The Upside

Exposure Is Not Compensation Unless You Do This

If you’ve ever been asked to host a workshop or keynote for a corporation, you may have experienced this gut-punching comment:

“We don’t pay speakers, but you’ll receive a ton of exposure.”

Exposure is not compensation, does not pay the mortgage and does not equate to the immense value you bring to your clients.

Except when…

You’re speaking in front of a room full of your exact target audience.


You have an opportunity to network with those people before and after you present.

So unless you have a B2C offering perfect for individual employees or you’re speaking at an industry conference full of decision-makers, it’s unlikely that speaking for free will ever lead to any paid business opportunities.

Whenever you find yourself in this “we don’t pay our speakers” situation, here are three different options you can consider during a conversation with the decision-maker (but ideally not over email):

Turn it down.

With dignity and grace, keep your head held high, disagree on their policy, turn it down, but keep the door open. 

You can say:

“With all due respect, my experience and time is worth more than exposure. If your policy ever changes and you find budget for your speakers, I’d love to open up the conversation again.”

Push back.

Try out this line:

“With revenue of more than $10 billion last year, why is your company’s policy not to pay experts who help elevate your leaders, improve team performance, and grow your bottom line?”

Or this one…

“Can you provide me with specific examples of how exposure led to paid opportunities for uncompensated speakers at your company?”

Or this knife-twister if you identify as part of an underpaid and/or marginalized group:

“I’ve read that your company prioritizes pay equity. So can you help me understand why the company’s policy is not to compensate [women / people of color / LGBTQ] for their time and expertise?”

Negotiate non-monetary forms of payment.

Depending on your business model and stage of business, there may be non-monetary forms of payment that could be just as valuable to you as a check, including a combination of the following:

Logo Use: Written permission to use their company logo on your website and in a case study. If you are completely new on the speaking circuit, this clout could help open future doors.

Video: Permission to have someone video and photograph your presentation to build up your speaker reel.

Free trip: Have them cover travel, meals and hotel; then, while in town, also meet with local prospects, clients and colleagues. 

Book sales: If you’ve written a book, ask the company to purchase a set number of copies (could be 100, could be 1,000–you decide!) to give away to employees.

Barter: What does the company make or sell? You may be able to barter products or services from them. For example, a free Peloton bike + a 2-year community subscription could be worth as much to you as a check. Speaking at a luxury fashion house? Ask them to give you one of their $6,000 handbags as payment.

Access: What is the company’s industry and what do they have access to? For example, if you’re speaking at a company like NBC Universal, try negotiating media placement, an ad, a spot on one of their popular podcasts or publicity of some sort.

Get creative! I want you to feel valued and good about sharing your time and expertise with companies. 

You deserve to be compensated. 

You deserve to feel valued. 

You deserve to be in the room. 

Always remember that.

Erin Halper

About the Author

Erin Halper is the founder and CEO of The Upside and the leading authority on independent consulting. Since launching The Upside in 2017, Erin has helped thousands of professionals transition from corporate life into consulting to achieve flexibility, autonomy, and a renewed sense of purpose in their careers.

Erin has been a frequent speaker at Columbia, NYU, Harvard, and Brown and has been featured as a leading future of work expert on dozens of podcasts as well as in Forbes, Business Insider, Nasdaq, Crunchbase and many more.

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