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6 Warning Signs You May Be Getting Scammed As a Professional Speaker – Felicia Slattery, Public Speaking Coach

6 Warning Signs You May Be Getting Scammed As a Professional Speaker

6 Warning Signs You May Be Getting Scammed As a Professional Speaker

yellow flag warning for professional speakersWhen you go to the beach in Florida, you’ll see a flag indicating the level of safety for ocean swimmers on any given day.

In NASCAR and other car racing, there are flags indicating to the drivers what is coming up on the track.

In both instances, the yellow flag means caution: warning… conditions are far from perfect and you need to take the proper precautions to be ensure your safety.

Today, I’ll share with you 5 yellow flags that unfortunately happen in the underbelly of professional speaking that should raise your own awareness to protect yourself as well.

You’ve seen them – the emails that somehow magically sneak through your spam filters.

Like the ones from a “barrister” in the UK who informs you that some long lost wealthy relation you never knew existed died and left you a fortune. All you need to do is reply to that email and you’re on your way to being set for life.

Or the email about how you won the lottery in the Netherlands connected to official-looking reference and ticket numbers. You simply need to provide your personal details to process your claim to get millions of dollars.

Or the email from a bishop at a real church in England invites you to come to speak, but once you agree you have to send them hundreds of dollars for a supposed “work permit” in the UK.

Wait… you haven’t heard of that last one?

Obviously the first two are typical, often Nigerian-run scams where you are told out of the blue via email that something wonderful has happened for you and all you need to do is to reply. Shortly after you reply, in the next email exchange or two you are then informed that due to some sort of logical-sounding reason, you’ll first need to provide a sum of money to expedite things. And that’s when the fleecing begins.

The same is true of the last scenario, too, specifically targeted to speakers. Except this scam is much more insidious, in my opinion, because email is a very well-accepted form of business communication, particularly for first contacts. And, as a speaker, you’re likely marketing yourself at least to a certain extent online where meeting planners can find you. So getting an email invitation to speak isn’t something that in itself would raise any kind of warning signals.

Yet too many times this year and at least three times LAST WEEK I’ve heard of scams, jerks, con artists, and rip offs trying to benefit from the hard work and good name of professional speakers by taking advantage of them and trying to trick them, the industry, and the marketplace. Once again I call out:


So here is my list of how you can tell a scam invitation to speak – or should I say get ripped off – from the real and true invites from actual meeting planners with real money to PAY YOU to speak:

Yellow Flag 1: Inviting you to speak within a few weeks of an event.
Real meeting planners that host live, in-person events at brick and mortar venues with paid professional speakers know they need to get the speakers booked early to help with the rest of the marketing of the event. That means you’ll usually be contacted anywhere from 3-6 months up to a year or more in advance of an event.

Yellow Flag 2: International speaking gig contacting you too soon before an event.
Like Yellow Flag #1, this is a similar problem, compounded by the fact that real international meeting planners know it can take at least 6 weeks to get a passport and possibly longer for a visa.

Yellow Flag 3: The event isn’t listed anywhere online.
This one alone may not be a major concern if you are speaking for a private group planning an event for their internal staff. However, if the supposed event is open to the public, there should be at least a website for the organization that mentions the upcoming event, if not a website already dedicated to that event. If there is nothing about a public event online anywhere, dig deeper.

Yellow Flag 4: Wanting to hire you sight unseen, via email alone.
This one is tough because we want to believe our online marketing, videos, and websites are all so powerful that OF COURSE we would get speaking offers for paying gigs all set up in one email. Sorry to burst your bubble, but in the real speaking world, it just doesn’t work like that. A legitimate meeting planner will call or email or fill out your contact form on your website first and want to set up a time to talk about your speech, their event, and their unique audience. You see, every planner believes their audience has unique challenges and they want to be sure YOU are the right person to address those unique needs during your speech. Their job is to make sure they’re not hiring someone who will embarrass them on stage. These are people who are known for their due diligence. They will want to see video of you on stage, see references or testimonials from other event planners, and will want to TALK TO YOU first before you are hired.

Yellow Flag 5: Being asked to pay ANYTHING.
As a professional speaker you should never, ever pay to speak anywhere in the world. You are being invited for your expertise. A work visa is only required in most countries if you are going to become an employee of an organization. To get one check one time, as an independent contractor, you’re being paid an honorarium. Not as an employee.

