns the sponsor with a great speaker who is delivering education to the audience. It’s a win for everyone.

Obviously there are more ways you can promote the sponsor to design the package, including featuring them in emails, blog posts, program, videos, charging stations, etc., but this gives you some ideas as a starting point.

As you can see, with a little creativity and hustle, you can attract and book great speakers who will bring lots of value to your event and help you promote it, as well.

So let go of the “It’s not in our budget!” excuse and create a sponsorship program that brings the best speakers to your conference. Your audience will notice.

This post originally appeared on ReachMore with CJ McClanahan. For more articles on business and leadership, you can subscribe here.

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Topics: Conferences, Event Planning, events, speakers

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