My face when I finally learned to say no


For Speakers & Performers

I received this message recently from a fellow speaker.  See if you can relate:

Hi Jason!  I enjoyed taking your course and I’m enjoying your blog posts. I have a question that maybe you can answer to me or address in a future post, as I read them all. I’m curious what you do about too many free speaking requests. I want to be the nice guy and I’d love to honor everything, but it’s just too much sometimes. Of course I’d love to be paid, and honestly, if they were paying gigs I’d probably say yes. But I seem to be the religious, youth, women’s conference guy. I love speaking, but need to balance time w/ my family. Even (XYZ Conference) primary keynote wanted me for free. I got a little bit out of them. Anyway…I haven’t turned speaking into a business…yet…because my current media opportunities have kept me so busy. In the meantime I’m flattered to be asked to speak. I think what I have to say it important. But I need some advice on how to limit my time or make it more worthwhile. All the best to you and your family!


In recent posts I have talked about how to create opportunities for yourself to speak for free and try out new material.  Obviously, this person, and many reading this blog, may be in the opposite position –

Needing to learn to say NO.

Saying no is perhaps the toughest aspect of this business once you become known as the person who says YES to everything.  You are the nice guy, the one who will respond to every call, email, request, and drop everything for yourself and family to do everything for everyone else.

First off, you’re not alone.  This is a normal thing to have happen and think you are doing what’s right.

Second, you will begin to feel bad.  Mostly you’ll feel bad for feeling bad that you feel bad about doing all these things for others.

Third, if you are seeing that it is weighing on you, your relationships, your health, etc, then it is time for a shift.

A few years ago I got to the end of my week and was exhausted.  As I complained to my wife about my “busy” schedule she and I looked back over the calendar, and I was stunned at what we saw my week entailed:

  • 5 school events, with at least 2, sometimes 3 assemblies per school
  • 2 religious events
  • 1 charity event
  • 50.5 hours of phone calls at all hours of the day and night with people I was mentoring, answering the same questions, for those looking to make it in the business
  • 10 hours worth of time spent composing emails, texts, Facebook messages answering questions for young mentees

Not only had I missed the chance to work out every day, eat normal, and sleep, but I had missed a few of the kids plays, a dance recital, Church, and a family get together.  I was pulling 20 hour work days just to fit it all in.

To make matters worse, I made ZERO dollars that week.

So, you’re reading this from a chronic people pleaser who is still in recovery.

Here are my quick-fix solutions that will solve your challenge immediately if you’re willing to do them.

  1. Look at your Calendar and determine the hours spent prepping for, traveling to, and doing the event
  2. Discuss the amount of time you spent over the past 3 months doing free events with your spouse, family, yourself (journal), your therapist or mentor
    1. IF any of this brings you heartache, anger, lost money in your real job, lost paid events, missing family activities or self-doubt about your worth, it is time to stop
  3. Establish NEW RULES for accepting who you will donate to –
    1. For me it is: My Church (for Sunday evening events only), Boy Scouts (once a year), any Board I serve on I will do what they need up to 2 times per year, an occasional charity event, friend or family requests, the US Military (up to 2 times per year), and my kid’s school.
      1. I will donate 2 Sunday evenings per month, in Utah within a one hour drive from my home, for religious events.  When they ask me to do a Friday or Saturday, having heard I donate, I tell them that is when I make a living and is unavailable, so it has to be a Sunday, unless they’d like to pay.
      2. We only accept a few charity events annually for during the week dates.  Very rare though.
      3. Mostly we discount rather than donate, with a trade as compensation (extended stay at a nice hotel for my family, get-away with my wife, etc)
    3. Know Your Audience: Everyone else is literally out of luck.  They must pay.  If they can’t or won’t, we refer them along to another speaker who indicates they want the work and referral.
  4. Determine if this is a HECK YES opportunity.  What this means is that, if it’s a one time event, and if you can’t scream, “HECK YES!  I need to do this event!”, then you shouldn’t do that event.  Anytime you feel hesitant in your donation, then it’s not right for you and you will feel mad, bad, sad as you see it creep up on your calendar and turn work away in it’s place.
  5. Consider the following:
    1. Will this event make me happier for doing it?  Is it an opportunity I couldn’t get otherwise? 
    2. Will it help me gain credibility, a larger following, perhaps nice video or testimonials?  
    3. Will it open doors as a Showcase for an industry I’ve been trying to get in that will eventually pay me? 
    4. Will having this event in the public eye help or hurt my reputation? 
    5. Is this a favor for someone I can do to give back in a positive way for our relationship?
    6. Can I receive trade for a family trip, products I want, or something I’d never buy but want to have?  
  6. Establish YOUR GUIDELINES for the free event you are doing, mine are –
    1. 30 Day out CONFIRMATION clause: We let them know that, since this is for free, and I have to make a living elsewhere, that their event is our second priority and paid events are first.  We can pencil them in until 30 days out, but cannot confirm until then.  Pretty much everyone understands the logic for this, since they are asking you to donate your time, you’re asking them to risk something, too.
    2. CANCELLATION clause: If, within those 30 days, I receive a paid event opportunity over your same date, I will provide for you someone in my place of equal or greater value and secure their appearance for you. I will also do your next event, if you’ll still have me.
    3. IF they are PROMOTING the event with my face on it, I tell them to use this wording until 30 days out: “SPECIAL SURPRISE GUEST APPEARANCE (a Las Vegas Performer/ Award-Winning Speaker you don’t want to miss!)”  This wording literally generates more excitement than my name ever could, and it allows us to fill in my spot with someone else if the need arises.

