The Proliferation of Free Speech Expectations

I received an email the other day asking me to speak for a private organization because it would be really good for its audience to hear what I had to say. To APPLY to speak, I was asked to complete a multi-page form that made it clear speakers would not be paid and had better not promote any product or service during the "free speech."


Wow, but not unusual.

With the great free online content explosion the past few years, there’s a similar expectation that any content, including content delivered live to an organization that is being paid to host the event where the content is being delivered, should be free speech.

Remember "gunga galunga" from Caddyshack? It's kind of like that; there will be no money, but MAYBE for your effort you'll receive total consciousness on your deathbed. So you'll have that going for you.

What is Fair Trade Speech?

As someone who has both done some free speaking AND asked others to speak for free, here’s an alternative, and potentially much more successful strategy, for event organizers to use:

Realize that there is value to content, even if you don’t think you have the dollars to pay for it. In those cases, be creative so you can deliver commensurate value to the speaker you’re trying to attract.

The key to implementing this fair trade speech strategy successfully is for an event organizer to understand what resources you have that might be valuable to the speakers you’re trying to attract for “free speech.”

A Fair Trade Speech Strategy Instead of Free Speech

This list is by no means exhaustive, but from speaking myself and working to book speakers, here is a list of 18 resources that could be valuable for speakers:

Website & Publication-Based

  • Include links to the speaker’s website
  • Promote the their business or whatever it sells
  • Promote/feature the speaker’s content (book, blog, etc.)
  • Incorporate logos for the their company


  • Arrange for interaction opportunities with the speaker and target attendees (whether meetings, meals, or even additional sessions)
  • Ensure introductions to attendees the speaker wants to meet
  • Provide a list of attendees for the event

Exposure & Audience Building

  • Demonstrate you are investing in a real marketing effort to build attendance for the event
  • Host a pre- or post-webinar to provide more exposure
  • If it’s a multi-presentation event, mention the speaker’s session and company in general sessions
  • Allow them to share a promo spot or advertisement for their business online or in-person
  • Handle a pre- or post-event email to attendees from the speaker
  • Video and edit the presentation they deliver at your event for their promotional use
  • Offer to do recommendations for the speaker on LinkedIn or on video

Other Financial Offsets

  • Offer to handle administrative details (i.e., filling out registration and other forms, making travel arrangements, etc.)
  • Buy the speaker’s content to give to attendees
  • Offer to produce a speaker’s handouts / promotional materials for the event
  • Provide one or more free or reduced-cost admissions for their use with clients
  • Pay for Travel and Lodging
  • Use the talents and resources within your organization to do something for the presenter (i.e. one recent conference I attended updated a speaker's website as a trade-out)

As I said, this list of fair trade speech ideas isn’t exhaustive. But please don’t take the omission of coffee mugs, pens, and bulky and liquid gift items when the presenter is flying as accidental omissions. They aren’t. Trust me.

Give a Fair Trade Speech Strategy a Try

Go to a speaker you’re trying to sway to with a free speech (or drastically reduced speaking fee) plea and use this list (along with the background about the worthiness of your cause) to see how a fair trade speech strategy works.

I guarantee you’ll have better success with a fair trade speech strategy than sending them an application and a threat about self-promotion.

Trust me.  – Mike Brown


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