Let’s get one thing straight: almost everyone who plans an event that features one or more speakers starts out assuming they have no budget. That’s patently untrue. Your actual investment is enormous.
Of course you have a budget. The first thing event organizers put on their budget is their own time. Whether you’re planning a mixer, a conference, a lunch-and-learn, or a seminar series, you’re blocking out hours and hours of your life to make the event actually happen.
Even if you don’t expect to spend a single real dollar on the event, your time is of incredible value. So before you work on a budget for your program, start working on adding up the total results that you want for your audience.
The Value for Attendees
Since you’ve already figured out the size of your audience, it should be fairly straightforward to figure out the value for each person. Just compare it to other ways they might spend their time.
If your speaker is provides mostly entertainment, you might consider the cost to see a movie: perhaps $10 per show.
If your speaker is provides mostly education, you might consider the effective cost of an hour of college education: about $50 per hour.
If your speaker helps to facilitate a conversation, you might consider how much individuals have to gain from increased productivity or output. If they manage to save an hour sometime in the next month from what they learned, it’s worth at least their hourly wage–perhaps $10, $20 or $30. If they manage to save an hour every month for the rest of the year, consider a number ten times that.
Multiply that by the size of your audience and you’ve got a good ballpark estimate for what you should spend on your event.
Facilities, Amenities, Experience
There are three main categories of expenses incurred at a program: the facilities (physical space, décor, insurance, security, personnel), amenities (food, drinks, print collateral, promotional items) and experience (speakers, entertainment). There’s also the work you do to make the event happen (promotion, registration) and incidentals (travel, lodging), but these may not apply in your case.
It’s possible to get any of these items at no direct cost. A restaurant might be willing to donate some snacks in exchange for promotion. A company might offer up a conference space to help make the business community aware of what they have to offer. And certainly, there are speakers who waive their fees.
Ultimately, though, you get what you pay for. So we encourage you to try and pay a little bit for everything in order to create the best results for your audience.
Trading Time for Money
If all of this sounds expensive, remember that most event planners spend most of their budget by using up their own time. You can do your own promotion, you can even cook instead of catering. But if you’re going to spend a dozen or a hundred hours on the event, why not talk to an expert?
That may the be the most important lesson when hiring a speaker: talk to a speaker first to see what parts of the event you should be handling yourself.