Why Do Famous People Get Paid $250,000 to Give a Speech?

As Jerry Seinfeld once quipped, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means, to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” 

.. Lucrative speaking appearances, however, are not a modern invention. They’re 150 years old.

.. The practice arose in pre-Civil War New England in response to Bostonians’ clamor to hear lectures by abolitionists like Henry Ward Beecher. A literary man named James Redpath began acting as matchmaker between anti-slavery orators and interested audiences; soon he was a de facto agent, organizing speaking tours for famous Americans. 

The result was America’s “Lyceum Movement.” The speakers broadened their scope to address the arts, politics, and science, and the Lyceum Movement became known as “the people’s college.” Mark Twain read his literary work; Abraham Lincoln warned of the corrupting influences of slavery; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton lectured on the importance of women’s suffrage. 

.. The lecture circuit became the primary way intellectuals supported themselves. Susan B. Anthony gave up to 100 speeches a year to fund her activism, and Mark Twain organized lecture tours with entrepreneurial zeal.

.. A $40,000 speech is a lot less puzzling when you think of it like a concert. If an event organizer sells out a 6,000-seat auditorium, a $10 ticket should more than cover the costs. 

.. “Everyone wants to say, ‘I had lunch with Michael Lewis yesterday,’” Don Epstein, who represented the best-selling author, told Bloomberg in 2014. “It might be you and 500 other people, but it still happened.”

“For some organizations, the speech is almost secondary,” says Jim Keppler, the president and founder of Keppler Speakers. “They are looking to bring in a VIP to schmooze at receptions, pose for pictures, and sign autographs.”

.. if just one client “decides to invest $10 million… the firm will snag a 2 percent management fee—which works out to $200,000” per year.

.. As a professional association, ISRI not only wants to sell tickets to its annual conference. It wants good attendance from recycling professionals so they benefit from the networking opportunities. And people like Stanley McChrystal and Bill Clinton help them do that.

.. The current trend, Keppler says, is speakers who can talk about how to create a better company culture, improve an organization’s leadership, or stand out in a crowded market. 

.. Instead, certain organizations likely view paying a politician’s speaking fee the same way they view contributing money to his or her campaign: part of a larger lobbying effort.