Getting Paid What You Are Worth (Guest Post by Stephen Shapiro)

Note from Jane:  Although he was a client, I can take very little credit for Steve Shapiro’s success.  He’s a top paid speaker and a true expert of our industry.  Because this month’s unofficial theme has been around the Wealthy Speaker Mindset, it’s a perfect time to talk about Getting Paid What you are Worth.

Guest Post by Stephen Shapiro

One week after starting my speaking business nearly 15 years ago, I met with the owner of a speaker’s bureau in London, UK to discuss representation. In the meeting he expressed serious interest. So much so that a few days later he called me about a potential gig.

The call came to my mobile phone and he was difficult to hear due to a poor connection.  However, I heard him ask,  “What is your speaking fee?” I was not prepared for this question. I did a quick calculation in my head and pulled a number out of the air. “Thirty Five Hundred” was my response. He thanked me and hung up.

Later that day he called back. He too had a hard time hearing me during our previous conversation, because he asked me, “Was that Thirty Five THOUSAND dollars or Thirty Five THOUSAND pounds (at the time about $60,000)?”

I stumbled for a moment, debating how to answer. I then sheepishly responded, “Thirty Five HUNDRED DOLLARS.” Again, he thanked me and hung up.

I spoke with him a few weeks later and learned I was not hired. I asked him why. He told me, “When you said your fee was $3,500, I realized you were not the caliber of speaker I thought you were.” The person he hired received $35,000!

I learned a powerful lesson that day.

[Tweet “Your price often determines the PERCEPTION of your credibility. “]

Underpricing can often imply low value.

So, what do people actually value? I did an experiment a dozen years back to find out. I called it PW3 – “Pay What We’re Worth.”

In determining the fees paid to a professional speaker, traditionally the speaker sets the rate before the work is done.

With PW3, as an experiment, I turned this model upside down. Instead of quoting a standard rate, the client would determine my fee after the work was done.

The plan was to send the client a blank invoice after I gave a speech, and they would pay “what they thought I was worth.”

The only stipulation was that we would have a conversation about value up front. I wanted to learn the value they received from previous speakers. How were the concepts reinforced after the presentation? How were ideas implemented? How was value measured?

Companies were unable to define value, at least in terms of tangible results. In fact, in nearly every situation, when I asked them how they would determine what to pay me after an event, they said, “Um, I guess we’ll pay you what we paid the last speaker.” In fact, with 90 percent of my speeches, the client asked me for my standard fee and just paid that.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you raise your fees. And I’m definitely not implying that high fees drive sales. Your best sales tool is your ability to consistently deliver high quality presentation that is memorable, distinctive, engaging, and valuable. However, if you have an “epic” speech, make sure you charge enough so that you are properly valued.

Or as Oscar Wilde once said, “a cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” Using this definition, most buyers are cynics. When you recognize this, you can get paid what you are worth.

Stephen Shapiro is known as The Innovation Instigator. After a 15-year tenure leading a 20,000-person innovation practice at Accenture, in 2001 he launched his professional speaking career. He has presented his counter-intuitive perspectives on innovation to audiences in 45 countries. His latest book, “Best Practices Are Stupid,” named the best innovation book of 2011.

Please share your thoughts on getting paid what you are worth.

See you soon Wealthy Speakers!

PS: Our Masters Platinum program (for seasoned speakers) is just about sold out. (3 Spots Left). Check out our class starting March 27th-29th with a retreat in Atlanta and drop me a line!


  • Great post….I am working through the “what are your fees?” process right now and the post came at a very important time for me. Thanks Jane for sharing Stephen. I continue to promote your business because simply put Jane, you are the best at creating wealthy speakers. xoxo (Nice Guys Finish First)

    • Jane

      Thanks Doug, so very kind of you!!!

  • Great article. Truly true.
    Our fees are ours to state. Clients just believe that you are worth what you quote. It actually helps filter what kind of work you get. Great stuff

    • Jane

      Saying it with conviction (and not that inner voice that says “they’ll never pay you that much” is a big key as well Soloman. Thanks for your comment! I always think when quoting my price “geez, I can’t believe I am this cheap… they are getting a GREAT deal!”

  • Hi everyone. I absolutely agree that I am not paid what I am worth, no doubt about it. My comments are not cynical or sour grapes but in a recent conversation with a speakers bureau friend, his direct quote was…”I know you are worth more but I have a problem convincing potential clients”. If my name is unfamiliar (not to Jane), I have no arms but even though I am in the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, I am challenged to shake the “label” of handicapped speaker! It is frustrating because I must also pay the bills. Fee setting is the biggest challenge of my life so thanks for letting me vent. And by the way, I support all speakers who get what they’re worth!

    • Jane

      Yes, yes, yes. I also support EVERYONE getting paid what they are worth.

  • Jim

    Here! Here! I’m totally on board with this and am remaking my fee structure. I’m worth it :-)!

  • I, too, appreciate advice like this very much, but I never hear any distinction between markets. I work within the education market and with nonprofits, etc. There’s is no way they would ever have the budget to pay a speaker $35,000, yet I want to make as much as I’m worth within the boundaries of what they can pay. The problem is, that is often very little. Yes, I know, I could drop these markets, but they are always grateful for the services I provide.

    • Jane

      I hear what you are saying Teresa, it’s true that some markets will not be able to pay these types of fees. It’s all relative. People tell me all the time that education will “never” pay $7,500. Yet, I know there are speakers in education commanding those fees. The goal is for you to feel good at the end of the exchange.