What’s the Real ROI of Bringing in a Professional Speaker for Your Conference?

How much do you think a professional speaker is worth for your conference? Are you willing to invest $30K to bring in a speaker, maybe $20K? If you are thinking $5K or zero, are you really valuing your audience’s time?

Sure, you can always get a free speaker to speak at your conference. Local Toastmasters groups have tons of them. Lots of professors at local universities will speak for free too—they love the sound of their own voice and have all aced the “death by PowerPoint” seminars too. But will they bring value to your event?

Speakers Bureaus, like ours, advise clients that the people in the audience are smart, that their time is valuable and that a keynote speaker at your conference needs to not only be able to connect the dots and be inspirational, they also need to provide practical takeaways—to make it worth the organizations’ investment and lost time when people could be working.  

Don’t believe me. Let’s do the math.

Conference Logistics

When you stage a conference, the speaker cost is usually one of the smallest line items of the day. The cost of the venue, the food, the AV company, etc. – all cost a substantial amount more than any keynote speaker.

Salary Loss

But what about lost salary for employees attending an event? If you take the salary cost of your audience (X people * $Y per average person day), with an audience of only 200 people, who earn an average of $60,000 per year, that’s $48,000 for the day in lost money.

Productivity Loss

If you consider the lost productivity (X people * $Y average production per person per day), then on a productivity or revenue basis, the average employee represents nearly $4,000 per day. ($1.3 million per year/226 workdays). Those same 200 people in the audience now represent $800,000 in lost productivity/revenue.

Total People Investment

For a 200 person conference, this represents about $850,000 investment in terms of lost salary and revenue. Now we start to understand that the time the audience is devoting to the event and why the speaker up on stage is valuable.

The ROI of a Professional Keynote Speaker

According to meetings imagined, a professional keynote speaker can increase the ROI of your event by boosting registration numbers, adding credibility to your event, and engaging attendees.

Registration Numbers

According to worldwide speakers group, speakers with name recognition cut down on the cost of advertising the event. MeetingsNet explains big-name speakers add social media buzz, and oftentimes give your conference free advertising through word of mouth.

For example, our company once worked with a major client who had the goal of selling 1,500 tickets to their annual event. After a few months of sales, they only sold 250 tickets. But after we announced a major keynote speaker—Steve Wozniak—ticket sales skyrocketed.

When we added on Mike Rowe, former host of Dirty Jobs, ticket sales surpassed the 1,500 goal.  Finally, when the group added entertainers/speakers Vanilla Ice and Tone-Loc, the conference sold out. Adding keynote speakers definitely increased registration for a successful event.


Professional keynote speakers not only add value to your current conference: they add credibility to your event. According to MeetingsNet, professional keynote speakers add value to future events by building up the reputation of your conference. And Worldwide speakers group adds, “well-known names tend to produce buzz surrounding the speech” which benefits the event year-round.

Increased Engagement

Professional keynote speakers also add value in terms of attendee engagement. Audiences are generally skeptical and they get offended easily, especially if an organization wastes their time with humdrum or “been there, done that” speakers.

Bringing in a vetted, professional and impactful speaker is the best way to engage with an audience, teach them new things and show them they are valued and respected. Great keynote speakers inspire attendees and increase productivity after the event.

According to Jon Petz, meeting planners may see keynote speaker ROI as a 1:1 measurement—covering a keynote speaker cost through registrations and sponsorships. However, professional speakers ideas and inspiration may increase productivity by several percentage points after the event. How’s that for ROI

Value to organization

In a white paper by Andree, Carlson, Crocco, and Sterling, a survey of event planners and executive officers found 92 percent were satisfied with their keynote speaker experience, 87 percent of clients found a return on investment from equal (a dollar for dollar return) to 5 times the cost of the speaker; and 65 percent said a speaker’s points were reinforced internally by leadership from 1–6 weeks or more after the event. 

So when calculating the cost of a professional speaker, consider everything people have invested in the event, and what a big name speaker can bring in terms of registration, buzz, credibility, engagement, and change to your organization. When you consider those factors, a professional speaker makes a wise investment for a successful event.

After the event, you can further maximize your ROI with these tips.

Kyle Crocco is the Content Marketing Coordinator at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau, a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, and the lead singer of Duh Professors. He regularly publishes business book reviews and thought articles on Medium, Business 2 Community, and Born 2 Invest.