When Saying “Yes” Can Cost You


To showcase or not to showcase? That seems to be the perennial argument in speaking communities, with opinions split between those who believe that any opportunity to put yourself in front of potential clients is a good thing, and those who defend their fee integrity to the last opportunity.

It’s a tough one, for sure. Rookie speakers need to get both experience and a reputation. You never know who’s going to be in the audience, or to whom they are married. I’ve had prime engagements more than once because someone in the audience has recommended me to their spouse, who turned out to be my ideal client.

A showcase doesn’t just have to mean speaking for free either. Many opportunities to speak for a reduced fee present themselves. I know a number of speakers who contend that these are equally worth taking if you don’t have anything better in the diary that day. I’ve heard, more than once, that a speaker would rather earn a small fee on a quiet night than sit indoors watching television.

On the other hand, we have to defend our value in the marketplace. The more accessible you are at a low price, the lower the perceived value will be. Would you pay full price for a service that you know is available elsewhere for a fraction of the price and, in some cases, for no cost at all?

It’s not just your own value you affect if you accept lower or even free speaking engagements. The more speakers make themselves available for free, the lower the perceived value of bringing speakers in is. Meeting planners claim they ‘have no budget for speakers’ because they know they will find people desperate for the exposure. We can argue that you pay for quality, but is that always true?

As a speaker, I believe we have to be very commercial in our decision making. Many of us would speak at every opportunity simply because we love what we do. The most important word I have learned in the development of my business, however, has consisted of just two letters. ‘No.’

It’s painful to turn down opportunities. You don’t know where they will lead but you could equally find yourself missing out on a bigger gig by accepting the first invitation to speak that comes along.

Recently, I was asked to speak at a conference in Dublin, Ireland, which was the perfect fit for me demographically. The meeting planner said they didn’t normally pay speakers, but we discussed a reduced fee with marketing add-ons to compensate me for the difference. The figure they offered didn’t sit well with me though, and I hesitated to accept, and I’m so pleased I did.

While we were debating the pros and cons of accepting the engagement internally, an inquiry came in for the same day, which has resulted in a full-fee engagement, with potential for a much larger program and international work with the client to follow.

A bird in the hand is not always better than two in the bush! One of the most important things I remember from my economics classes at school is opportunity cost. For every opportunity you accept, there is something else you could be doing. If I had accepted the reduced fee conference, I would not have been available for the larger fee, bigger opportunity event that came along.

By accepting showcase talks, what are you turning down instead? It could be another paid event that comes along later. Or, perhaps you could have better used the time spent preparing, traveling to, and delivering that talk,  in other business development activities such as phoning or meeting with people who could offer you referrals for paid work.

Or, maybe the family time in front of the television is important to you, and you value that more highly than a few extra dollars in the kitty.

I’m not saying that you should never speak for free or for a reduced fee; but don’t rush to do so, accepting anything that comes your way. Always work out the opportunities you are giving up, as well as the opportunities you are gaining.

I try not to leave things to chance with showcases. When I do them, I always ask the client how they will make up the value by being proactive. I don’t accept the argument that there will be potential purchasers in the audience. Speaking is my service. It’s my product. It’s not my marketing tool.

Before you accept that argument, ask yourself whether you would go into a travel agent and ask for a holiday for free because you’ll tell your friends about it if it’s enjoyable. Or, would you try the same in the local supermarket?

Value what you do, understand what you give up every time you accept something that undervalues your service, and then make an informed, commercial decision about every opportunity that comes your way.

Andy Lopata

Andy Lopata

Director at H & A Lopata Ltd
Andy Lopata, FPSA, author of three books on networking, blogs for The Huffington Post, and speaks internationally about networking and referrals strategy.
Andy Lopata
Andy Lopata
Andy Lopata
Andy Lopata

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