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How Much Do Keynote Speakers Really Cost?

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Having a great motivator can make or break an event. The quality of the content they provide shapes the auditorium members’ impressions and may determine how memorable the event is. However, even though those who partake in speaking add a great deal of value, their services also come at a cost.

If you are considering hiring a motivator, you will want to know what to anticipate in terms of speaking engagements. Details that influence the price tag on a motivator include everything from the type of event, duration, location, experience and prestige.

This article will explain the items that factor into the cost of speakers like travel costs, accommodations, a well-produced presentation, event organizers fee and sometimes live streaming. Read on to find out the answer to ‘how much does a guest speaker cost’ and learn to navigate possible hidden speaking fees when event planning.


Before we can figure out how much speaking engagements cost, let us first establish what exactly the role of that person is. The job of the motivator is to kick off an event with a grand opening address. 

They drive the messaging and set the tone for the event by delivering content that conveys its purpose and captures its importance. The best speakers command great auditorium members engagement and bring the whole live event together. 

Keynote speeches are common at organized meetings, conferences, summits, conventions, fundraisers, galas, trade shows, and many other types of industry. A keynote address serves many important purposes, including:

  • Piques the interest of attendees and captivates the auditorium members
  • Provides information about relevant ideas and concepts
  • Helps unify the auditorium members around key themes
  • Inspires, excites, engages, and motivates
  • Makes for a memorable experience

Professionals who partake in speaking come in all different shapes and sizes. Some people are professional keynote or motivational and make their living off by public speaking. Other times career professionals, celebrities, politicians, and other distinguished individuals are invited to speak on special occasions.


The cost of any speaking engagements ranges anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over one hundred thousand. To appropriately budget for speaking engagement, it’s crucial to account for intrinsic speaker rates as well as supplementary expenses, both of which we will cover below.


Speaking engagements fees depend upon two primary factors, the event organizer and the status of the guest. The production level of an event is determined by concerns such as the event organizers and occasion, the size and length, and the location and budget. 

Meanwhile, a professional speaker’s value is determined by their reputation, experience level, career accomplishments, and name-recognition. Though not always the case, the speaker’s stature is often proportional to the size and scale of the event. 

For example, a huge corporation putting on a major business conference is more likely to hire an expensive, high-profile guest than a small business that makes a low profit  hosting a small lunch for new employees. A good general formula to refer to is: a big conference + big bucks = bigger names.

How to Protect the Minimum Speaking Fee

Keeping in mind that there are different pricing models, there are higher chances that some approaches might fail due to overestimations and assumptions. To avoid underpayments, people tend to use the following methods to protect their minimum speaking fees.

  • The minimum speaking pay rate is the one agreed and listed on the contract. That means if the person is charging per hour and there is no time to deliver the content for the agreed number of hours or the pricing is based on number of attendees and only a few people turn up, the person will get the amount listed on the contract.
  • The fees listed on the contract covers the preparation for a valuable, relevant and compelling presentation and speaking. However, the client should pay for additional research and customizations
  • If the pricing is based on the attendees and the client opens the door for more attendees than the indicated number on the contract, the person can demand an additional speaking pay per attendee. However, the client can negotiate for the increment number. For example, there might be no additional fees for an additional 4 people in an occasion 

Price Brackets

To help you understand what type of motivator you might get for “x” amount of money, here is a breakdown of typical keynote price range brackets:

