If you’ve ever booked a well-known keynote speaker for a major event or conference, chances are you went through a professional speaker bureau. But have you ever wondered how these agencies that represent public speakers earn their revenue?

Speaker bureaus, or speaking agencies, serve as the intermediary between the speakers they represent and the organizations looking to hire speakers. They make their money through a combination of speaker fees, commission rates, annual exclusivity payments, and additional service fees.

Commission on Speaker Fees The primary way speaker bureaus generate revenue is by taking a commission, generally 25-30%, from the overall speaker fee paid by the client. For example, if a keynote speaker charges a $20,000 fee for an event, the speaker bureau would receive a $5,000-$6,000 commission for booking and managing that speaker.

These commissions incentivize the bureau to work hard negotiating the best possible fees for their exclusive speakers. The more premium speakers and events they book, the higher their earnings potential.

Exclusivity Fees & Revenue Sharing Many top-tier speaker bureaus also collect annual exclusivity fees from their elite speakers in exchange for exclusively representing them. These fees can range from $10,000 to $100,000+ annually depending on the speaker’s draw.

In some cases, the bureau may structure revenue sharing agreements where they receive a percentage of all the speaker’s income streams like book sales, course offerings, etc. This aligns both parties’ interests in the speaker’s overall success.

Service Fees In addition to commissions, speaker bureaus commonly charge clients separate service fees to cover costs like speaker travel, lodging, ground transportation, audio/visual equipment, etc. These upfront or back-end fees provide another revenue stream.

Some agencies also generate income by offering add-on services to clients like event sponsorship, meeting planning, book sales, professional development workshops and more.

Ultimately, while speaker bureaus are brought in as a third-party vendor, both the speakers they represent and the clients who hire those speakers find value in their expertise in negotiating, event logistics, speaker marketing and more.

Top bureaus can take home millions in commissions and fees annually by representing elite speakers who command five and six-figure fees for high-profile speaking engagements. It’s a lucrative industry for those who can build coveted speaker rosters and reputations.