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Dave emailed me a most intriguing question:  “Should I pay a someone to be part of our panel?  It’s a stand alone panel which is NOT affiliated with a conference or corporate marketing campaign.”

Hmmm….honestly, I had never thought about it.

Most panelists are invited as part of a larger program, so their participation is connected to the program, and not just the panel.  If they are getting paid, it is within the larger context of their contributions to the overall program: as a paid professional speaker, an industry speaker, an exhibitor, a sponsor, or registered participant. 

In this case, Dave’s panel isn’t connected to a convention or campaign…but someone must be interested in the panel’s success.  I’ll call that person/entity “the sponsor”  (that may even be Dave!).

If there is money and/or a budget, then he has the ABILITY to pay. Not that he has to.  Panelists who are industry professionals getting a salary from some corporation are happy to participate for expenses.  Exhibitors and sponsors are delighted to get the visibility.  In Dave’s case, he is trying to attract a paid professional speaker, which is a different kettle of fish.  They actually expect to get paid to share their expertise!

To entice those who have a track record of being a paid professional speaker, you can:

  1. Pay a panelist fee.  Ask the speaker about their “panelist rate.” (My bet is that the speaker doesn’t have one and will quote you either the full fee, something a bit less, or will stammer…which gives you leverage to negotiate!)
  2. Stream it.  Does the entire panel have to be live, or can you stream the speaker to be “on” the live panel?  Here’s a great example of a hybrid (live and streaming) panel.  The speaker may have a “webinar” or “virtual” fee.
  3. Offer a stipend.  A stipend is a small contribution to acknowledge the effort that will go into being on the panel.  Go with whatever you feel most comfortable with and is appropriate for your industry. 
  4. Offer to pay travel and expenses – either as a stated sum, no greater than a stated sum or actual expenses.  (My preference is the stated sum and be done with it!)
  5. Offer a contribution to the speaker’s favorite charity.

If there isn’t money/budget, then the above is a moot point.  Ask the speaker to participate like all your other panelists….and if the speaker wants to play, GREAT.  If not, then find someone else.

If you MUST have this person’s unique perspective, then I suggest you get creative as “compensation” doesn’t necessarily mean money.  What else is important to the speaker?  Visibility?  Recognition?  Praise?  Access to others?

Just like any speaker you are trying to get to speak for free, here are some ideas to negotiate “equitable value”:

  • Barter.  What can you or your sponsors offer that will be of equal value to their fee? 
  • Sponsorships.  Is there another company that might sponsor the speaker and get some visibility to the participants?
  • Access.  Provide the speaker access to the participants by providing the attendee list and/or VIP access to the heavy hitters in the room.
  • Revenue.  Can the speaker make an offer and/or sell books or some other product at the back of the room? 
  • Free registration to another high profile event that your sponsor offers
  • Visibility.  Profile the speaker in your publications and/or publish an article in your magazine or newsletter.
  • Publicity.  Arrange for on-site interviews with the local media.
  • Video.  Offer to professionally video the session. (Good video is VERY hard to come by!)

One caveat, though.  Think about the fairness of “paying” this one speaker.   What about all the other panelists?  If this is the first panel in a series of panels, also be careful about the precedence you are setting.  You are, in fact, creating a policy for panelists being paid (or not!) to participate in a panel discussion.


For quick tips and techniques to help you moderate a lively and informative panel discussion at your next meeting, conference or convention, make sure to check out this YouTube playlist, Powerful Panel Discussion Tips.

Related Articles:

Top 10 Reasons to Hire a Professional Panel Moderator

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Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.

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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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