Speaking can be a lonely job. As you travel solo and speak for a new audience every time, the need for community is often pressing. Community also makes a big difference to your business through networking, mentorship, education, and solidarity. What’s one stable and reliable avenue for finding these things? By joining a professional speaking organizations. The benefits of being a member of a professional speaking organization extend to your career, your community, and your ability to successfully run a speaking business.
Today, we’re going over those benefits. This piece will help you decide whether membership in a professional speaking organization is a wise choice for your speaking business. We’ll start by clearing up misconceptions about what a professional speaking organization is. Then we’ve dedicated a section to each of the major professional speaking organizations in North America. Our goal is to help you understand the benefits and can make an informed decision about joining. That being said, we highly recommend checking out these organizations in person before you make a decision!
What are professional speaking organizations?
A professional speaking organization is a membership-based organization, usually with chapters nationwide (or worldwide) that offers community and other resources focused around–you guessed it–speaking. The two main professional speaking organizations in the United States are Toastmasters International and the National Speakers Association (NSA). In Canada, the analogue to NSA is the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS).
Some speakers confuse professional speaking organizations with bureaus. Professional speaking organizations are great for your career but they are not the place to find speaking gigs. (Frankly, neither are bureaus–bureaus manage demand for your speaking. They filter potential clients, connect you with the ones who are the best fit, and help you get a sense for where your market is headed. Bureaus are a strategy worth pursuing once your speaking business is growing and ready to scale–learn more here.)
The benefits of being a member of a professional speaking organization hinge on education and community. Speaking is a big industry, and having access to educational resources (like those we provide here at The Speaker Lab) can keep you from making rookie mistakes. Having access to a community that understands your needs and goals as a speaker is a great antidote to the loneliness that comes with entrepreneurship.
Neither bureaus nor professional speaking organizations can do the work of building and marketing your speaking business for you. But professional speaking organizations have a lot to offer your speaking career. Read on to learn what specific organizations can do for you.
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This professional speaking organization truly lives up to the “international” in its name. Toastmasters has approximately 15,000 clubs in almost 150 countries across the world! Joining a club is extremely affordable (less than $100 per year). It’s highly likely you can find a local chapter within driving distance, and most of these chapters will only have about 20 people.
So what does Toastmasters do? Guess what–we spilled all the details about Toastmasters in a recent blog post. Here’s a recap of the basics.
The goal of Toastmasters is to help anyone–really, anyone–improve their leadership skills by mastering the art of public speaking. People come to Toastmasters for all sorts of reasons–preparing to pitch an idea at work, overcoming social anxiety, improving verbal communication skills, or finessing an upcoming speech. That means that many Toastmasters members are not professional speakers.
Nevertheless, Toastmasters can offer a lot to someone who aspires to speak for a living. Local club meetings primarily involve a rotation of members speaking on prepared topics and presenting research. Other attendees provide constructive feedback, count your “ahhs” and “umms”, and give you areas of improvement.
Are you struggling to develop your signature speaking style or articulate your message? Do you feel you need more experience speaking in front of people to deliver your talk confidently? Do you need video footage for your demo video and want to meet people who can help record you? Your local Toastmasters group can offer solutions to all of those things. Practice makes perfect, and Toastmasters will give you ample opportunity to practice.
Regardless of professional background, your fellow Toastmasters members will support your speaking goals, even if they dont’t quite understand them. For those who do want to do motivational speaking long-term, the organization hosts a World Championship of Public Speaking every year. Toastmasters also has a Speaker Accreditation program for people who speak for a living. Once you are accredited, they will help you create a snazzy profile in their directory for event planners seeking professional speakers. Accreditation can be a helpful asset if you know that clients in your target market use this directory!
Toastmasters holds a place of honor at the start of many great speakers’ careers. While this organization does not have the same emphasis on developing a speaking business as the National Speakers Association, it can be a huge help. It’s a great choice if you are excited to invest in your local community and meet other professionals–speakers or not. If you are currently focused on improving your on-stage delivery by overcoming stage fright or reducing your use of filler words, your local chapter meetings can provide a lot of benefit. And thanks to the small local chapter structure, you can be confident that you will be welcomed into a loyal, committed community. The benefits of membership in a professional speaking organization like Toastmasters are especially applicable at the start of your speaking career, so don’t waste any time looking up your local chapter!