  • $500 – $1,500 (Neophyte): Newbies in this business cost less. Inexperienced ones who are still trying to break into the business require a less speaking fee. A novice in this price bracket would be suitable for a more intimate meeting with a small number of auditorium members, a conference organized by a nonprofit, or any other low-budget event planners.
  • $1,500 – $5,000 (Modest professional): You can expect to get paid this speaker’s fees for non-famous business professionals or professionals with moderate experience. This is decent compensation for those who make their living giving speeches at a conference and could thus secure a professional for a modestly sized event.
  • $5,000 – $10,000 (First class-professional): For this type of speaking engagements, you can hire accomplished career professionals who are seasoned for public speaking. These Professionals have experience making keynote addresses and attract attendees to the occasion. Examples of distinguished professionals in this range include professional athletes, successful business people, and published writers. A larger budget would be required to be able to afford such an established speaker.
  • $25,000 – $50,000 (Celebrity speaker): These speakers are well-known individuals and household names. Their reputation and name-recognition make them expensive, but also the way they speak draws crowds and adds more value to the event. A renowned Harvard professor or best-selling business would fall under this bracket. A major corporate conference or international summits might have the funds to secure a celebrity speaker.
  • $50,000 – $100,000 (First class celebrity): This speaking engagement is reserved for first-rate celebrities, the crème de la crème of famous individuals. Hiring a top celebrity for a speaking engagement is costly, so it may only be feasible for sponsored virtual  events that turn a profit. For example, at a big ticketed conference, the money from ticket sales could be used to balance the cost of an A-list celebrity. Conferences of this caliber are big enough that it is usually not only a client’s honor to host the guest, but also an honor for the guest to be speaking there. However this is equal to the speaking fee charged
  • $100,000+ (VIP): This type of speaking engagements is reserved for a select few outstanding individuals. Other than maybe Oprah, prices upward of $100,000 mostly apply to famous politicians—think Barack Obama, Donald Trump, etc. A good example, Forbes reported that former President Bill Clinton’s speaking fee has, at times, been over a quarter of a million dollars.

Common Pricing Criterias

Even with this breakdown of the average fees for speakers of different calibers, the speakers use different approaches and models for their payments. Depending on the type of event, the length, and the number of attendants, the person can use one of the following pricing models.

Standard Fees for the Entire Event

Flat fee is one of the most common pricing approaches for speakers, especially if they can’t predict the true nature of the event. In most cases, this is the best approach for beginners, celebrities and VIPs who might not be familiar with the complicated payment approaches of professionals.

The person gives a flat fee for speaking to an event, regardless of the number of people who will attend and the length of the event. Apart from these speaking engagement fees varying depending on the experience level and how famous the person is, it also tends to increase after every year and vary with industries. 

For example, there is an average fee of $500 to $50,000 for wedding ceremonies. Also, the fee still varies with the region. For example, the speaking engagement fees in San Diego or for your region, state or country might not be the same for international events.

Fees per Time Spent

In this pricing model, the person calculates the speaking fees per hour. That means a whole day’s content will cost much more than a 2 hour content. Apart from the hours spent on the stage, in most cases, the person will also take into account the number of hours spent on research and preparation of the content. 

For instance, depending on the topic the person will be covering and the type of audience, a person might spend a lot of time on research, traveling and rehearsals in preparation for a 2 hour content.  That means if the speakers only consider the two hours when calculating the speaking fee, they will be underpaid.  

In most cases, speakers will want to use this approach when they can’t predict how many hours they are needed to speak, and the client might end up underpaying them if they use a flat rate. Speakers might also prefer this approach if the total hourly rate is more than the flat rate.  

Fees per Attendee

In this approach, the fee is set per attendee. That means the total speaking fee will depend on the number of attendees, which means the person makes more money when people attend. As a result, the keynote speakers might even use their names to persuade people to attend the event, especially if they are A-list celebrities.

In most cases, the person will want to use this approach if there is an entry fee, and can estimate the total amount the planners are expecting. Instead of a flat fee, the person will want to maximize the income by having a portion of the entry fee per attendee.  

However, this mindset might make the person obligated to persuade many people to attend, which means more income to the planners as well. Generally, this approach is similar to the residuals for TV actors and writers, or royalties for book authors. 


Virtual meetings, webinars and online services are becoming more popular nowadays. It’s not really that different from a traditional face to face conference. However, the proven results state that you still need a professional for speaking and presenting all the keynote contents, virtual presentation and audience engagement is still essential, in order to have a successful virtual event.

Whether you want a pre-recorded performance or live event. It has to be delivered right and memorable for every attendee, which is why it’s essential to hire an experienced motivator who can breakout session to maintain the attention of the attendees 

Though virtual speaking eliminates travel costs, it still comes at a cost. Since, they have an event organizer and they are paid to deliver, regardless of the location. The business price tag doesn’t change.

