Speaking. I LOVE it. That’s why I charge for it

I want to keep loving it. All of it completely. The whole experience.

Speaking for an audience is joyful, and an incredible honor, and I want to keep it that way.

Photo Credit: In Concert by Martin Fisch on Flickr

So I’m wondering: How would a speaker (and a coach) write something like this for their speaking page, as a proactive and helpful statement?

I won’t speak for free by Mack Collier at The Viral Garden

Much shorter of course, and as tactfully as possible. Do you have any suggestions? It’s a delicate thing and no speaker wants to come off like some high and mighty snob! Any good examples you can point me to will be appreciated.

I’ve tried to be a bit more subtle about it, but the subtlety isn’t working.  (This was one example: “Free” never is, so don’t ask at Say “Alaka‘i.” I touched on it again  yesterday, though my post purpose was unrelated). Recessionary budgets have morphed into broken-record excuses which completely miss the point. Besides, I realize that it is unrealistic for me to expect that those who call me with their “please-speak-for-free” requests read my blog, and if I pursue this, something would have to go on my speaking page.

Having this link there has really helped with my experiences overall: How to Capture an Expert’s Value: 12 Tips …but it hasn’t solved the whole issue of how speaking for free is a bad idea more often than not… like when you drive for two hours to get to the engagement, or worse, fly and do the whole airport thing as usually must happen for me, and your host tells you they have made additions to their program, and you now have just ten minutes to present.

It can’t be coincidence that all my less-than-pleasant stories happen when I have done a presentation without charging for it: People simply do not value free nearly much as they value paying for something.

I have one more exception coming up. However Mack’s post has reminded me to be stronger in my resolve and put an end to my exceptions. It will be the last one for me. No more speaking for free, even though I truly LOVE the speaking itself. I weaken all of us who assess value to our Ho‘ohana work when I try to ‘be nice’ about it. I believe I give great value to my audiences, and if my host ever feels differently I am happy to give them a full refund of my fee.

So why am I writing about it here?

Two reasons: I value your opinion, and trust you’ll let me know if you think I should just leave it alone. I now have the conversation with those who inquire, but it can be an uncomfortable thing, and I suspect I would address it better proactively on that page, and in writing.

Second, to offer you my coaching on this as learning the value of Ho‘ohanohano: affording others dignity and respect, and in the process, conducting yourself with distinction.

Don’t be “that guy” and disrespect and devalue the work of other people, whether they speak or do something else for you. Be the polar opposite, and be the person who values them more. If you are a conference organizer, rethink your business model (there are good comments in Mack’s post in that regard).

I know that many of you who read Talking Story will never hire me, and that you read my blog for the complimentary coaching I happen to give as I write to think out loud as I do — and that’s okay, we both benefit. You’re my Ho‘ohana Community, and learning-together community is different from audience. Plus you ‘pay’ me in other ways, such as your subscribing when I ask, your comment conversation, buying my books and tweeting to share my articles.

Most important of all, you listen deeply, and you take action with what we talk about. We Ho‘ohana together, and you help me set a good example in living, working, managing, and leading with Aloha.

Since we’re likeminded in so many ways I don’t think I have to explain this very much, and I’m posting this here today to ask you to value what people do for you money-free. Stop for a moment, and think about what people give you. Think about what it takes for them to give it to you, and how you can appreciate them better. Value their giving more, so they feel that you DO understand their worth.

All work gets elevated when we who receive the good work of others assess it value. Something else kicks in like magic: The giver will try to give you way more than you have paid for.  I know I always do, and I’ll bet you do too.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


To be fair to all the wonderful hosts out there who hire speakers, there are a bunch of reasons you can be asked to shorten a planned presentation, reasons out of their control. Other presenters will go overtime, a Q&A session heats up, air conditioning goes on the blink, you name it. I was once interrupted by a pair of mating mynah birds deciding the ballroom chandelier above the stage would suit their very loud courtship… what can you do but laugh as the flustered banquet captain stands on a chair and swats a broom at them? We’ve all run into those situations where you have to quickly edit what you’ve prepared, and you know what? Shorter can be way, way better for both you and your audience, as long as you have still delivered.

