Public speaking hacks: 6 things to do when you’re told there’s no budget

Think Natalia - Public speaking - no budgetDid you just recently start a public speaking career? Do you still need a hand full of great brands in your portfolio before you will feel convenient with charging for your speaking gigs? Or do companies still approach you for keynotes when “there is no budget“?


Dr. Josh Luke and Dr. des. Natalia Wiechowski – let’s change to we – we decided to create the following powerful guide that will help you making the most out of unpaid speaking gigs. Three of the below mentioned strategies even have the potential to change the game and bring in some money…


Public speaking hacks / Background info


Who are we to write such an article? We are two public speakers, academics and successful writers who found their passion in edutaining people. We love sharing our knowledge, highly valuable insights and empowering people.


Each of us found that part of being an effective public speaker is creating a strong personal brand on LinkedIn. And that’s actually how we found each other – through mutual admiration of the others ability to effectively establish our brand.


“And after comparing notes, we realized that each of these six tactics holds true on both sides of the globe!”


In the beginning of our careers – and even sometimes today – some companies approach(ed) us with requirements that make us frown. An example:


We need a pro bono keynote speaker for our next conference. More details: A 2 hour, interactive session on the topic x. Audience: 200 top level CEOs from international companies. Venue: The luxurious x hotel.”


And now? Dig deeper!


Obviously there is enough budget to book the ballroom of one of the most expensive venues in town; and to invite 200 c-level executives. But there is no budget for a two-hour educational session. Interesting…


The first tactic when receiving an inquiry is always to find out as much information about the event as possible. For example: Ask


  • Who the event host is
  • How many years the event has been hosted
  • Who prior speakers have been
  • How many attendees traditionally attend and who are they,
  • What is the fee to attend and do they have exhibitors, sponsors or an expo room at the event?


When all of these answers have been provided, it is much easier to assess the likely cash flow needed to host the event and start formulating a strategy on how to include yourself as the keynote speaker and still be paid a premium! 


In some circumstances the organiser may in fact be a non-profit or it may be a new event with no existing budget. So how can you help the organizer brainstorm ways to raise the funds to include you in the event? You know what? Let us start from the beginning…


  1. Talk about the objective


Some event organizers must believe that public speakers get paid for their time. That might be true for below-average consultants who primarily focus on selling their below-average services during their speeches. But it is not true for great keynote speakers who have outstanding knowledge and experiences to share.


Impactful public speakers don’t need to sell anything. Their story, authentic character and content is their sales pitch. These speakers get paid for the transformation they initiate in their audiences: Some individuals quit their jobs to follow their calling, some people stop eating junk food. This is the change and value such speakers deliver – and we assume for this article that you are one of those. 🙂


By talking about the objective of your speech and the benefits the audience could gain from attending your session, you might be able to convince the event organizer to double-check if there really “isn’t a budget” for your session.


  1. Trade in your book


If the just-mentioned strategy did not work, ask your dialogue partner if he would be interested in providing every participant with a copy of your self-published book. The event organizer will cover shipping and acquisition costs and his audience will receive a nice memory of the evening, which they can take home.


The benefits of this approach? 200 people will have received your contact details. If they liked your speech and want to hire you as a trainer or speaker for their next event, they know your name and where to find you. Trading in your book is a great way for generating promising leads.


  1. What about a sponsor?


Another powerful strategy: Ask if the event organizer would be willing to pay amount x for your speech if you brought in a sponsor. For example an exhibitor who would be interested in having a stand at the conference or someone who would sponsor the gala dinner.


Such an approach requires some extra work from your side but it might be worth it if you a) have a great social network and/or b) if having the conference or brand name in your portfolio is important to you.


There are some creative means to bring value to the sponsor as well, potentially having them introduce you as the speaker, you can plug them during your presentation or perhaps the event host allows them to speak for 60 seconds about the product or service they offer.


  1. Refer to your agency/sales manager


This is one of our favorite “pro hacks”: Thank the event organizer for the opportunity and tell him to contact your agency (if you are registered with one) to discuss further details.


Another alternative is referring him to your sales manager to discuss further details. We are fully aware that you did not hire a sales manager yet. Simply choose one of your friends and ask him if he would be interested in taking over the sales manager role for a phone call – if needed. He will of course get a commission if he closes the deal.


  1. Get free PR & your basics expenses paid


If the event organizer says no to all suggestions we have made until now, negotiate a set of terms under which you will accept the speaking invite:


Option 1: An interview in the company’s magazine/newsletter. Or option 2: Being featured in the company’s social media channels and traditional marketing tools (flyers, banners) before, during and after the event. Option 3: The reimbursement of your travel, accommodation and photographer expenses.


  1. Say no in an eloquent way


Sometimes the person you are communicating with can be very ignorant and inflexible. In such cases one of the best ways to answer his request is:


My business coach advised me to do not deliver any free speeches anymore. I work with three dedicated non-profit organizations, university x, association y and initiative z, which I regularly support to make a difference. I hope that we will be able to work together in the near future under different circumstances.”




In the beginning of your public speaker career, you will be the keynote speaker, your own sales manager, PA and finance manager. It can feel overwhelming. But as everything in life, this is not a permanent state.


“The more often you confront yourself with the above-described scenario and the more often you push through discomfort, the easier this situation will become.”


And the faster you will be able to hire someone who does this work for you. We assume your target is to focus on your art: The delivery of life-changing speeches, isn’t it?


Please share this article with an aspiring trainer or keynote speaker who would benefit from reading it. Thank you.