Advice for Speakers and Presenters: 7 Ways to Turn a Free Gig Into a Financial Windfall

You’ve been asked to speak for an audience. However, the event organizer or meeting planner tells you they can’t pay you. Your heart sinks knowing that speaking for free will cost you in the long run. You think of all the expenses you’ll incur – gas, parking, photocopying materials, babysitter – and speaking for free means you won’t be reimbursed for these incidental costs.

Although a free gig can eat into your bottom line, you don’t need to refuse it altogether. If you’re still building your expertise, free gigs can help you to refine your message and try out new concepts on an eager audience.

The only way you can make money if you’re speaking for free, is to sell something. You just have to. Otherwise, known as back of the room (BOR) sales, here are some tips for ensuring that you rake in the cash even if you’re speaking for free.

Develop an information product that relates to your speech. You can sell a special report, a CD or a booklet that contains detailed information from your speech. For example, I do a speech called 7 Brainless Networking Techniques to Avoid. After my speech, I encourage attendees to buy my ebook on CD called Schmooze Your Way to Success for further reading and research. Even if you don’t have an ebook or physical book to sell, there are ton of information products you can develop. Here are some ideas:
Photocopies of a 10-page special report
An audio CD containing a teleclass you led
A data CD containing a collection of reports, articles or an ebook
A booklet with dozens of tips
A DVD with a training session you did for another group
Sell something that people can take away with them. People want to buy something that they can hold in their hands and walk out the door with. Coaching sessions, digital downloads and other intangible products may be a tougher sell since people can’t hold or touch it. Opt to sell a CD, a booklet or a book instead.
Ensure that your product is inexpensively priced. If it’s too expensive, attendees won’t buy. If it’s too cheap, attendees will ignore it. Anything priced between $10 to $20 is appropriate for BOR sales.
Accepting credit cards is a must. People are impulse buyers, especially at special events. If there’s a rush to the table to buy your product and you only accept cash, you will miss out on potential business. At least 45% of my BOR sales are through credit cards. Many credit card processing companies can set you up with a telephone call-in service within 2-weeks. You collect the credit card number at the event, then you call-in later from your home or cell phone to authorize it. Simple as pie.
Mention your product at the end of your speech. Never, ever, mention your product throughout your presentation. This will turn people off. It’s tasteless to introduce a concept in your speech, and then say, “You can find a more detailed, step-by-step process in my ebook.” Instead, graciously give attendees 45-minutes worth of useful information, then at the very end, after the Q&A, pitch a 2-minute commercial for your product.
Try to videotape or audiotape your presentation. You always want to improve on your speech and being able to review it later is always helpful. Hire a videographer to tape your presentation. If you can’t find one, record your presentation using an audio recording device. Capturing a recording of your speech will do 2 things:
You can evaluate the audience’s reaction to your sales pitch. If sales were low, you can tweak it. Or, if sales were high, you can duplicate what you said word for word at other speaking engagements.
If your speech was amazing, you can package the video or audio and sell it at your next speaking engagement. Imagine how grateful your audience will feel knowing they don’t have to take notes because they can purchase your presentation and review it at their leisure.
Remember to ask if you can make sales. Before saying yes to a free gig, always get the permission from the meeting planner or event organizer for BOR sales. Most times, they will say yes to your request. In the odd event that they say no, tell them you’ll donate a portion of sales to their group. This should win them over. If the meeting planner or event organizer still refuses your request for BOR sales, you may want to rethink doing a free gig for them.
Free speaking engagements can cost you big, but not if you incorporate BOR sales into your strategy. Follow the tips above and you’ll gleefully say yes to a free gig knowing that you’ll be able to cover your costs with the product sales you’ll make at the event.