If you are planning to hire a professional, you will want to know the  speakers fees for virtual services. The details that influence the speaking fee include everything from the type of event, duration, speaking experience and prestige. 

Speakers fees may be lower than your traditional live motivator, but some experienced ones choose to keep their rates the same so it depends on the specific person you pick.

Can a Keynote Speaker Be Free?

The answer to this question is yes; there are a handful of cases in which a motivator can be without pay. If they stand to make any amount from the services indirectly, they may waive fees. For example, the promotion and exposure a consultant will get from giving a motivational speech might help them gain new clients from the audience.

Celebrities sometimes volunteer to do public speaking at a philanthropic event, conference or business. If the event is conveniently located, and the message or the audience highly motivates the individual, they may consider delivering a keynote address for free or at a reduced rate.

Lastly, other speakers at the beginning of their speaking engagements often offer free or low-cost services. This speaking engagement is mutually beneficial because unestablished ones get experience and exposure under their belts, which will eventually allow them to charge more. A beginner might work pro-bono or just ask for reimbursements for travel costs. This brings us to the next topic of additional costs.


The overall cost of a speaking occasion hinges not only upon the keynote speaker’s fees, but also on other business details relating to the given event. Outside expenses to consider include:

  • Travel: Sometimes, guests have to travel to get to the event they’re carrying out the speaking engagement at. Although some can pay, other speakers don’t pay out of pocket for travel, and clients are expected to cover the speaking expenses. Costs incurred may include domestic and international flights, hotels, and additional business  costs like food or other accommodations.
  • Live streaming: Do you plan on live streaming a program? If so, you will likely be racking up extra speaking engagement costs. For starters, equipment—cameras, cables, mics—can be expensive. Apart from the speaking engagements, there needs to be people working the equipment, which means paying technicians, operators, IT, etc. Live streaming the program also comes with a host of other concerns based on the stream’s complexity like:
    • Platform: Are you using professional services or a consumer-level social media platform like Facebook or YouTube Live? Although consumer-grade platforms are often free, streams get interrupted with business ads, and they tend to have worse audiovisual quality.
    • Stream Duration: Is the content long or short? It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes you may have a presentation that can be hours long, and you don’t want a disconnection in the middle of the speaking engagements. Streaming costs like staff, bandwidth, platform access, and more compound overtime.
    • Hardware/Software: Live streaming the program requires specialized technology. For example, encoding software is needed to convert raw video content into a streaming-compatible format. In turn, computer hardware is usually necessary to operate such software. Therefore, it’s important to factor in these potential business costs.
  • Production value: A well-produced presentation involves more than just having a motivator show up and talk on the day of the occasion. Good speaking engagements might be accompanied by visuals and presentation slides, conference producers, audience involvement, stage set-up, and other interactive conferences . In turn, organizing these details may add to the cost of a keynote speech.
  • Expenses for presentation customization: In most cases, the client will want customized presentations on the occasion. However, this means additional costs and higher speaker fees. Some of the involved expenses for presentation customization include: 
    • Books: The guest can customize the book’s cover and intro to suit the client, while retaining the body text
    • Materials:  Materials such as pens can be customized for the client. However, for educational materials, the content should remain the same
    • Presentation: The visual aids can be rebranded to suit the client, while retaining the content of the presentation
    • Pre-event videos: The videographer records pre-event videos to promote the event. Usually, the client can share the videos on social media channels and newsletters 

Determining the Speaking Fees per Attendee

In most cases, the per person speaking fee is determined based on the value pricing model. Typically, this model tries to gauge how much to charge depending on how much value the content brings to the audience. Some of the considerations and math that can help you reach to more realistic figures include:

Gauge the Value of the Speech 

Usually, this is the most challenging part of equation, as it can’t be difficult to tell how productive the given content and guidelines can be if implemented fully. 

The best way to approach this question is to ask how much money the attendee can make if they follow and implement the content per specified period of time such as one year. Usually, the person needs to be conservative about this value, giving room for general risks and uncertainties.

