Nine Questions to Ask Before You Accept That Speaking Gig

Bobbi NewmanI had a discussion with a friend this weekend about what questions we ask when accepting speaking invitations, and it occurred to me that this is the sort of thing I should blog for two reason – one I have some advice to share and two I’m sure someone will have advice to offer me. Win-win.

Questions for yourself:

1. Do I want to speak? The first question you should ask yourself is do I want to be a speaker? Sure there are some great benefits to speaking and real reasons to do it. But do you want to? Would you rather write? Or do something else? Speaking is time consuming and hard work, you might prefer to put your time and energy else where.

2. Do I want to talk about this topic? It seems obvious but it’s especially important when starting out, it can be very exciting to get your first invitation or offer. You should consider not only are you comfortable with the topic but is it something you want to become known for speaking about.

3. Do I have time? Do you have the time to put together and rehearse a great presentation? Is there enough time between accepting and delivering? How busy is your schedule? Is this how you want to spend that time?

4. What are my fees? Am I willing to speak for free? If you have submitted to a conference you should know whether speaking does waive registration (Computers in Libraries & Internet Librarian) or doesn’t (ALA & most state conferences). If someone is approaching you about speaking they may offer you a set fee, they may want you to speak for free or they may want you to tell them what your fees are, be prepared.

Questions for the organizer :

5. What is the anticipated size of the audience? There is a big difference between an audience of 20 and 200, it changes the feel of the room and the way you talk to them and probably your slides. Are you comfortable with the size of the audience?

6. Will the speech be recorded? If so where will it be archived and will it be publicly available? Are you ok with this?

7. What is the compensation? See number 4 above

8. Is there a cost for attendees? Are you willing to speak for free if there is a cost for attendees? Would you prefer your speeches be freely available?

9. Who is the audience? What type of librarians, what is their background, focus, expertise? If it is not librarian who is the audience ?

Say yes (or no) only after you have successfully answered these questions.

What did I miss? What other questions should you ask before accepting?

Tips for after you have accepted

31 thoughts on “Nine Questions to Ask Before You Accept That Speaking Gig

  1. If I have to fly interstate, will meals and taxis be covered as well as airfare and accommodation?

    Can I bring my own tech gear – laptop, wireless mouse? Will I be able to move around and have a lapel mike? ( sounds trite, but I was once blinded by bright lights and tied to a lectern during what should have been a session that involved bouncing off the audience)

    Who else is speaking at the same time ? (one speaker who does gigs sometimes as herself, sometimes representing an employer got caught out when a commercial competitor was on the same bill when she was engaged to speak privately)

    How much audience interaction do you envisage and does the time allocated for the talk include question time? Sometimes what seems like a long time to speak only requires a short session and may be much less daunting when you realise this.

    To ask yourself – Do I realistically know how long it takes me to prepare a talk? For a new talk it takes me about 1-2 days of research per 10 minutes of slideset, plus at least 5 complete taking-it-seriously practice run throughs from start to finish.

    To ask yourself – last time I spoke, did I learn a lot from the other speakers and have opportunities to be places and see things that I could not possibly done any other way ?(sadly, very sadly … because speaking is self-confronting hard work … usually my answer is a great big shiny YES!)

    (I’m sure that there are more…)


  2. Bobbi, thanks for the shout-out and for a great list of questions–too few speakers take the time to think through whether to take a gig, then are unpleasantly surprised when it doesn’t turn out right for them.

    Here are a couple of posts that get at similar questions: one on basics for speakers on how to work with the person managing a program ( and the next step, 7 times when you should turn down a speaking gig, which echoes some of Kathryn’s good points:


  3. A related question to number 6 is will the content you provide – eg, slides, notes, documents, recordings – be limited to attendees/organization members? If you want your work to be available widely and you want to be able to include your talk in your portfolio, do you need to negotiate that?


  4. If you are speaking for a school’s or district’s inservice day, ask whether or not the attendees are required to attend or do they have a choice. That makes a big difference in what you might say and how you’re message is accepted. Are you just filling inservice time or does the district really want their faculty to hear your message to affect change? What kind of follow up will the district offer to support the change? A one day seminar or one-time speech without subsequent support will probably not be too effective.


  5. Great posting!
    I had no idea what to charge when I was first asked to be a keynote! …I also hated to poll my keynote speakin buddies about something so crass as cash – but I did. Thank goodness Doug Johnson was candid and gave great advice whilst others dodged around the question.