The National Speakers Association
While Toastmasters welcomes anyone who wants to work on public speaking, the National Speakers Association has a narrower scope. The NSA (the one that speaks, not the one that listens) offers a professional community for anybody who gets paid to speak. That’s right–if you speak for a living, you can be a member of NSA. All NSA resources and events are rooted in eight competencies that drive their mission: empowering professional speakers to thrive and influence. We have had two presidents of the NSA on The Speaker Lab podcast, so you can listen and learn more about the organization here and here.
The NSA currently offers two levels of membership: essential and advanced. Perks include monthly networking events, cheaper pricing for NSA events, and various digital resources and webinars for speakers. You can also get lower rates on health insurance, life insurance, and useful software like zoom.
The advanced membership includes everything in the essential and access to the NSA digital vault. The vault is a repository of resources to aid and assist every step of your speaking journey, including contract templates and webinars with world-famous speakers. You can also subscribe to the vault separately without being an NSA member. In addition to the resources in the digital vault, the NSA also publishes a blog, magazine, and podcast full of helpful tips for speakers.
The NSA has over 30 chapters across the country, mainly based out of major cities. Local chapter meetings will often include many entry-level speakers who are just learning about the business and the NSA, so don’t be afraid to check out the one closest to you! You find your closest chapter here and see types of events organized at the local level. If you don’t see the types of events you’re interested in, consider becoming an active member in your chapter and helping make them happen!
In addition to several virtual events, the NSA holds two major conferences each year called Influence and Thrive. One is focused on learning how to influence and impact others, the other on building your business. Whether you’re trying to get a better feel for your audience’s needs or struggling to pivot in a fast-changing market, the incredible lineup of speakers and workshop leaders at these conferences is sure to address your needs. These events are structured so that first-time attendees are fully immersed in the community from the very start through receptions and “buddy programs” with other speakers.
Like Toastmasters, the NSA offers a certification that can give you a leg up when potential clients come across your name.They also host a Speaker Hall of Fame for speakers who excel across the areas of Message, Presentation & Delivery, Experience, Professionalism, and Collateral Material. NSA members who earn CSP or CPAE designation have access to their own special set of events and workshops. Even if you don’t have CSP or CPAE next to your name yet, the NSA is a trusted “household name” that any event planner will recognize.
Without a doubt, one of the most advantageous benefits of being a member of the National Speakers Association is the community–whether you encounter it at your local chapter, in a Facebook Group, or at one of their annual events. Here, you will find individuals who understand the highs and lows of the speaking industry. This can be a welcome respite from the friends and family constantly asking when you will get a real job. Meeting other people who are ahead or behind you on the same unique path offers that special solidarity that keeps you going when times are tough.
Networking with other speakers is key to getting referrals, which are hands down the best way to land speaking gigs. But being part of this speaker community goes far beyond putting a few more dollars in your pocket. NSA members really understand the business of speaking, so they’re a great sounding board for new ideas percolating in your mind. Speakers are a friendly bunch, so if you’re looking for support in any aspect of your business, you can probably find it among NSA members. Mentors and peers give you trustworthy feedback, helping you refine your craft and your business.
While NSA membership isn’t cheap, a nationwide community filled with zeal for the field of professional speaking is a rare find! (If you’re looking for a smaller, guided community that will help you accelerate your speaking business, our programs might be a good fit!)
The Canadian Association of Professional Speakers
The Canadian Association of Professional Speakers offers many of the same community and educational resources to the NSA. They host an annual convention, offer member discounts on educational resources, and have several vibrant local chapters. Like the NSA, they also offer a certification and a hall of fame. If you are already part of a similar organization in another country (like the NSA) and often speak in Canada, there is also a dual membership option. We did a podcast on speaking to an international market here.
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The benefits of being a member of a professional speaking organization are many, especially given how isolating the life of a speaker can be. Toastmasters International offers an amazing opportunity to hone your speaking skills in a low-pressure, supportive environment. The National Speakers Association and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers provide community and career resources to serious speakers at all levels.
The organizations that we’ve covered are the most reputable, established professional speaking organizations in the United States and Canada. If you’re from another country, you might want to check out the Global Speakers Federation to learn about trustworthy professional speaking organizations around the world. Given the digital age, it’s inevitable that new professional speaking organizations are popping up all over the internet. While some of those might have a lot of potential, it’s important to vet them (and preferably know someone on the inside) before paying any sort of membership fee. We can confidently recommend Toastmasters, NSA, and CAPS depending on your geographic area and your needs. If you know of another professional speaking organization to recommend, feel free to get in touch and let us know!