The Art of Negotiation: How to Get What You're Worth

The one question every COMIC or SPEAKER wants after a gig is this:

We LOVED you...so, how much would you charge to present at our company?”

I get so many emails from students saying, “Someone wants to PAY me – but what should I charge?!”
We should all have this problem.  But, you’ve got to play it right.

If you quote too LOW, you’ll get an immediate reply of, “Sounds great!” – and then you’ll be punching yourself on the way home, knowing you should have gone way higher.

If you quote too HIGH, you might hear, “Oh, no! That’s way out of our budget!” – and you wind up losing the gig since you really can’t go down to $1,500 after quoting $10K.

So, let’s talk about the art of negotiation.

The days of ONE set price are long gone.  Performers aren’t the only ones who negotiate EVERY gig; now, even big companies will haggle.  Many hospitals have turned into a medical swap meet, where you can negotiate if you’ve got cash.  Seriously.

I did a gig for hospital administrators in New Orleans, and afterwards we went out drinking on Bourbon Street.  After downing a few Hurricanes, they spilled the beans that patients can negotiate for any and all medical procedures.  One administrator of a small privately owned hospital in Oklahoma explained it like this:

“Hey, if anyone comes in with cash, I’ll go down as low as $500 for a CAT scan. I mean, that’s cash on hand, and we don’t have to go through the months it takes to go through billing and dealing with insurance companies.”

That’s right, just swipe your credit card and you’ve got your MRI, your CAT scan, and wait -- for a tip, why not take off that mole for an extra $25?

So, if you want to get what you are worth -- have some agility in how you respond to any pricing questions.  Here are some questions YOU need to ask before quoting a price when you hear that magic question, “How much do you charge to perform?

1.     Tell me about your event.

This will help you gather valuable information so you can decide if you WANT to do the gig.  The event might be in a really cool city that you’ve longed to travel to, or it might be a benefit that takes place in a nuclear plant where you wouldn’t risk your life for cab fare.

The second possibility is what happened to Talent Manager, Barb North.  She didn’t want to go, so she quoted them double her price, and then she was shocked when they agreed.  She was glowing!  Literally.

2.     What kind of RESULTS do you want after I perform?

This not only assists them in picturing their attendees listening to you and coming away inspired, but if you listen carefully, you’ll gain insights you can use later when you’re talking money.

3.     WHEN are you thinking about me going on?

Knowing when you go on in the program is important for two reasons.  First, it gets them picturing you at their event, making it seem more real.  Second, when you hear about when they want you to go on, it will give you a better idea if you WANT to do the gig.  I wish I had asked this question more often -- because it would’ve kept me from getting stuck speaking to a horribly drunk audience who’d just enjoyed three hours of an open bar.

4.     What is your budget?

By now, you’ll have an idea of whether or not you want to do their event.  So, if they make an offer too low on an unappealing event, instead of saying no, you might want to recommend the gig to someone else and take a cut.  I’ve done that a lot, since I know a lot of talented, funny entertainers and speakers who would love to work for under $1500 and give me commission.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

But, if the offer is in the ballpark of what you charge, say:

5.     “We are close to my fee; is there any other way to work this out?”

Very often, if a client can’t hit your fee, there are ways to close the gap.  For instance, one client really wanted me, but I wouldn’t come down on my fee because it was an international gig, with a lot of unpleasant down time sitting in airports.  When I asked her if she could think of any ways to close the pricing gap, she offered a solution:  if I would do it for a reduced fee, she could offer me six more gigs.

Wow – was I glad I didn’t just say no!  (Read briefly about this in my blog, Don't Sell Yourself Short!)  We had a deal.

That’s why I love saying, “We are so close...” – because there are a lot of ways to make up the difference in pricing, including product sales, email lists of attendees, referrals, and many more.

I’ve devoted a full chapter in “The Message of You” on how to get what you’re worth when the client can’t hit your price (and how to turn FREE gigs into FEE gigs).

6.     Can you give me overnight to think about it?
Never be too anxious to say yes.  If they want you, they want you -- and you’re also giving them overnight to think of ways to come up with more money.  Plus, it gives you time to ask your mentors, “What should I charge?”


  1. Just what I needed today! Thanks, Judy!

  2. Thanks, I just went through this with a lady who remembered my performance from 11 years ago and wanted me for a private gig. I got decent money for a gig close to where I would be on a family vacation (Maybe an hour or so drive), a meal included, ability to sell my merch and a great referral opportunity. I'll be doing it in July, so we'll see how it works out!!

  3. Here's another idea. If they say they are at their budget limit, ask if they have another budget that can cover the difference. Corporations often have different budgets for speakers, education, etc. You could say, "What if we give each attendee a book, and you take it out of the education budget?" You just increased your overall take, kept your speaker fee where you want it, and sold a bunch of books. Now sit down and have an iced tea. It's hot out there.

  4. Love this Judy, so helpful!!! Thank you for once again sharing your wisdom and helping us to duck the owwies:)XOFrannie

  5. Brilliant! Thank you for this, I am currently trying to navigate these waters and this was so helpful!

  6. I shared your invaluable advice on my FB page. How gracious and giving you are to offer such wise counsel.

  7. Thanks, Judy!

  8. Great tips as usual Judy!
    Even after all of these great questions... I have found a trend lately that some people are asking 'what's your BEST price?' The problem with that is....if you quote your 'best(Lowest) price' up front, it makes it harder to negotiate down much without looking fishy.

    In this 'quoting' game of chess, many people don't seem to want to answer the question 'what is your budget' and some will go great lengths to deny that there is a budget. In that case it seems you just have to throw a number out there(on the upper end of your range so there's room to go down if you have to) and hope it falls into their range. All of a sudden, they miraculously seem to know if you're in their budget or not.... In chess, the person who moves first often has the advantage.
    What are yours/everyone's thoughts on this?

  9. Great Article, but never mind that; your advice on medical bills just saved me possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars! Thanks Jude. You rock!

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  11. I really appreciate spending some time to talk about that, I believe firmly regarding this and so really enjoy understanding more about this kind of subject.
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  12. You are AWESOME! So glad I found you and look forward to learning from you. Thank you for all you do!

  13. The art of negotiations are found everywhere and the most critical time to use your skills are when you negotiate your salary.


Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.