    In his words: “…..with a high price tag comes greater credibility and respect” and “Now, if you charge like a professional, that means you also act like a professional – polished presentations and workshops; good support materials; excellent communications; uber-punctuality, etc. Make the person whose choice it was to hire you happy they did.”
    …..I just LOVE that man!
    I also charge airfare and transfers… and I’m gonna add meals if all that is planned are cheese cubes & cash bar (I learned at ISTE10 Denver – you can’t live on cheese cubes & occasional grapes!) Nothing outrageous – a room service burger or salad is fine.

    Hotels: I prefer for them to make the reservation & give me the number – otherwise my credit card bill gets too inflated. (It’s easier for me to make the airfare reservations – plus I get good deals!) If I’m speaking early morning – I ask to come in the night before – likewise – if I’m speaking into the early evening – I ask to stay over. I hate to rush around worrying about missing it!

    Honestly, I think groups that *ASK* people to speak but don’t at least provide FREE registration are really creating ill feeling…One state librarian group asked me to be a featured speaker in 1998 – “Interactive Storytelling with Stinky Cheese and Hyper Studio” then told me I had to leave right after wards…well, that was just right out and it took me 10 years to go back to that conference!


    1. Gwyneth Jones
      Great posting!
      I had no idea what to charge when I was first asked to be a keynote! …I also hated to poll my keynote speakin buddies about something so crass as cash – but I did. Thank goodness Doug Johnson was candid and gave great advice whilst others dodged around the question.

      You’re right it can be hard to decide how much to charge especially if you have NO idea what others are charging. Talking about money is always awkward, I recommend asking someone you know and trust. Sounds like Doug was a great choice! Love this bit of advice-

      In his words: “…..with a high price tag comes greater credibility and respect” and “Now, if you charge like a professional, that means you also act like a professional – polished presentations and workshops; good support materials; excellent communications; uber-punctuality, etc. Make the person whose choice it was to hire you happy they did.”
      …..I just LOVE that man!

      I too request travel expenses and meals. And meals doesn’t mean steak on their dime. I usually end up only spending half of what I’m allotted for meals even without eating at fast food places.


  6. I always ask a lot questions about the space I’ll be speaking in. Sometimes (as with some conferences) this is not info that’s readily available ahead of time, but other times you can get the info. Speaking in a ballroom is different from speaking in an auditorium, a training center, or a restaurant, especially if you’re like me and a lot of audience interaction.

    It’s also good to ask for a formal itinerary. Then you know that the entire schedule has been through through, not just the program portion of your participation. Nobody needs to finish speaking five minutes before your flight is scheduled to leave. And forcing your hosts into planning the entire itinerary makes it more likely that they will make reservations to feed you someplace nice. 🙂


    1. Great suggestions Emily!

      Sounds like I need to do a follow up post with questions to ask after you’ve accepted. A formal itinerary is important. I like to get a feel for who is speaking before and after more and in some cases opposite.


    2. Space is a very good topic! I had a very bad experience recently with space + equipment: audience seated facing the long wall with 4 screens and a small stage in the middle, laptop with slides located lower and aside. Had to use a microphone in one hand and a remote control in the other. This does not really work.

      Also: check if and how your slides are being transferred to the system to be used for projection.

      Another very important issue: moderation. The moderator should contact you in advance or at least introduce themselves to you before the session, and explain the procedure, Q&A etc. In the case that I mentioned, this did not happen at all, and the moderator did not keep track of time at all. So I ended up with 5 minutes in a session of an hour with 2 other speakers. Fortunately I could use 10 minutes of the coffee break (also important to know if there is some time after the session).


  7. On the “where will it be published?” question, I make it very clear that I will be using material released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license and will be releasing the material also under a CC license, usually on my blog. So far I have had no problems, which includes a $$$ charging private seminar group…I just change any contract they send me to grant them a “non-exclusive license to use. All material created for x event will be released under a “insert CC license” “.


    1. Excellent point Kathryn! I do change all contracts to indicate I retain all the rights to my presentation and materials. The only time I don’t post slides or materials is when I’ve been paid to do an instructional workshop.


