Hiring A Professional Speaker Jargon Buster Part 1: Words A-M

James Fowler - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, ME. Image by kris krüg.

Professional speakers. Those two words strike fear in some hearts and send some people screaming. Others read it and question what classifies a professional speaker.

Securing and hiring professional speakers can be a daunting task for some. Working with a speakers bureau or agent can feel like navigating a minefield, especially if you are new to the process.

Hiring A Professional Speaker Jargon Primer: Words A-M


The person who finds opportunities for the speaker or entertainer and often manages their calendar.

Autograph Signing

If you are securing a household name speaker, always request an autograph signing. Consider contracting a one-hour book or photo autograph signing after the presentation for the marquee name. It’s best to include this in your contract in case you want to offer a special meet-n-greet with VIPs, sponsors, award recipients or the Board. It’s eaiser to cancel than make it a contract addition after the contract is signed. And don’t forget to bring the permanent markers – Sharpies!

Book Sales

Some speakers will reduce their fees if the hosting organization buys a specific number of books or allows the speaker to sell the book at the end of the presentation. This is a tough decision for those that promise a “Sales-Free Zone.”

Cancellation Clause

Stipulation in a contract that allows a buyer or seller to cancel the contract in the event of a certain specified occurrence. Read these carefully. The higher the speaker or entertainer’s fee, the more likely their cancellation clause gives them the right to cancel within 24-72 hours without due cause. Negotiate this clause if it is not in your favor. If the speaker does cancel, will they reschedule for a future event or will the bureau find a replacement that is equal or better than the original speaker? Ask your agent or bureau rep before signing the contract.


The means the speaker is exclusive with a specific bureau or agent. All contracts must go through that agency even if you are using another bureau to hire the speaker. An important question to ask your account executive or agent is, “Is this professional exclusive with a bureau or agency?” If the answer is yes, ask, “What are you doing to protect our interests if the speaker cancels for any reason?” Usually, you’ll do a contract with the bureau you are working with and they will contract with the exclusive bureau. You typically don’t get to see the bureau’s contract with the exclusive agency.

Firm Offer

If you are trying to secure a headliner or famous person and are offering less than their going rate, the agent or bureau will request a firm offer from you. You’ll have to prepare a specific offer with all of your requests. This firm offer will serve just like a contract so treat it as so. Ask the bureau if they have a template they can give you to use as a guide. Some bureaus will move firm offers to official contracts.


A handler is a member of the team that supports the speaker or entertainer especially as they travel. Always ask if the speaker has a handler that travels with them and if you are expected to cover the handler’s travel, lodging and expenses. 


The speaker’s fee includes travel, lodging and expenses


Include any expected speaker interviews in your contract, especially if you are securing a marquee name. Consider if your organization’s magazine editors want to have an exclusive interview with the famous person. Think about including a statement that the speaker will do at least two interviews with publications of the organization’s choice.

Is Their Fee Negotiable?

Make this question your friend. You should always ask the bureau or agent the following questions: Can you tell me how much the speaker was paid for their last three presentations? Is their fee negotiable? Here is how much I have in my budget for the speaker, can you take them this offer? Some speakers tell their agents to bring all offers to them. Marquee names may negotiate but the negotiation process can take weeks.


When you are securing a headliner or famous person, include in the contract a pre-presentation meet-n-greet. This private invitation only event can be used as an incentive to sponsors, VIPs, companies that bring ten or more registrants, etc. Consider a 30- or 45- minute informal meet-n-greet with breakfast or lunch where participants can get their photos with the speaker or entertainer. Also consider a post-presentation and autograph signing meet-n-greet.

Multiple Gigs

Often speakers will offer a discount for securing multiple gigs in one contract. Think ahead, can you use the speaker at several different events? Multiple gigs are one way to build buzz, create a following and get the most from your budget and the speaker. Consider having the speaker present a different presentation in each situation. Note: If you are hiring a speaker for multiple gigs, consider adding a clause in the contract that if the speaker scores below an 85% favorable (or some similar number), the remainder of the contract is null and void.

Up next: Hiring A Professional Speaker Jargon Buster Part 2: Words N-Z.

For information about speaker’s fee read: Cheat Sheet For Hiring And Paying Professional Speakers.

What other words would you include in this hiring professional speaker jargon list? What questions do you have about hiring professional speakers?

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  2. Greg Ruby says:

    Your recent posts on speakers have been excellent reads (as all your writings usually are) and hit the nail home about associations trying to get a big bang for a minimal outlay.

    I heartily recommend that you work these posts together into a presentation for the association crowd. I would consider it a “must attend” for anyone involved with selecting speakers.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll definitely consider your recommendation.

  3. Mike Taubleb says:

    An important consideration for the speaker is the opportunity cost of working for free or low fee at your event. Between the travel to and from, plus the day there, it’s really a 2 day commitment – along with preparation. They may lose the opportunity for a better paying engagement that comes along for the same time window.

    Talking to many speakers about free engagements, I’ve found the promised paying spinoffs don’t arise nearly as often as promised. If an event organizer doesn’t have the budget to pay a pro, it often means they are not attracting the kind of senior decision makers execs who can 1) afford a higher cost event and 2) are in a position to pay a speaker.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m with you that promised spinoffs don’t always arise as much as promised. Your thoughts about budget is an interesting one too. No budget for speakers shows where the emphasis is by the conference organizers.

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