Well, that’s probably a rhetorical question. Yes, you absolutely need a contract for your presentations, whether live or virtual. But what should you include? What if the other party (the organization or the program manager) sends you a contract and there are sections you don’t agree with? Should you use their contract or send yours? We’re gonna walk you through it!
Reasons to Have a Contract
We don’t mean to state the obvious, but if you’ve been speaking at any kind of event without a contract and you haven’t (yet) had any problems, you may wonder why you need one at all. Here’s why:
- To avoid having to deal with problems in the first place
- To spell out who does what and when
- To outline logistics
- To clarify what you are paid, how, and when
The last thing you want is to create confusion because you weren’t clear from the beginning, or you felt that you were clear, but the other party misunderstood or simply interpreted incorrectly. Avoid all the headaches with a simple contract—you don’t even necessarily need to hire an attorney to do this, either.
What to Include in Your Contract
While this list is not intended to be a be-all, end-all list for every speaker for every event imaginable, it’s a good start on thinking through common contract elements that are vital to include.
- Event Details: Your name, the event/organization’s name, the event date and time, the event venue/location, and your presentation title.
- Logistics: What are you doing/bringing? What is the organization/venue responsible for? Map out details for tech (projector, necessary cables/connectors, microphone, thumb drive, laptop, etc.) and who is responsible for what. For larger events, a speaker can expect to show up at the appropriate time with the presentation on a thumb drive and hand it over to the tech specialist. For smaller events, you may need to bring everything yourself.
- What’s included in the presentation: How long will your presentation be? Is there a Q & A session afterwards? A book signing—and who’s organizing that, BTW? A demonstration? Can you bring handouts or send a handout ahead of time for the organization to make copies? Will someone be on hand to help you distribute them?
- Due Dates: Does the venue need your presentation sent prior to the event so they can organize on their end? If the event is pre-recorded and virtual, when does the program manager need your presentation to be sent? When does the organization need your head shot, bio, and any other marketing materials? At what time do you need to be in attendance (for both in-person and virtual events)—a half hour before you present? An hour?
- Marketing: Does the venue/organization take care of all the marketing? Are you expected to assist with this?
- Presentation Recording: Will your presentation be recorded? How will that recording be used? Who owns the recording? This is particularly important for virtual presentations that are almost always recorded.
- Pay: What will you be paid for your presentation? When and how will you be paid? If it’s a live/in-person event, will you be paid for your travel expenses? Does it include a per diem? How much? If you’re travelling, who arranges the travel? If it’s you, how are you reimbursed for that?
- What happens if the event gets cancelled? Were you paid a deposit? What happens to that?
Can You Just Sign the Organization’s Contract?
Sure, just read it thoroughly ahead of time to make sure you agree with everything in it. Larger industry events often have their own contracts/speaker agreements that they will send to you, while smaller events or garden clubs often do not. Once you’ve verbally agreed to present at the event, ask the program manager where to send your contract, and that will get the conversation started.
That being said, here are some things to watch out for before signing an organization’s contract. If you sign it without reading it, you may create some very unexpected problems for yourself.
- Language about how your presentation can be used: A colleague recently had an experience where a contract was sent to them with this wording: “I grant to XYZ Organization a royalty-free license to use, reproduce, sell, edit, and distribute my recording in any way in the future, with appropriate attribution to me.” Unless you’re okay with your intellectual property (entire presentation and images) being used any way the organization sees fit without any future compensation to you, that’s an item to discuss or veto.
- Language concerning your own future use of that particular presentation: Watch for wording prohibiting you from ever giving that same presentation again to another organization, or within a geographic area close to the organization within a particular time period.
If you disagree with an element in their contract, you can simply email/call them back and say, “I’m happy to sign the contract once this wording is removed/edited, etc. Please see my notes on the attached contract and let me know if you have any questions.” Be courteous and professional. You are not obligated to agree to any term you are not comfortable with—it’s up to you as an independent contractor to make sure you legally cover yourself.
Note: If you’re looking for a template for a contract, there are lots of them online. Do a quick search for “speaking engagement agreement” and you’ll find many options. Remember, you can always refine it as you go, but it’s important to get those basics down to keep you covered!