How much are adventure speakers paid?

Speakers aren’t paid for their time, speakers are paid for the value they bring.
— Debra Searle

To understand how  ‘value’ is worked out with relation to ‘motivational’ speeches, read our blog post How to determine the value of a speech.

Four models for being paid (or not)           

There are rough industry norms. Of course each speech is an individual negotiation. Norms do vary between countries, and not all clients are aware of their existence. You may decide you want to do it differently, and that’s fine. If you can sell it, then it’s a viable model. But a good place to start is to understand what the norms are. 

1. Nothing at all (best avoided)

If you do end up doing this (generally as a favour for someone) try to get something out of it. At the start of a speaking career you need to be accumulating:

  • hours of practise
  • testimonials from happy event bookers
  • video of yourself speaking to audiences (photos are useful too, but good video is much more important)

2. Expenses only

Be sure to know what your expenses are before agreeing to this. If they cap your 'expenses only' deal, and it turns out to cost you more, you've just paid to speak to them.

3. Value in kind

You can be as creative as you like with this. Common kinds of exchange:

  • travel experiences (I've been 'paid' a ski trip to Georgia, a ski trip to Italy, a trip to Croatia, a trip of Malaysia)
  • product (I was 'paid' some beautiful office desks one time, and wedding rings another time!) 
  • a chance to sell your books (1st prize is a bulk sale upfront, 2nd prize is selling individual books at the event)

Images: I traded moderating the UNWTO Euro-Asian Mountain Resorts Conference for a ski-trip to Georgia.

4. A speaker fee (sometimes called an honorarium)

What do you do about the expenses of travel, accommodation and food? 

  • If the fee is low, you will probably bill separately for your travel and accommodation expenses.
  • If your fee is higher, you may do a pre-agreed travel buyout - this gives the client certainty about the costs upfront. 
  • Or you may choose not to bill expenses at all, but simply increase your fee by a few hundred. This can be simplest for the client, and may let you save money if you, for example, use airmiles for flying. 

Can you ever discount your fee? 

You can do what you like. Clients may not be pleased to find they've paid radically different prices for the same 'product' but in fact each speaking booking is so individual in terms of location and date, that varying prices are acceptable. This is why speaker bureaus who put fees on their website, generally do so in bands of several thousand dollars. That way they have room to manoeuvre.

If you are going to discount your fee, it is best to put a value to that discount. If you ask for £5,000, find out their budget is only £2,000 and promptly say  you'll take it, it doesn't come across as you doing them a a favour. It comes across as you 'cheating' them with the first quote. 

Maintaining 'fee integrity' does not mean that you can never charge less than your preferred fee. It means you try to be consistent about your pricing and you only discount if you get other value in return. That can be anything from 100% payment upfront to book sales to local media coverage to introductions to their key partners. 

Fee integrity means you don’t mess with your fee, but if push-comes-to-shove and you need to drop your fee, you get something in return.
— Hugh Culver, Business Of Speaking

What are adventure speakers getting paid? 

There are various markets that might hire you, and each pays differently. 

Outdoor clubs / adventure festivals    

These are likely to want you to speak for free (or for 'exposure' or for 'shared loved of adventure', all of which still add up to 'free'). If you are unlucky, they won't even pay for travel. 

If they pay, it will be anything from a token £/$/€ 50, to a couple of hundred - from a bigger festival or for a better known speaker. It is likely to max out at £/$/€ 1,000 and that is probably for someone world class in their adventure niche. 

Big names in the adventure niche may be on-stage as part of their brand ambassador / sponsored athlete obligation to a brand that is supporting the event. Sponsoring companies will often get speaker slots as part of their package, sometimes brands will pay the organisers to let their own industry experts speak. 

  An outdoor organisation talk, which I did as a donation to the She Jumps community (In fact, I traded it for a week's accommodation in   Salt Lake City and backcountry ski partners in the Wasatch range!) 

An outdoor organisation talk, which I did as a donation to the She Jumps community (In fact, I traded it for a week's accommodation in Salt Lake City and backcountry ski partners in the Wasatch range!) 


Schools    

This is information specifically about the UK market. Fees can vary wildly but may be as low as £50 and top-out in the high 100s. There are school speaker agencies and they tend to work with speakers who are getting around £6-700 (after the agency fee has been taken). 