  8. It’s an obvious one, but asking about the PA is important to me. (PA as in public address system, not an assistant.)

    You probably only present at events big enough to pretty much guarentee there being a PA, but for me this is not always the case. It effects how I prepare in two ways – firstly I won’t use any video (or anything else with audio) if the only sound is going to come from the computer attached to the projector rather that from proper loud-speakers everyone can hear, but also secondly if I’m going to have to project my voice quite a bit (and this relates to room-size as well as to whether or not I’ll be mic’d up) then for me that means I can’t use such a colloquial speaking style. I have to speak slightly more formally for it work with me speaking very loudly, for some reason. 🙂


    1. Good points Ned. I don’t often show video from the computer, but if you do its important to know this.
      The room set up would be something I ask after I’ve accepted, but for some people this might make or break the deal.


      1. Yeah you’re right, I wasn’t quite thinking of it in terms of deal-breaking-or-making, but that’s what this post is about. I guess not being mic’d up in a room big enough to hold 250 people might be a deal-breaker though!


  9. I always like to ask where is my presentation in the daily/weekly program of the event and what follows my talk.

    Being the first presenter is different than being the post-lunch speaker or the last person before the conference breaks for the day or being the closing speaker for an entire conference. I may differ my approach or change the tone or subject of my talk depending on my place in the program.


  10. I think the good folks here covered what I would add. Just some thoughts:

    What will travel be like? Do I have to fly a full day to get there? Can I use my airline of choice?

    If the talk is recorded will it be SOLD? I like things to be made freely available.

    I also like to know about recording from the start – that changes the presentation to some degree.

    I try to let folks know I’m a vegetarian. Arriving to meat buffet at a dinner before my talk can throw me off. 🙂

    Great post!


  11. First, I’m with MS on travel logistics. That’s moved way up on my list of considerations. Will getting there involve a few hours of driving (I’m renting a car on your dime), train travel or a flight with three connections that will take up my entire day? Will I need to rent a car when I get there or will you provide local transportation? I now think about travel when I calculate the fee. Long trip? Struggle getting there? The fee is going up.

    Second, I’ll add a perspective not yet mentioned. Is this trip a learning experience for you? I am more likely to accept an offer to speak if there is a library nearby that I’d love to visit – even if I have to rent a car on my dime to get there. I spoke at a NEASIST conference last year, but went a day early just so I could spend the day visiting the MIT Libraries. Last April I spoke at TXLA in San Antonio, but went a day early so I could drive up to Austin to visit U Texas at Austin. Every trip is an opportunity to visit a great library, learn what they are doing, meet new colleagues, etc. So think about turning your gig into a visit to another library. You will learn more and that might even give you ideas for your presentations – we all need to add more anecdotes and stories – and the more you travel and visit – the more of them you accumulate.

    Third, a comment on the topic you are being asked to speak about. I would encourage folks to be willing to step outside their comfort zone to take on a peripheral topic that will expand their repertoire of presentations. By this I don’t mean you should take on a talk about scholarly communications if you have never dealt with the issues, but if you do talks about creativity in the library, consider doing a talk about entrepreneurial libraries. It’s different, but related. I might offer a lower fee, consider going somewhere farther or perhaps present at a small program just to have the opportunity to roll out an entirely new presentation on a totally new topic. So don’t just take talks where you cover the same ground every time – or with a minor variation – put yourself in less comfortable situations where you can try something new. For example, I just did a short talk for an LJ Leadership Symposium for K-12 librarians – not my usual audience by any means. It was only 15 minutes – but the catch was – no visuals – just a naked presentation – and I haven’t done enough of those. So it was worth it to go to Chicago, for a relatively small audience for only 15 minutes to get this experience and further build my ability and confidence in going out and speaking without any slides and being more extemporaneous – which is not easy to do. Taking on lightning talks, poster sessions, etc. will all help you expand your range as a presenter – don’t think you are above any of it.

    Looks like you have enough commenter suggestions for another 9 or 10 or 12 Questions to Ask.


    1. Steven, based on all the great comments I could easily have another two posts, once on tips for after you’ve accepted and a follow-up on before you accept. I’ll have to think about wrangling them this weekend.


  12. One more for me — will there be Internet access for the presenters? If so, is it wireless? If there is, can I come beforehand and test it? Most of my presentations are tech-related and as much as I can, I can it; however, if I have the opportunity to go online to show something effectively, I will do it. Nice change from just slides.


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