Initially, as you begin to apply these rules, you will feel terrible about it.  You may fall back into the cycle of giving so much you personally have little left.  It happens to me about 2 times per year.  Then I have to start back at the top of this list and work on it again.

There are many benefits to doing free events for personal, professional, and emotional satisfaction.

Last year I did a favor for a friend who ended up becoming mayor after our event.  It wasn’t because of me, but I was glad I was involved to help out.

This year we have already accepted our allotment of allowed events for the year, and have some amazing trips in trade due to the discounts/charity we have offered.  That’s a Win-Win!

At the beginning of my career I begrudgingly drove from Utah to Montana to perform at a birthday party for my Dad’s friend and 50 of his pals.  I was ticked to do it.  This man and I became friends.  It eventually led to the birthday boy referring me to the single largest corporate opportunity of my career, which kept us financially sustained for nearly 3 years at the start of all of this, my wife and I flying around in private jets and rubbing shoulders with the rich & famous.  So I am one who believes that the bread we cast upon the waters will return.

However, there is a time and place for all things.  Determine for yourself what you should and shouldn’t do, follow the guidelines outlined above, and I know you can make a change if one is needing to be made.


~ jason


Jason Hewlett, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame, is a Keynote Speaker for the largest corporate events in the world. His primary message, The Promise, is essential for Leadership, Management, Sales, Marketing, Direct-Sales Companies, and is a combination of engagement and entertainment meets inspiration. Jason has even received standing ovations from IT guys. He has been acknowledged as life-changing by Conference Attendees, C-Level Executives and Hollywood Elite.


Please click here to learn about how Jason Hewlett, Speaker Hall of Fame, introduces the opportunity for you, or someone you love, to have the gift of learning how to create a Career From the Stage and begin moving toward fulfilling a lifelong dream as a full-time speaker, performer, or entertainer.


  1. Jason,
    Wow, My experience echoes your own. About 10 years into my now 20 years of speaking led me to the creation of a nearly identical list.

    The idea you share on “trading” the engagement is perhaps worth an entire post. In addition to trading for a week at a cabin, or extra nights at a hotel, you can ask them for many other things.

    A veterans group invited me to be a part of a large event in Texas next week and were happy to pay me full fee…. but the more I learned about their situation and the number of widows that would be in attendance I felt taking payment just wasn’t something I could do. I also had a very busy month and leaving my wife to watch the kids while was away also wasn’t something I wanted to do.

    Solution, to wife I said, How would you like to come on a date with me for a couple days to Texas, meet some wonderful people stay in a great hotel, and eat amazing food while someone else makes the bed?

    To the client – “I’d like donate the balance of my fee back to your organization and be listed as a platinum sponsor and just request from your charity an extra airline ticket, and an upgraded room so I can invite my spouse to join me at your special event.”

    There have been non profits and associations over the years who happily traded the portion of my fee they could not afford to pay, for my being listed as a premium sponsor or partner on their website and literature for a year or more.

    Jason Is right – there are so many ways to say no without feeling sad or guilty, and so many ways to yes to an organization that may not have money, but who can still offer tremendous value to you and your business. You often just need to help them realize that by making a few creative suggestions …

    Thank you Jason for all you do to help us be better!!

    • Jason Hewlett

      Kirk, You have added much to this post and yes, I will do as you suggest and make another post about this very thing we call trade. I barely touched on the possibilities, and have utilized your strategies as well. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement, and especially for doing something great for those who need it most. Have fun in TX!

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