Coincidentally saw this at Presentation Zen yesterday too, where Garr Reynolds offers his application of Simon Sinek’s golden circle of communication: Starting presentations from why. This technique, of communicating 1–Why before 2–How or 3–What, is a great way to coach yourself in the wings before you present in whatever time you have been given.

Second, here is another post from Mack Collier: The introvert’s guide to speaking. You may never want to be someone who speaks as a professional presenter, however all Alaka‘i Managers will speak to teams or groups in some form —learning to do so is essential in your skillset— and Mack shares more of his experience, and how he went from fearing it to loving it.

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  1. says


    Oh, I have a lot of stories with this issue, but won’t bore you. Just know, I like you, have feelings about it — mostly about the implicit manipulation of asking people to speak for free on the basis of promises of possible work in the future. Among the worst experiences recently was being invited by a speakers’ bureau rep who was hired for money to find free speakers. Hmmmm.

    What I tell people is that there are circumstances in which I do speak for free that have to do with 1) the organization’s ability to pay, 2) what I’m being asked to talk about, 3) how much preparation/time-on-site is involved, and 4) the degree of exposure to potential clients. I do not agree to speak for free in circumstances that are likely to economically benefit for-profit organizations and where there is little chance the engagement will potentially yield meaningful consulting/training opportunities in the future. This actually goes for any organization that in my opinion can pay — no matter who they are, including schools, churches, governments, professional organizations, chambers of commerce, etc. Just because an organization is non-profit does not mean I should personally give away my time, expertise, and resources for the benefit of that organization. Is the Director a volunteer? Are the employees volunteers? If not, then why would I volunteer my own time and expertise? I do not put any of this on my website because of all the differing circumstances and also the possible mistakes of interpretation resulting in lost opportunities, but I certainly do discuss it on a case by case basis with those who are looking for speakers. I’m absolutely willing to do pro bono work (or for a small honorarium) if I personally believe the cause is meaningful and it’s clear the client simply does not have the resources to afford the caliber of speaker I represent.

    If I were to put something on my website because I was getting too many requests for free speeches, I would simply state, “Please consult with me about pro bono speaking requests only when your organization is unable to provide compensation.”

    This seems a bit heavy handed to me, although a truthful statement, and so I’d add it only in the event I was getting far too many of these requests.

    • Rosa Say says

      Thank you Dan, I too am liking the thought of coming up with a singular statement.

      I’m not thinking about this because of the number of requests, much as they do seem to have risen lately, but because of what you stated early in your comment about “the implicit manipulation of asking people to speak for free on the basis of promises of possible work in the future” — for it is implicit manipulation that is disrespectful. As such, the coach in me thinks about the opportunity for coaching on my speaking page… maybe I’m being too idealistic and ambitious!

  2. says

    Who you, Rosa?

    I do think there is a conversation here with clients. Might not be something you can entirely do on a web page, but there is a dialogue here for sure about value and the way “opportunities” represent value of one kind but don’t actually pay the rent on the other. Most of the people I’ve talked to about this agree that the work shouldn’t be for free, but sometimes they do also feel caught in the middle by pressure from people up the system to get great speakers and presentations, but without a (meaningful) budget. It can then become an internal issue of crossing others who have authority. And to be fair, on the other side, there certainly are people dying to do free speaking or other work as a method of developing a business relationship (some of which is manipulative in its own right), and sometimes the boundaries set by these folks are not very good. They may go overboard giving things away or working for very little or attempt to engage the potential client in free work with a paid finish. It’s really a kind of integrity issue on both sides, I guess. Don’t abridge your own ethical standards, wherever you are in the system, could be the rule of thumb.
    .-= Dan ´s last blog ..A Circular Concept of Leadership =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Certainly the dialogue continues, and always will I suppose, with it ultimately being the best way. As you say Dan, it is an integrity issue on both sides, and there are different variables. Any coaching needs the open-minded acceptance of that coaching too… can’t give it to someone who doesn’t want it – or think they are being embarrassed with irrelevance. As repetitive as it gets, I think I’ll stick with the back-and-forth dialogue of conversation instead. Thank you for helping me think this through :-)