Paid Speaking versus Platform Speaking


If you want to know how to use public speaking to grow your business, here’s an important distinction to understand. In the meetings industry there are two types of speakers: Paid Speakers and Platform Speakers. So what’s the difference? Let’s take a look.

Platform speakers don’t get paid to speak but sometimes promote something or are wanting to share an important message.  In other words, for all their efforts to prepare and deliver the speech, the meeting planner allows them to talk about an idea that’s important to them, a product, service or opportunity that the audience might want to buy into. Of course, if you host a free event yourself then you are the “meeting planner”.

Approximately 90% of speakers in the meetings industry are platform speakers. These kinds of speakers might be simply giving back to their association, doing a pro bono for a charity organization, sharing an idea worth spreading like in a TEDx talk, promoting the company they work for, enrolling a coaching program, selling tickets to an upcoming event or registering people for an online program, and more.

Generally, paid speakers are paid to speak and don’t sell anything (except perhaps a book) during their presentations. They might be a keynote speaker, a breakout session speaker, a trainer, a facilitator, online presenter or an after dinner speaker.

Platform Speakers

The reason the vast majority of speakers are platform speakers is because there are no barriers to entry. Anyone can do it. And because of that, the quality level can vary. By contrast, there are huge barriers to entry for paid speakers. For someone to pay you $5,000 or $10,000 to speak at an event, you have to have an excellent track record, be well vetted, and be draw for people to attend the event.

A common question I get from platform speakers is “How can I get paid in to speak?” in hopes of making more income. Now even though earning $5,000 per speech sounds like a lot of money, good platform speakers can make far more. For example, platform speakers such as Tony Robbins, Suze Orman or Mark Victor Hansen will earn 100x more per speech because of the programs they sell on the back end of their speech.  Alternatively, they endorse others and earn a commission.

Here are examples of Platform Speaking opportunities my private coaching clients have had.

  1. An image consultant spoke at a women’s entrepreneurial event for 20 minutes for free and ended up getting 23 women on her list to receive tips on how to dress for success. Three of them ended up becoming clients which meant $15,000 income.
  2. An expert in personality testing gave a breakout session at a safety conference which led to $33,000 in consulting fees.
  3. A leadership expert actually paid $45,000 to speak on the same stage as a few celebrity speakers like Tony Robbins. His audience was over 11,000 people. Six percent of the audience bought his $1497 program which came to just under $1 million dollars in income. He had to give 50% of his earnings to the meeting planner, so he took home about $500,000. Not bad for a 90 minute talk.

I’ve also had coaching clients who’ve sold nothing. They’ve put in all that effort, traveled to the venue, put their heart, soul and pocketbook on the line and have come back empty handed. In some cases, they made  just enough to cover a hotel room for one night. That’s the risk with Platform Speaking.

The other great thing about Platform Speaking is that you can make a longer lasting difference for people. No matter how great a speaker you are, a 90 minute talk is not going to change people’s lives. It will only create awareness. For real change to occur, people usually need on-going support in the form of coaching, educational programs, a workshop series, mentoring, or being part of community of people helping to move them forward. Offering a deeper dive for people who are interested is a great service to your audience. How many times have you heard a speaker and wanted more from them, but they had nothing else to offer? Audience members appreciate speakers who have created longer term, high quality education or products or support for them to really get lasting change.

In summary, here are the pros and cons of Platform Speaking.

The PROS are:

  • lower barrier to entry
  • more opportunities to speak
  • an opportunity to make far more income than from paid speaking
  • the chance to make a bigger difference for your listeners

The CONS are:

  • you must create something of value to sell to your audience
  • you risk putting in all that effort, time and money to speak for possibly little or no return
  • you need to learn how to effectively sell from the stage with integrity (or you can turn people off)
  • there is generally less respect for platform speakers because people who do it badly give it bad name

I try to help people with in my Coaching Programs to become top paid or platform speakers because I’ve been successful at both. During this coaching program, I help you truly understand your audience needs, create a speech that both provides value for those who don’t buy, but also sells to those who want more. In addition, you get help to find speaking engagements in front of ideal audience members. Then I help you write and rehearse your speech, and act as your performance coach to ensure you “hit it out of the park” when you get that golden opportunity.

Paid Speakers

Paid speakers only make up about 10% of speakers on the circuit. Event planners are willing to pay a speaker for one or two reasons:

#1 is your ability to deliver a message that will stick with people for days or even weeks to come

#2 is to drive registration

If you have celebrity status in your niche this helps a lot. For example, Bill Clinton once got paid $200,000 to speak back in the 1990’s. And Donald Trump once got $1 million to speak at a real estate event.  The event organizers will pay that kind of money because it drives registration. People attend the event just to hear them speak, and so ideally the costs are covered. Other kinds of celebrity speakers are Olympic Medalists, TV or Movie stars, Nobel Prize Winners, Bestselling Authors, CEOs of big companies, politicians, industry mavericks, etc.

If you are good at #1 above, then fees range from $100 to $7500. If you wish to make $10,000 or more as a paid speaker, you have to have celebrity status, even if it’s just in a certain industry. Here are ways to become a celebrity in your niche. Become a sought after advisor to people in your industry through blog posts, books, YouTube videos, or getting mentioned in news reports as an expert. Generally, however, unless you establish huge celebrity cache, it will be difficult to earn as much as a top platform speaker does.

In summary, here are the pros and cons of Paid Speaking.

The PROS are:

  • no need to invest in something to of value to upsell to your audience
  • you have assured income for all that effort, time and money you invest to be a good speaker
  • no need to learn how to sell from the stage
  • you are often given more respect as a paid speaker

The CONS are:

  • higher barrier to entry
  • less opportunities to speak
  • less income potential
  • you are exchanging time for money, so it’s like a job (you can only take so many gigs a year)
  • you can only create awareness in your listeners versus a longer lasting difference
  • you need to be out on the road much more often (which could be a pro or a con)

I did paid speaking only for 13 years and it meant doing a minimum of 40 engagements a year to cover by business expenses and income needs, and sometimes went up to 100 a year. Many of those engagements meant getting on a plane and being away from home many days or weeks per month. It felt glamorous at first, but then the cost to that lifestyle started to take it’s toll. It can affect your family life, friendships, extra curricular activities, and health.

I now do both platform and paid speaking and now both online and offline, so that I can stay home and still be delivering my expertise. I think all speakers should learn to do both paid and platform and do both live and online speaking, because the more diversified you are as a speaker the more on-going income you will have. Periodically the meetings industry takes a nosedive economically, and that leaves a lot of paid speakers high and dry. If you also have passive income products and other streams of income, you can get through the downtimes. I’ve been in the industry since 1988 and I’ve seen it bust and boom many times over.


Want to learn how to get speaking engagements? This is for either paid or platform speakers.

Check out my FREE webinar entitled, “How to Get LUCRATIVE Speaking Engagements


What have I forgotten? Do you do platform or paid speaking or both? Why did you choose one over the other? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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