Should You Pay to Speak at a CLE?

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CLE attendees generally assume speakers are paid. That is not often the case. Most CLE speakers do it for free. Some speakers may even be asked to pay for the “privilege” of speaking.

The idea may strike a nerve. Especially when the host is charging attendees, why would the host ask a speaker to pay?

Why Speakers Speak

For a lot of CLE speakers, the reasons they speak come down to three:

  1. Building their resume. Speaking at different CLEs is a great reputation builder. It demonstrates expertise in a particular field. If lawyers are looking to build up their CVs or Avvo profiles, this is a good way to do it.
  2. Enjoyment. Speakers on a given topic may not be looking for prestige, but they speak because they are genuinely interested in their topic and want to share their knowledge. You have probably been to the CLE where the speaker is enthusiastically talking about some niche thing while you try to stay awake.
  3. Money. Events can also pay. Not every speaking gig will pay, but after speaking at enough events and doing a good job, you might become a sought-after speaker. Getting recognition for speaking at CLEs and events can lead to keynote speaking gigs. Or a host may fly in a speaker for a particular conference or event.

For a speaker who is looking to become recognized in their practice area, CLEs are a great opportunity.

When Do Speakers Get Paid?

Many CLEs and events do not pay speakers. The exceptions are (sometimes) nationally-known speakers, “experts” in a particular field with significant recognition, and keynote speakers at conferences.

Most other speaking gigs, including your typical bar association CLEs, do not pay the speakers.

Why Would a Speaker Pay to Present?

Since there are several organizations that do ask speakers to pay, some have presumably paid for the privilege of speaking.

One reason providers charge speakers is because they get access to a fresh audience. The host is trying to sell the speaking gig as more of a sponsorship. The thought being that if you are good at your sales pitch and are facing an audience full of potential clients and referral sources, you should be able to get a few paying clients from the gig. That would make the price of speaking worthwhile. Where speaking is viewed at as an advertisement for your business, a speaker’s fee may seem reasonable.

Sometimes, it may be tempting. If you are expecting a certain number of attendees with a particular level of interest in your service coming to an event, it could easily pay for itself and then some. If you would be willing to pay money for a new client as a referral fee, why not for a speaking gig?

Why Speakers Should Not Pay

The idea of paying for a speaking gig is, well, a bit offensive. Especially when the host is already profiting from attendees, which is essentially double-dipping because the speaker gets paid by the audience and the speaker. The audience gets information and CLE credits. The speaker just gets a bill.

When it comes down to it, you are doing your host a favor by helping them fill their programming and educating their audience. Preparing a speech and supplemental handouts takes considerable time and effort to put together. And the actual speaking gig itself is time that could otherwise be spent billing paying clients.

Plus, if you have any reputation at all, agreeing to speak may actually help your host sell tickets. Your knowledge and reputation are getting your host paid.

Moreover, new business from a speaking gig is hardly a sure thing. The demographic make-up is never guaranteed to be a good fit. Your audience may just be looking for an education (or CLE credits). The audience does not necessarily want to pay for your advice or refer clients your way.

If you are the type of speaker that leverages presentations to get new business, paying to speak may be worth it. But either on principle or after a cost-benefit analysis, it you might want to look for other speaking gigs.

Featured image: “Motivational Speaker Talking To Businesspeople In Boardroom” from Shutterstock.

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  • Astraea_Muse

    I consider any conference where the speakers paid to be presenting to be “advertising” and thus not something I would consider attending. And I usually do ask, before I sign up for a conference.

    I had a meetup recently tell me that if I want to present to their members on a relevant topic in which I have expertise, I would have to pay them for it. I was boggled (and no, I didn’t present. I left the group.)

  • Wow. We’re actually figuring out ways to pay for speakers to record CLE video for us in practice areas and geographies that we don’t have a presence. I knew most speakers at CLE were not paid, but I didn’t know there were providers that charged speakers for the privilege.

    Interesting take on considering it advertising, too.