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What to Include In A Speaker's Contract

If you’ve landed your first paid speaking gig, congrats! Hopefully you’ve settled on a fee and terms that both parties have agreed to. The next part is memorializing this agreement into a formal speaker’s contract that protects both parties. As physician speakers, a lot of these things aren't things we would instinctively think of as issues that arise, but by including them in your speaker's contract, you can save yourself a lot of hassle as you navigate this space and develop a side gig as a physician speaker.

8 things to include in a speaker's contract

Disclaimer: Please do your own due diligence before making decisions based on this page. Nothing on this page constitutes formal or personalized legal advice. We are not formal financial, legal, or otherwise licensed professionals, and you should consult these as appropriate. To learn more, visit our disclaimers and disclosures.

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Why You Need a Speaker’s Contract

Although many physician speakers are honored to be asked to speak and simply accept the honorarium that is offered to them, if you are going to develop a side gig out of paid speaking engagements, you’ll quickly learn that a speaker’s contract is necessary. Every professional speaker can tell you stories where their contract saved them or would have been helpful. Some examples of things that can go wrong without one are:

  • Not getting paid until months after a speaking engagement

  • Not getting reimbursed for related speaking expenses

  • Having an event cancel at the last minute and then not paying despite you having prepared and practiced a talk, taking time off from work, and arranging for travel

  • Being booked in a hotel room that is below the standard you are accustomed to or in a part of town you are not comfortable with

  • Being asked for multiple additional preparation meetings that significantly add on to the time commitment required for the engagement

  • Having your talk or intellectual property recorded and distributed, or even sold, without your permission

As you can see, setting the terms of a speaking engagement is very important to protect both yourself and your speaking business. It also shows the event organizer that you are experienced and professional, and they will treat you accordingly.

The other advantage of having a speaker’s agreement that is your own is that in most cases, you will be able to set the terms of the contract without having to engage in a conversation or possible negotiation about the nitty gritty details. For example, if your standard speaker’s agreement says you require a car service instead of renting a car, the organizer will just know what your expectations are and plan accordingly. As long as the terms are reasonable, many larger organizations will be happy to follow your standard agreements.

What to Include In A Speaker’s Contract

Details of the Arrangement

Specify the date and time of the speaking engagement, the amount of time you have agreed to be at the event, and how long your prepared talk will be. If you anticipate simply flying in and out to give your talk as that’s all your schedule allows, make sure that you are on the same page with the event organizer about how long they need you to be there.

Additional Speaker Duties

Often, a keynote speaker is the highlight of an event, and they will be hoping that you will be present to engage with the audience outside of the time you are actually speaking. For example, if it is expected that you are present at a dinner or cocktail reception, host a Q/A session, or have additional speaker responsibilities such as book signings or autographs, make sure that you are on the same page about what you’ve agreed to as mandatory and what would be appreciated, but not required. 

Other things to ask about: 

  • Clarify if there is any extra work they will ask you to do to ensure your material qualifies for CME or another aspect of their programming.

  • Ask if there are any requirements for advertising the event, tags on social media, etc. While you may be happy to do this because it brings you publicity as well, you want to make sure that what they want is consistent with your brand and your comfort level in advertising to your audience.

Terms of Payment

You need to specify how and when you will get paid. 

Many speakers take a deposit upfront to ensure that the opportunity cost of putting together the talk, practicing the talk, and making any related arrangements is offset. This can be whatever you feel comfortable with. For example you may want to take 50% of the fee upfront, and very busy in demand speakers may even ask for upfront payment in full for the cost of blocking their schedule. 

You should also want to delineate when the payments are due. It is reasonable to ask for the deposit at the time of booking and say that the engagement is not confirmed until the payment is received. Many speakers will ask for the balance to be paid prior to walking on the stage or getting on a plane. Reimbursements for travel should be paid within a reasonable amount of time following the event, typically one month. Specify how expenses will be tracked and shown to the event organizer, and whether the payment will be made on one payment or separately, as this may affect your accounting and taxable income.

Travel Arrangements and Related Expenses

Some speakers prefer giving a lump sum speaking fee and arranging the details themselves. While this may be a good idea if you have friends or family that live in the area that could allow you to ask for more in speaking fees since you’re not asking for expense reimbursement, in most cases, professional speakers will ask to be reimbursed for expenses such as airfare, ground transportation, materials, lodging, meals, and other miscellaneous expenses. 

Many larger companies, organizations, or event organizers will have their own preferred vendors and ask that you let them do the bookings or ask you to do the bookings through their vendors. This can be easier for everyone involved, and save the organizers time or logistics, so don’t assume that this is a bad thing. Just ensure that you are comfortable with the vendors used.

Make sure that the organization doesn’t have any rules or guidelines about what is reimbursable and to what extent. It will save you the frustration of going out and having a $50 meal and then seeing that they were only allowed to reimburse you $30 a day for food, for example. Ensure any of these rules about what class of airfare, maximum spend on a hotel or airfare, etc, are asked about ahead of time.