Find the Overall Value Depending on the Present Attendees

Multiply the monetary value one attendee is expected to gain from the content. That means the client should provide the person with the expected number of attendees. This allows the person to get the total expected pay.  

Regardless of the industry, it’s believed that only around 25% of the people implement what they learn. Keeping in mind that speakers need to be conservative, they should take into account this number, and divide the total by 25. The resulting figure should be the actual speaking fee.

Factors That Affect the Speaking Fee per Attendee

Apart from monetary benefits, the following factors can still affect the calculations of the per person speaking fees.

  • Morale: Sometimes the person might be addressing an audience that involves business managers and employees. That means the intention of the content might be to boost the morale of the employees and not necessarily for them to make money
  • Values: Sometimes a client might hire a person to help address some issues among the team members, which is not about money making. The per person rates will then depend on how transformative the values seem
  • Growth: In most cases, this applies to non profit making organizations and groups. The person will be helping on strategies to grow the business, and not necessarily making profits 

How to Build a Portfolio as a Motivator

The best way to build a portfolio as a motivator is to work for free or lower the fees to below the market competitive rates, such that no other person of the same caliber is willing to work for that payment. 

Keeping in mind that the performance of a person can be gauged right from the response of the audience, these types of speaking engagements aim at performing like top speakers, with a much lower payment. 

Generally, this is to gain other potential clients and grow the business, as many people will prefer the cheaper and performing modest professional rather than a top professional demanding higher pay. However, even with this approach, you should consider the following general and legal issues:

Potential Taxes for Free Services

Even if you offer the services without any pay and still get some non-cash benefits such as a conference pass, travel expenses, and hotel room, you will still need to pay taxes in the U.S as the government will still consider it as a speaking engagement.   

Remember that the IRS takes into account the full retail price, which is typically the fair market value of those things, and then taxes them as your income. Even if you speak at an event without asking for any pay. 

In return, you get a conference pass of $2000, a hotel stay of $1000, a flight of $700, then the IRS will assume you have an income of $3700. Even if the income is not in cash, the IRS will tax you as if it’s in cash. You should therefore consider this in your financial projections and decide whether to offer the service or not.

What Is the I’ll Do It Rate in Keynote Speaking?

The I’ll do it rate is a controversial pricing strategy that speakers use when dealing with a client or offer they are not really willing to take. Usually, this results from a disappointing previous speaker-client relationship or when the event seems much of a lower caliber compared to the experience and popularity of the person. 

In most cases, speakers use this approach to discourage the client so the client can look for another person, only that they don’t want to outrightly reject the speaking fees. Usually, the speakers demand higher fees that they believe the client will not be willing to pay. 

Although many clients might indeed reject the demanded fees, some might be willing to pay, and the person ends up receiving abnormal payments. However, using this approach in all events and offers might indicate you are unwilling to work as a motivator and push your clients away. 


As an event organizer, planning out your business conference activities and occasion components, booking a motivator should be at the top of your list. It is important to remember that different types of professionals are suitable for a different occasion, conference and audience. 

Many speakers not only range in cost but also vary in area of expertise and scope of experience from their previous speaking engagements. Finding people good at speaking is not always a matter of paying the big bucks so much as it is about choosing the right attendees and who will be speaking for your specific occasion.

Overall, a keynote speaker is an extremely valuable addition to any corporate, commercial, or industry occasion. In most cases, these are the people that will make your occasion attractive and interesting.

Their time and expertise in speaking engagements are worth a bigger pay more than just dollars; a good motivator can captivate an audience, carry a conference, and accentuate the significance of an occasion. A good speaking engagement can truly energize occasion and is well worth the investment.

If this is your first time planning an occasion, or even if it’s not, hiring an outside event planning management company with plenty of experience and contacts in the business is the smartest decision you can make to ensure successful conference or event execution. 

An outside event company, like Vario, is the expert in the occasion planning and production world and will be your number one advocate with the trust of transparency to ensure that your event needs are met. 

With the knowledge of the best event partners out there and the power of negotiation, you will be ensured to get the best speaking services and creativity at the best price.

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