Hosting a Paid Speaker: Size is Irrelevant!

In April, I had the great privilege of sponsoring the IIA’s Leadership Conference in Orlando.  Chapters throughout North America send their leaders to learn how to effectively run a chapter.  With over 400 attendees, it is truly a wonderful learning experience.

At the IIA Leadership Conference, I met many great chapter leaders and caught up with lots of wonderful friends.  One issue I did pick up on more and more was the desperate size of the chapters.  I have always known it is an issue but a few chapters told me that that it is not possible to bring in paid speakers due to chapter size and cost constraints.  I am here to tell you that ANY chapter, regardless of size, can hire a paid speaker, as long as the speaker is open to working with you and flexible.  Over the past year, we have worked with chapters with as few as 40-80 members and as many as 3,500…size is irrelevant in this case.

How Much Do You Charge for a Seminar?

This is strictly dependent on how much the seminar costs.  Based on experience,  day-long seminar usually run anywhere from $99 to $300.  The key is being able to keep costs down.

What drives seminar costs?

Seminar costs are driven by a few primary costs, mainly conference room and food costs.

  • Conference Room– these costs, especially when the seminar is in a hotel, can be off the charts expensive. Room costs can run $1-2k and let’s not even talk about the exorbitant fees relating to projectors and other A/V equipment.
  • Food Costs – Food costs can become extremely high; I have seen costs exceed $75 per person per day. Now, some seminars are highlighted by the menu and that can draw an audience. However, any chapter can provide a great meal without excessive costs.

How Can Chapters Keep Costs Down?

In my opinion, chapters can reduce costs relatively easily and bring a cost-effective, high quality seminar to their members.  Initially, every chapter should engage any large organization that has chapter members. In my opinion, the largest organizations should have their leaders asked to serve as chapter leaders/board members. Why is this important?  If they have numerous team members that participate in chapter events, you can almost guarantee enough attendees prior to even finalizing the event!  We have done this at the Fort Worth IIA Chapter to great success.  Even better, the best way to decrease seminar costs is to get these large organizations to donate a conference room.

If you are able to get the room, the next step is the food.  With any large company, there is a good chance they might have catering.  Regardless, when you are not in a hotel or conference center, the options for food are endless.  Most seminars I speak at average less than $25 per person/day on food costs.

Seminar Budget

Here is a quick look at our initial budget based on our cost savings outlined above:

Description $$$ Notes
Seminar Cost (Per Person) $ 200.00  
Conference Room $     0.00  
Food (Per Person) $   25.00 Breakfast, Snacks, Lunch
Revenue $ 175.00  

Potential Additional Costs:

  • Printing Costs– Printing handouts is not necessary; send them to each attendee to do what they want with the handouts. If the speaker is not open to this, then each chapter should ask why and possibly consider another speaker.

Speaker Costs:

By keeping the costs outlined above down, the chapter can invest in high-quality training from great, well-known speakers. By calculating the above, the chapter is able to quickly calculate the break-even based on the number of attendees.

Based on the above, a chapter can bring a well-known speaker to their seminar with an attendance as low as 20-30 chapter members. This seems like a reasonable plan to bring high-quality training to their chapter and still keep the costs associated with the seminar reasonable.

There are also opportunities to save money when negotiating speaker fees or, at the very least, bring certainty to the speaker cost.  Most speakers have a set fee plus travel expenses or you can negotiate a gross fee with a maximum travel allotment included in the cost.  For smaller chapters and for chapters that are concerned that they will not break-even, we have no problem developing a revenue sharing plan that limits the potential loss a chapter could experience and gives the speaker some upside potential on their fee.  In the past six months, we have worked with chapters with as few as 40 members (not 40 attendees, 40 MEMBERS!) and it has worked well for all parties.

With the right cost structure, chapters of all sizes can bring high-quality training to their members for a reasonable price. Many chapters choose to utilize free local speakers, which is a reasonable option.  However, to get a true deep dive in any subject and to limit the speaker cancellation rate (speakers that are free tend to cancel at a much higher rate than a paid presenter), hiring a professional makes great sense, from a quality and a cost perspective.

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