A story is told of a motivational speaker who was invited to speak at a social gathering on the understanding that he would be paid Sh30,000. He was paid the initial deposit of Sh5,000.
When days later he went to collect his balance, he got a rude shock when the host told him she saw no need of paying him as did nothing but talk, “After all, we gave you food and drink,” she added dismissively.
This is how some people disregard professional speakers in Kenya and is a far cry from the international scene, where ‘poorly paid’ pro speakers are assured of at least $10,000 (Sh850,000) per session.
Former US president Bill Clinton is reported to have earned a staggering $750,000 (Sh67 million) from a single speaking engagement.
This is the world of lucrative speaking engagements, where international personalities make tonnes of cash just by, well, talking! And they are in such high demand, unlike in Kenya where the culture of professional speaking is yet to take root.
David Waweru, who publishes motivational books under his label WordAlive Publishers says that professional/motivational speakers in the US are some of the wealthiest people.
“Keynote speakers are highly sought after individuals, unlike here where one is invited to speak for free, with the only compensation likely to be a little money for fuel,” says Waweru, who has also authored a motivational book.
Anthony Gitonga, a motivational author-cum-speaker, with nine titles to his name, notes that in spite of challenges, the market is slowly opening up. “Some of the top-rated motivational speakers in Nairobi charge between Sh100,000 and 150,000 per hour,” he says. “Nairobians however prefer to be entertained by comedians,” explains Gitonga, who resigned from his job as a bank manager to concentrate on writing books and giving motivational talks.
Some of the most sought after motivational speakers in Nairobi today include Sunny Bindra, The Nairobian columnist Pepe Minambo, Wale Akinyemi among others. Pepe reveals that he charges between Sh80,000 and 100,000 for corporate clients for a one-hour speaking engagement.
For SMEs and mid-sized companies, he charges between Sh60,000 and 80,000. “For schools, I charge between Sh25,000 and 30,000,” reveals Pepe. On average, he has four speaking engagements per week.
Comedian Daniel Ndambuki of Churchill Show fame charges between Sh200,000 and 250,000 for any public engagement.
Although professional speaking is yet to take root in Kenya, it is clear that those who have broken through are making a tidy sum by Kenyan standards.
Highly paid speakers
Nairobi has witnessed its fair share of highly paid speakers.
In 2014, Wole Soyinka gave a keynote speech during the Storymoja Festival. Although the festival organisers did not disclose how much they paid him, it was not less than Sh1 million. The Nobel laureate travelled first class at the expense of the hosts.
Some international speakers take their jobs very seriously. Miguna Miguna, in his book, Peeling Back the Mask, tells of an incident in 1990 when, as a law student, they invited Ngugi wa Thiong’o to give a talk during the African Liberation Day.
After negotiations, they agreed to pay Ngugi a honorarium of $2,500 (Sh217,500), since they planned to raise the money by charging for entry and selling refreshments.
As fate would have it, those who collected the money disappeared and Miguna found himself with the task of having to explain to Ngugi why they could not pay him the money. “Regrettably, Ngugi wanted his money; he didn’t care that I was a refugee struggling to pay my own way through law school. Eventually, I depleted my meagre savings and sent Ngugi his honorarium,” writes Miguna.
For an international speaking engagement, Ngugi charges $20,000 (Sh1.7 million) and above per session.
Angela Wachuka, the executive director of Kwani? who hosted Ngugi in one of their many literary events says, “Normally, we let him know what we are willing to pay, and he never seems to have a problem. In any case, he identifies with what we are doing.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a fast-rising literary star is paid between $10,000 (Sh850,000) and $20,000 (Sh1.7 million), according to Allamericanspeakers.com.
Kwani? has hosted Chimamanda twice and Wachuka discloses that they have been lucky as she identifies with Kwani? and the fact that she and Binyavanga Wainaina – the Kwani founder – are good friends, “We do not have problems agreeing on her fees.”