AS WE CONTINUE to experience a lagging economy in which meetings are postponed, canceled, or scaled back, planners and speakers bureaus are working together to reduce the costs of providing great speakers.

While certain ideas — or myths — for negotiating speaker fees and reducing expenses sound good in theory, what planners consider to be an incentive and what actually persuades a professional speaker to accept a date are not always one and the same. What follows are several money-saving ideas planners have asked me about over the last year, accompanied by the realities involved and a few effective solutions.


Our incentive meeting is on a cruise and we will provide an all-expenses-paid trip for the speaker to join us for the entire week. In return, we would like him to reduce his honorarium.

Reality: In this economy, speakers cannot afford to take themselves out of the circuit for a week. Each day on your ship is a day they must forgo another fee for speaking.

Better idea: Arrange to have the speaker open your conference before the ship leaves port. Some ships may even allow you to have a speaker get on and off a ship mid-trip, but with security measures imposed post-9/11, this is typically not the case.


We are having back-to-back incentive programs at a world-class resort and we would like the speaker to be the opening keynoter for both meetings. Since the second group comes in five days after the first group arrives, we will pay all expenses for the speaker to spend the week with us and he can enjoy a wonderful vacation for free.

Reality: A true vacation for a speaker is the luxury of staying home for a few days, so this offer is more of a deterrent than an incentive. As in myth #1, the speaker's time is money and the speaker may even charge a hefty surcharge in addition to the normal fee and expenses if he is required to spend the week.

Better idea: Why not have the same speaker be the closing keynote at one meeting and the opening speaker for the second? Not only will this reduce the amount you pay for expenses, it may also reduce the speaker's honorarium since speakers will often offer a discount for booking back-to-back keynotes over two days.


We expect our speaker to reduce her fee significantly since we are pre-purchasing 300 of her books as gifts for our attendees.

Reality: Even though you will get a discount on books purchased in quantity, very often book sales are a money-maker for the publisher only and not the speaker directly.

Better idea: Tell the speaker you have pre-purchased books and see if she will agree to stay for 45 to 60 minutes after the presentation to do a book signing and/or a photo opportunity at no additional cost.


We will provide the speaker with zone airfare tickets or free tickets, but he must book through our travel agency.

Reality: Speakers' schedules change because of last-minute bookings and unforeseen events. Most speakers book their tickets with little advance notice and they often fly directly from one booking to another — but zone fares and free tickets require advance booking, nonrefundable tickets, and round-trip travel.

Better idea: Ask your speakers bureau to negotiate a flat travel fee or ask if the speaker will pro-rate the airfare between all groups whose meetings are before and after yours.

Ruth Levine is founder of Speak Inc., an interactive speakers bureau based in San Diego with offices in Chicago and Kansas City. She can be reached at (858) 457-9880 or by e-mail at To view speaker demo videos online, visit