Yellow Flag 6: Not Willing to Agree to Your Reasonable Contract Terms – Especially 50% Down
If you’re speaking professionally, you know the typical industry standard to for speakers is to be paid 50% of their fee at the time of booking and the rest to come a week before the event (most preferred), at the event, or at the worst, within 30 days after the event. If a group contacts you and refuses to pay the 50% of your fee upfront, the organization may be trying to bide its time to see if they will even host the event. What that does to you is removes the date from your schedule, plus any travel time associated with that date without any promise of income. Like other yellow flags listed here, while not necessarily an indicator on its own of a scam, in combination with other yellow flags here should raise your caution and make you think twice.

In the comments below I’d love to hear what systems you have in place to do your due diligence with speaking offers. In the next post I’ll share mine!

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  1. Felicia Slattery July 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the extra details and great examples, Leesa! I’ll be adding your Yellow Flag as a #7 in anything future I may do with this topic (and happily referencing you too!).

    I think my favorite weird use of the language is: “so she can view the vast land mass and the beautiful countryside.” Vast land mass, huh? Because that’s what we want to see. LOL

    One other point of note- I don’t think any of these yellow flags in themselves is a reason to believe something is a scam. In fact, that’s why I called the “yellow” flag instead of “red” flags – meaning to stop right there. Yellow is all about caution. So you are right… if the English is awkward, and should not be – someone in the UK would most certainly write and speak perfect English – then that is a reason to be wary and cautious about the rest of the exchange.

    • Leesa Barnes July 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm - Reply

      The “vast land mass” made me crack up. But the one that made me flatline was when they wanted to “soothe (sic?) my schedule.” Plus, referring to me as Mrs. Barnes creeped me out because I’m not married and if I were, I wouldn’t marry someone with the same last name as mine. Marrying a cousin was cool in Biblical times, but it’s pretty much frowned upon today.

  2. Leesa Barnes July 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Another warning, which is what tripped up my virtual assistant, is strange use of the English language. Please read this carefully, so you understand what I mean…

    – If none of the 6 yellow flags mentioned by Felicia above are met and the person isn’t using the most perfect English, most likely, it is NOT a scam. I know how difficult it is to communicate in a language that isn’t your mother tongue (I should know, my 2nd language is French – such a humbling experience), so I’m not referring to these individuals.

    – With that said, if 3 or more of the 6 yellow flags mentioned by Felicia are met AND the English they’re using in their emails is rather odd, be suspicious.

    Need examples? Take a look at some of the odd syntaxes and grammar used by the scammers in their lengthy email exchange with my virtual assistant (I’m copying the scammers words verbatim – with no edits):

    When sharing when why I need to arrive early…
    “Note Leesa is meant to arrive a day before her performance as to get familiar with the audio/visual gadgets that we have in place, and to get used to the environment as a whole and also get to relax from the jet lag.”

    Regarding who will obtain my UK work visa…
    “Mrs. Burks is a senior official of the United Kingdom Border Agency and an erstwhile member of our congregation before she was posted away from our environs,”

    Regarding who will be attending the conference…
    “Since we will have a protuberance of business minded people in the audience as we have about more than half of our parishioner who are small/medium scale business people, The presentation will be just right!”

    On why they’re inviting me to speak…
    “Sending out the invitation to you is by virtue of Gods bearing plus human recommendation, We need you to use your wealth of experience to sensitize the congregation, We organized this conference and workshop also in the hope of trying to re-organize the Church and further extend our impacts, We are inviting you so you can inspire this people, teach them how to triumph over the deflating effects of set-backs & self-doubt, how to break free from whatever is keeping them “small”, and become empowered by their challenges, rather than victimized. And most importantly, how to start great things with small efforts and steadfastness,”

    On which airport I will be flying into…
    “Ms. Barnes will be flying into Edinburgh airport where we would then provide ground transportation for her to Jarrow so she can view the vast land mass and the beautiful countryside.”

    On which airport I need to fly out of…
    “We are working on flight itinerary at present and we would also want to employ you to please send us the departure airport that would best soothe Mrs. Barnes schedule.”

    Remember (this bears repeating) – If none of the 6 yellow flags are being met and the English used in their emails is a bit awkward, there’s no need for alarm. Their 1st language isn’t English and they’re trying their best. However, if 3 or more of the yellow flags are being met AND they’re using awkward English, the invitation may very well be a scam.

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