As a chamber professional, you likely know the value to your members of bringing in speakers. But if you are a smaller chamber, or one with a very tight budget, hosting high-caliber speakers can seem like an impossibility.
Yet, we are a very enterprising group, aren’t we?
If you want to bring in speakers but are finding it difficult to do so within your current chamber budget, here are several ideas they can help you do more with less money without it being painfully obvious that that’s what you’re doing.
You Get What You Pay For: Negotiating a Lower Rate
The a-listers are often going to require several thousand dollars to make an appearance. However, there are other speakers that may be willing to work with you for a reduced fee.
This does not mean they are sub-par speakers. There are many reasons why a speaker who usually commands a much higher speaking fee may be willing to work with you.
Here are a couple you can explore:
- They may be in town for another speaking gig. If this is the case, you could save a lot compared to if they were only coming in for you. The first organization will likely be covering their travel expenses, so you’ll only have to pay them to speak. The downside of this is that their time will be limited and you may need to work around the other organization’s schedule.
- The speaker may be willing to reduce their fees if speaking to your group is important (or sentimental) to them. For instance, a parent or close friend could be a member of your organization or they may be returning to their hometown and want to give back in some way. Knowing the history of your speaker and or their connections may help you negotiate a lower rate.
- If you can offer them something they need they may be willing to negotiate a lower rate. For example, if you give them the ability to sell books or are willing to buy a certain number of books from them, they may be willing to negotiate a lower speaker fee. While in this case, you’re still paying from your budget, you may be able to take it out of a different line item if it’s professional development materials, which might make this sort of expense more doable for your chamber.
- Make your offering more appealing to the speaker. A speaker will appreciate a well-thought-out marketing plan for the event in which they are about to appear. Professional speakers need PR and if you’re able to show them exactly how you plan on getting it and what your connections are to local media and important businesses, this can have a profound effect on the fee negotiation. For example, if the speaker wants to break into the Fortune 1000 level and you’re able to show them how they will have several opportunities to speak with your CEOs, this may be a good career investment for them.
Those are just a few ways you can negotiate a lower rate with the speaker but they’re not 100%. Even with a negotiation you may need to raise additional funds to bring them in. Keep in mind if you’re trying to keep the cost down you’ll most likely want someone who is local. While speaker fees can get quite costly, travel expenses are even more, especially if that speaker has special requirements or is the type of speaker who is used to staying at the best hotels.
On very rare occasions, you may have a speaker who is willing to stay at a member’s home or business as a guest. A writer’s group I belong to brought in several New York editors this way. But this takes a special relationship to even be able to suggest they stay with you and your family. What may be more appropriate and more likely is that a member business in the hospitality industry offers a room or meals for free to help offset expenses.
Sell Speaker Sponsorships
This is the most straightforward way to bring in a speaker you can’t afford. There are tons of sponsorship opportunities surrounding a speaker. You can do this individually or have several businesses sponsor different parts of the speaker’s time with you.
These ideas include:
- “Presented by” opportunities. We’ve all seen these “brought to you by” branding experiences. If a local business wants to cover the speaker cost you can make sure their company branding is on the podium, the slides, and even the introduction given by you or the president of the board.
- Introductions. You can also “sell” the right to introduce your speaker and present them to the group. If you select this sponsorship, make sure you are clear to the person who does it what level of “salesiness” is allowed during their introduction. Are they allowed to mention their company name? Are they permitted to speak for a few minutes about what they do? Make sure you set expectations around what you think is appropriate and communicate those clearly ahead of time to avoid any misunderstandings.
A business can sponsor the program that will be given out at the event. In these cases, their name and branding will be on your brochure.
Just as it sounds, assuming you will feed people at your speaking event, a food sponsorship allows a business to cover the cost of your food. In those situations, you want to acknowledge their sponsorship with a card on the food table, a mention in the program or during the event, and possibly even allowing them to place brochures nearby.
Swag Bag Sponsorship
if this is a big event you’re hosting, you may want to offer attendees a swag bag. Businesses can pay you to place their information, coupons, or product samples in the bag. The bag itself could also be branded with the companies’ logos.
If the event lends itself to allowing for exhibitors you may want to consider asking local businesses to man booths or tables for sales and discovery opportunities. If you do this, its best the exhibitors fit the type of speaker that will be on hand. For instance, if you’re inviting a wellness speaker in you may want to open up the lobby to members who offer health and wellness services, creating a mini-wellness fair highlighted by the keynote speaker. Each exhibitor would pay for their spot and you can pay for the cost of the speaker through their contributions.
Keep one thing in mind when it comes to sponsorships. The cost of a sponsorship should never be the exact dollar amount of what it is that they’re paying for. For instance, if your coffee and breakfast service will run $500, the cost for the food sponsorship should not be $500. You want to tack on an additional branding fee (although don’t advertise that). It may only be an extra hundred dollars but it should never be an exact cost of what you are going to pay for it. This “cushion” can help defray (or pay) for your speaker.
Some chambers want to avoid using sponsorship money for speakers because they have other events they’re trying to get sponsored and they don’t want to compete with them. In these cases, you could institute a small learning fee in the chamber dues. If you collected a small amount from everyone you would have money to bring in speakers.
If you don’t want everyone to pay for something that they may not be taking advantage of, you can increase what it costs for members to attend the special presentations and use that to pay for the speakers. However, if you choose to do this you need to make sure that you sell a certain amount of tickets to cover the speaker fee. So only select this option to fund the speaker when you are sure you will sell enough tickets.
Get Creative with Your Budget
If you have the opportunity to bring in an amazing speaker but are lacking funds, take a look at your event budget. There may be other events you have planned that you can cut back on in order to pay for this one-time speaker. If you’ve been considering reworking an event anyway this may give you the incentive to do so. For instance, if your member appreciation dinner is a sit-down affair you may want to consider changing a venue or type of food served. Trim costs from that budgeted event and use that additional money to fund your speaker.
Co-host the Event
If your speaker is a sought-after professional, there may be another organization in town that would be interested in bringing them in as well. In that case, you can co-host an event and share the expenses. You can also co-host the event and share the sponsorships so that you are not asking all of your members to foot the bill and they’re not asking all of theirs to sponsor either.
A good speaker can make for an amazing event. Bringing in someone who adds value to your membership allows you to offer something they likely can’t do on their own. Keep in mind that if it’s the type of speaker they would have paid to go to a conference to see, bringing them in and allowing your members to learn from them without having to pay for an expensive conference can be incredibly valuable to attendees. Saving the cost of a conference and travel could cover the cost of chamber membership dues.
Professional development is incredibly important these days and yet many of us don’t have the time or money to attend conferences. If you’re able to even partially help with professional development for your members it can be invaluable.