It is very important to specify what kind of housing and transportation you are accustomed to, as being on the road can be exhausting, and you want to be at your best for the speaking engagement. Travel frustrations can quickly take away from everyone’s happiness and experience. When possible, ask to be housed either at the event venue or at a national hotel chain of your choosing, so that you have a baseline level of comfort that you are accustomed to. In regards to flights, speakers may have preference about the maximum number of connections they will take (usually it is best to specify the smallest number available between the destinations, so you’re not forced to take a flight with a connection if there is a nonstop available) or what class of ticket they are comfortable with, and it’s best to put those in the contract as well.

Conditions for Changes to the Contract

Often times, these events are booked out many months, or even a year in advance. A lot can change. There can be a global pandemic, event dates may need to change, or you as the speaker may have a personal commitment come up that you can’t miss. Make sure the contract specifies time frames in which cancellations are acceptable, and what percentages of the deposit are refundable within each, or what percentage of the speakers fees you will expect if an event has to cancel. Also have stipulations about what happens if the event requests a change in date and you aren’t able to accommodate that change. 

Remember that speaking is a small world and you want to try your best to accommodate these changes if possible. Both parties should make a good faith effort to work together if changes are necessary, but your contract should protect you if someone cancels with one week notice. 

Intellectual Property Rights

These days, a lot of events have a virtual component or want to record your talks or distribute your slides. You should decide ahead of time how you feel about this. Some people go by the all publicity is good publicity philosophy, but the more professional of a speaker you become, the more strongly you will feel about protecting your information. After all, nobody is going to pay you to speak if they can watch your signature talk on YouTube for free, so you may want to limit distribution to a few clips for advertising purposes, etc.

While you’re at it, if they’re recording the talk, ask them to give you a copy of the talk for your own unrestricted purposes as well. This is a great way to get free advertising materials as you build your speaker side gig, and one of our tips for building your physician speaker side gig.

Materials Necessary for You to Give Your Presentation

While most venues are pretty well equipped from an AV standpoint, have your contract specify what you will need on the day of the event so that it’s clear who’s responsible for what. This is particularly important if you have a specific item that you need to give your presentation or which you are accustomed to  - that could be a whiteboard, a clicker, or a specific A/V adapter. If it’s a virtual event and you need specific technology, specify who will be responsible for paying for that particular camera or microphone, etc.

While you should try your best to be adaptable, and probably can’t ask for all blue M&Ms in your dressing room unless you’ve really made it, make sure that you have the basics listed so that you and the event organizers aren’t running around at the last minute. Especially when they pay a lot to have you speak, you’ll want a very polished presentation, and all speaking events are key to getting more speaking events, so it could really hurt your brand if you give a presentation below the quality you’re used to delivering.

Litigation and Confidentiality

Speaker’s contracts rarely end up being significant enough that anybody wants to pay for the expenses of a legal battle, so most contracts don’t have this clause as it likely just results in an impasse. That said, if this is a particularly large contract, you may want to include where arbitration should happen. In these cases where the contract is large, the organizer is likely a big organization with deep pockets, so you’ll want to insist any litigation pertaining to the contract is in your home city. The chances of you enforcing your contract if you have to travel to a trial are essentially zero for most physician speakers, so just let them know that in order for the contract to be enforceable, legal proceedings have to be in your hometown. Ultimately, they may not agree to this, and you’ll have to decide whether it’s a sword worth dying on and passing up an arrangement on.

If you don’t want people knowing how much you were paid, put in a confidentiality clause. While most events are very professional and don’t discuss these things, especially if you take a lower rate that you don’t want publicized as it could hurt your ability to charge your normal rate with another organization, you may want to put in a confidentiality clause to remind the other party that they should be close-lipped about the arrangement.

Using Someone Else’s Contract

Whenever possible, we recommend using your own contract, as it’s what you’re used to. As you do this more often, you’re not going to want to check each individual contract to know the rules for max spends from one engagement to another, etc. Some venues who are bringing in lots of speakers may have a standard speakers contract everyone is expected to sign, but if you are a keynote, you can usually ask them to sign your contract. It’s well worth the effort to create your own standard template to save everyone time and energy, and eliminate some negotiations as your contract will establish some expectations which the other party will then have to decide whether it’s worth the discussion to change. In most cases, you’ll come out ahead in this situation.


In general, speaking is a space that is unlikely to result in litigation. However, having a solid speaker’s contract can save a lot of hassle in the long run and ensure you feel comfortable with your speaking gigs. As you are likely contracting with a lot of different parties, it’s nice to have a homogeneous experience and give them guidelines about your expectations, and ensures you have a leg to stand on should an unfortunate situation arise.

Learn More

Visit our other pages to learn more about speaking as a side gig

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