Nigel Vardy profile.jpg
"I’m straight about money. This is what I cost, I’m not shy about it. If they’ve not got the funds, I’ve not got the time. I charge £600 a time for secondary schools, plus travel. I also work with some school speaking agencies. I am clear with them - this is my fee and I will work in Derbyshire and one surrounding county. ... They do put a percentage on top, it is up to them to do the negotiating.
I tend to get booked predominantly by private schools or academies, because they are the ones with the money."
- Nigel Vardy 'Mr Frostbite', UK mountaineer. Read our full adventurer profile of Nigel

Charities 

They are likely to want your talk for free, for the 'good of the cause'. However, large charities are as aware as any of the drawing power of a big-name speaker and they do pay full fee for speakers. 

It is always worth wondering if all other costs for the event are donated (they may be) or if the organiser is paying the full fee for the venue, catering, audio visual crew, etc and you, the speaker, are seen as the most likely candidate to work for free. 

A typical conference budget for 500 people and two days is on the order of $1.5M to $2.0M.  A keynote speaker as a line item in that budget is less than a coffee break.
— Nick Morgan, Communications Coach

Associations 

At the low end, local clubs and association chapters may pay in the low 100s. At a state level (thinking of the USA) they are paying speaker fees, but probably less than corporates - so low 1,000s. For national events, they are likely to pay the same fees as corporate clients. 


Corporates - where the money is

1. Jobbing Speakers

Earning £/€ 1,000 to 2,500 / $1,000 to 5,000.

They are probably doing their own marketing, getting by on referrals and on cold-calling prospective clients. 

2. Professional Motivational Speakers

Earning £/€ 2,500 to 10,00 / $5,000 to 15,000.

Most adventure speakers are in this category. They are likely to be getting roughly 50% from speaker bureaus (who take a cut of that fee - 20-33%) and 50% from referrals. They will need to be professional about both their marketing and their stage presentation. 

Most UK adventurers and outdoor athletes, unless they've just completed a major media-worthy project or are TV presenters, are probably earning £3-5,000 per speech. 

 Fee bands for UK adventurers, from the website of  JLA  (UK speaker bureau). 

Fee bands for UK adventurers, from the website of JLA (UK speaker bureau). 

We estimate that the average cost of a motivational speaker in the UK is between £2,000 – £20,000
— The Gordon Poole Agency (UK speaker bureau)
  UK adventurer Alex Staniforth.

UK adventurer Alex Staniforth.

UK adventurer Alex Staniforth has spoken to over 8,500 people in the last three years. Half his work is corporate, half for schools. He does barely any marketing. Three quarters of his talks come from word of mouth, or repeat business. He had approached The Chester Business Club for sponsorship (for an Everest expedition) and they offered to pay him for a speech instead. That speech helped him set his initial fee.
"When you’ve been paid that much for something… it changes the mindset. You’re offering a service, you’re delivering something that benefits people. Why shouldn’t you charge for it?...."
"It can feel uncomfortable. How can I be worth that much? But you have to get advice. You have to compare yourself to other people who are offering a similar thing."
[Read the full post Alex Staniforth - Using Talks to Fund Adventure.]

3. Nationally famous speakers

Earning five figures - 10,000 to 100,000

They may not be as good a speaker as a Pro Motivational Speaker but they are much better known. In this category will be Olympic athletes in mainstream sports, TV presenters, people caught up in a major international news story. 

If they take to speaking as a career, they may be able to keep going for decades after their first firestorm of fame, dropping down into the Professional Motivational Speaker category. 

UK adventure speaker Debra Searle burst onto the speaking scene off the back of a huge media story. From Wikipedia: "Searle and her then husband Andrew Veal entered the Ward Evans Atlantic Rowing Challenge, a 3,000-mile double –handed rowing race from Tenerife to Barbados. The challenge included building your own plywood boat from a flat pack kit. She had never rowed before signing up to row across the Atlantic.

There was significant media interest in the couple's entry, as they were the only male/female and husband/wife team out of the 36 teams taking part in the 2001–02 race. Media interest intensified when Andrew was forced to retire from the race suffering from uncontrollable anxiety. Debra continued on alone, arriving in Barbados after 111 days at sea.

Robert Hall from the BBC Six O'Clock News covered the story which was shown over two consecutive days. The Times Newspaper ran the story on their front cover for three consecutive days."

Talking about her experience of starting out as a speaker, Debra said "[At the time] I was earning very very little and to earn in one speech what you might have been earning annually as a wage, for me was very hard emotionally to come to terms with. I felt I didn’t deserve it... It took me quite a few years to get my head round the fact that this is the industry norm."

4. Internationally famous figures

Earning six figures, $100,000+

Barak Obama was allegedly paid $400,000 by Cantor Fitzgerald to speak at their Healthcare Conference in late 2017. In the years from 2001 through 2012, Bill Clinton made at least $104 million in speaking fees, according to The Washington Post.