Saturday, April 5, 2008

The mysteriously high cost of speaking

So like everyone else, I was struck alert by the news of the rapid rise of the Clinton’s financial fortunes, but what amazed me most was being reminded of how much money Bill commanded for speaking fees: $250,000 for a talk. Though the news has been out for awhile. Now, I’m basically a fan of Bill C, but I’m not sure I’d pay anything to see him speak for a couple hours on some random subject. No question he’s a brilliant politician but he strikes me as a bit of rambler.

And of course, it isn’t just Bill. When I’ve been involved in planning events, I was amazed by amounts non-celebrities commanded to just show up and talk. I mean, in my experience at these events, half the people don’t pay attention anyway, or don’t even show up; they are too busy flirting out by the coffee machine or open bar, or too hung over from the previous night’s adventures.

It’s weird because people who actually speak to audiences for a living, audiences they strive to instruct and inspire don’t get paid very much at all. Of course, I'm talking about teachers here. I mean, even a very successful professor doesn’t command Bill’s two-hour fee over an entire year of lectures and seminars on Organic Chemistry or Latin American History.

I mean, it’s not like it’s a great performance either, that might be so great or unique that it actually has a historic impact. Like Dylan at Newport. I've met very few people talking about the speeches they saw 5 years ago at some conference or other. Remember Todd Grimm, an expert in rapid prototyping, talking at the CES back in 2002? That rocked!

The whole economic structure seems driven more by the need for events—and content to fill them—than the value, on any standard, of the talk itself. But that still doesn't explain it.

Maybe all of us who sell thinking in one form or another—teachers, consultants, advisors—should position every meeting as a speaking engagement? That would really improve margins.


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