Economic recovery or not, it seems that meeting planners will always be being asked to do more with less. This makes program planning especially challenging when booking professional speakers for your meetings, considering that professional speakers have been the rare breed that has continued to raise fees amidst an uncertain economy.

So what do you do when you discover that the speaker you considered last year for $10,000 is now $12,000 and to make matters worse, your budget has been cut to $8,000? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Hire a speaker who can multitask

    Suppose you need a keynote, a moderator, an emcee, and an awards host for your meeting, and you have a budget for each. Why not hire a talented speaker who can do two or even all of the jobs? Not only will booking one professional help you save on expenses, but many speakers' full-day fees are not much more than their standard keynote fees.

  2. Piggyback Your Bookings

    Call your convention services manager to get the names of other in-house groups who will be at your hotel on overlapping dates and call to see what speakers they've booked. The cost of a well-known speaker can often double after adding expenses such as airfare, hotel, ground transportation, and meals. Other than booking a speaker who lives in the same city as your meeting, another way to avoid paying travel expenses is to do a “piggyback booking” and book a speaker whose expenses are already contractually covered by another company. In certain instances, splitting these expenses may be the ethical way to go, but even this will be half of what you would normally pay for expenses. (For a virtual speaker showcase that lists which speakers are speaking where, visit

  3. Sell Speakers' Products

    Allow your speaker to sell books and training materials on-site following the speakers' program. The majority of a speaker's income often comes from product sales versus speaking fees. Your speaker may have just released a new book or he or she may have comprehensive training programs to sell on CD or tape. Speakers are often willing to reduce their fee in exchange for a contractual promise to sell their products. This is often a double win in that meeting attendees often jump at the chance to purchase books or tapes that are written by a speaker who has just inspired them and motivated them to learn more.

  4. Book Tomorrow's Speakers at Today's Prices

    It's a given that speakers in high demand for the medical and pharmaceutical meetings market typically raise their fees annually. Many fee increases occur on January 1 of each year. If a speaker has not raised fees in a number of years, that may be an indication of his or her popularity, but it also can indicate that the speaker will not bring your attendees to their feet. But one way to save money on a popular speaker is to book a year in advance of your meeting, thereby contractually securing the current fee. Since some of the most popular speakers on the medical and pharmaceutical platform have raised their fees by 50 percent in the last five years, booking in advance allows you to secure tomorrow's speakers at today's prices.

While your budget for speakers may not increase down the road, these ideas provide some strategies for booking the speaker you want now regardless of your budget.

Ruth Levine, founder of Speak Inc., an international speakers bureau based in San Diego, works with pharma firms and medical associations. Contact her at (858) 457-9880 or