June 16, 2020 Shawn

Why Speakers Who Want To Get Paid Quickly May Not Be Paid At All

Speakers are beginning to realize that if they’re not filling their calendars with conversations with people who can say ‘Yes’, they’re guaranteeing their speaking calendars remain empty as well.

There is one stumbling block that trips up many speakers, because it’s something too many speakers are eager to move past in order to get paid and get on a stage – and that’s not our speaking proposal, but rather our clients’ speaker agreements.

Speakers always have their own proposals, but many of our clients have speaker agreements as well. Most speakers, eager for the deal, sign these client speaker agreements because they think it’s the fastest way to get paid, but in fact it could prevent us from being paid at all.

If we get into a bad business deal that costs us money or time we haven’t allocated, it prevents us from being able to serve other clients. That’s why it’s critical we know what to watch out for in client speaker agreements and what to do about the clauses that aren’t there for mutual benefit.

First, where do these client speaker agreements come from and why do they exist? We’ve found rarely are they written by a meeting planner, educational director or executive. Rather, they are written by the client’s legal staff with one purpose – to protect the client and their budget; NOT to serve us as the speaker in delivering a great event and creating equitable compensation. More often than not when we revise these agreements to be more equitable for us, we hear from our client: “We totally understand, our legal team puts these things together, after all …”

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Second, how we revise them is important. While contract revision is an entire field of law, we’ve found that striking through the section we won’t be agreeing to, initialing the end of the line and dating it to be sufficient. We then include revised language if appropriate. For instance, this is what a section of our client speaker’s agreement may look like when we send it back:

“1.The Speaker will comply with our rules, procedures and decisions governing the event as well as any additional guidelines to be provided subsequent to this Agreement. Revision: Any additional guidelines must be approved in writing by the speaker prior to becoming part of this speaking agreement, SR 6/2/20”

Critical for any revision to be valid is that it must be dated on or prior to the date the agreement is jointly executed by the speaker and the client to ensure revisions weren’t added that both parties might be unaware of.

Now that we understand why client speaker agreements exist, and how to revise them before sending back, let’s get into the 6 things we’ve learned to look out for and eliminate from our client’s speaker agreements when they do require us to execute them and what we tell clients when we do that never costs us the deal, but actually establishes us as a partner, instead of a vendor. 

1. Close Future Loopholes

Some client speaker agreements have clauses that allow them to alter the speaking agreement without notifying us of the change. This means we may find ourselves out of compliance and out of our speaking fee on a whim. The language often looks like this: “The Speaker to comply with (client) rules, procedures and decisions governing the event … as well as any additional guidelines to be provided subsequent to this Agreement.”

Cut that line out and ensure that you are made aware of any changes (and agree to them!) prior to any update of your agreement.

2. Protect Your Intellectual Property

Some agreements will ask us to turn over the entire presentation for the client’s use, in perpetuity. In the business of expertise (which is the business we are in), this is akin to giving away the cow with gallon of milk someone purchases. The language may look like, “(client) may print, reprint, or make audio and visual tapes of and publish and duplicate in any way all or any portion of said material.”

It’s usually a good idea to make the recording of your presentation available for the registrants and perhaps on an internal website, but ensure you limit who has access to your presentation and request a copy of the footage for your own marketing use in your revision.

3. Protect Your Cancellation Rights:

In the COVID-19 world, many clients are concerned with not getting enough folks registered and want to ensure they can cancel the event while minimizing their losses. That’s great from the perspective of the client’s budget, but not for us. The language of this clause may look like: “the presentation can be cancelled if the logistics of the event … cannot be implemented as conceived.”

It’s not our responsibility to get butts in seats or to convince anyone an event is worth attending (those of us running our own events of course are often responsible for this and different rules apply), so ensure that we maintain control of what we can control – the quality of our presentation, its originality, our unique methodology and stories and of course being there on time and delivering any value-adds we list in our own speaking agreements. If we speak at events organized by others (associations or internal company events), everything else, including the site itself, AV equipment, number of attendees registered and number of live attendees, is usually outside our control and shouldn’t affect our fee.

In order to not leave clients hanging in the event of a needed cancellation, my own cancellation clause states that in the event the client cancels, we will deliver the presentation during a rescheduled date if I am available, that my payment terms remain the same (no refunds provided) and any change fees for travel will be reimbursed by the client.

4. Protect The Cancellation Window

Closely related to point 3 above, some client agreements will reserve the right to cancel the event ‘X number of days prior to the program without obligation …’ If we agree to those terms, it means that the client can cancel the event without paying us, or can cancel and demand a full refund of any fees already paid.

Because a client cancelling an event is outside of our control as speakers, ensure you revise this out of the contract completely or expect that whatever you are paid might need to be returned should the client decide to cancel the live/virtual event.

5. Protect Travel Costs

How this interesting clause looks in some client speaker agreements is: ‘Any travel reimbursements requested by speaker must be approved in advance.’

Whether we use ‘travel buyouts’ (where we include our travel costs within our total fee) or submit receipts for reimbursement, ensure that we do spell out the things we will be requesting reimbursement for: Transportation to/from the airport, any on-site parking charges from the hotel, any resort fees, taxes assessed by the hotel, etc. With our full fee received, many of us are willing to absorb the cost of travel. For reduced-fee events, it’s often only feasible for us and our business if we are reimbursed for travel and paid the reduced fee we agree to.

Don’t take the chance of submitting a travel reimbursement and having it denied because it wasn’t agreed to in advance. Spell out what you’ll be asking for in your revision even if you don’t know what the price will ultimately be.

6. Protect Payment Terms
Regardless of what your payment terms are in your speaker agreement (we always advocate speakers list ‘full fee due upon execution of this agreement’ as the starting point), a client’s speaker agreement will usually take precedence should there be any discrepancy between the two. Because these agreements are written to protect the client’s budget, they’ll usually establish the worst payment terms from the perspective of the speaker.

This usually looks like ‘all payments and compensation will be payable 45 days after the program has been presented’. This statement means your fee and reimbursements will not be due to you until a month-and-a-half after your presentation. Revise this by lining it out and replacing it with, ‘Payment and reimbursement terms will be as stated on (your name)’s speaker agreement.’

Many people have the fear that if they push back on too many points in these agreements, they could jeopardize the whole deal. Instead of just sending back a revised agreement, we always take the time to go through each revision in an email with our client (not their legal team, which could usually care less about being a partner with us in creating a great event). We put each revision in terms of their audience. In the instance of a speaking event for a group of distributors:

“Sally, we’re revising the following in the agreement in paragraph 2, sentence three: ‘the presentation can be cancelled if ‘the logistics of the event … cannot be implemented as conceived.’ We know you would never advocate one of your members commit dozens of hours of time, resources, personnel hours, travel expenses, warehouse space and fleet vehicles for one of their clients with no down payment or security – as they wouldn’t be in business very long if they did! For the same reason, we can’t allocate significant resources in our business with no guarantee we’ll be compensated if the event doesn’t occur. We are happy to reschedule the date, if necessary, to a mutually convenient time based upon my availability. My own speaking agreement covers this scenario.”

Putting revisions in terms clients would advocate for their business/members is always met with an increase in respect for us as a business to emulate. It also establishes us as partners in their event instead of vendors – a mindset that always makes for a better experience.

Take the time to read a client’s speaker agreement and ensure that you’re focused on getting paid reliably rather than quickly. That’s good business.

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