Top Public Speaking Certifications to Elevate Your Speaking Career

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Starting a speaking business? Sketching out a game plan for getting paid gigs and scaling your platform? You’ve probably wondered about speaking certifications or accreditations. Public speaking certifications often play an important role in your professional development as a speaker. They can help you land a great first impression, introduce you to a network of similar professionals, and make you a better speaker. 

However, not every speaker is certified, and not every speaker needs to be certified. We’re not talking about a box to check on your Monday to-do list. Public speaking certification is a serious endeavor that often requires significant investment of time and money. The most prestigious certifications are only available to mid-career or seasoned speakers, so it might not be on your radar yet. At the same time, even if certification is only in your periphery, it’s important to know what your options are. So that’s what we’re covering today! 

What is a Public Speaking Certification?

A public speaking certification is a designation from a third party attesting that you exemplify certain skills related to speaking. By that definition, many “accreditations” are “certifications;” for our purposes the two terms are interchangeable. Certifications either evaluate your existing merits as a speaker or they involve continuing education. The scope of a public speaking certification can emphasize purely onstage skills, or it can extend to your overall speaking business. 

Quick note: Some speakers and organizations offer “speaking certifications” whereby you can get licensed to train others using their proprietary intellectual property. That’s not what we’re talking about today. If you’re interested in that aspect of the speaking industry, we have a podcast about it right here.

Public speaking certifications matter because they can be an incredible tool to advance your speaking career. Often, they include opportunities for scaling your networking and marketing efforts. They can also act as a motivator as you map out how you want your business to grow. Event planners love added proof that the speaker they are hiring is a professional so we always recommend emphasizing public speaking certifications when optimizing your speaker bio. (Learn more about speaker bios here and here)!

Trustworthy certifications offered by organizations respected within the speaking industry or your industry rarely have downsides. However, it’s not always the right time to get certified–and depending on your goals, might never be the right time. 

Should you get a public speaking certification? 

There’s no law that says you need any kind of certification to get booked and paid to speak. Public speaking certification is just one of many potential assets you can harness for your speaking business. It looks good in your marketing materials, impresses people who read your speaker bio, and you sometimes get permission to add a snazzy badge to your website! Like testimonials from past clients, speaking certifications attest that you’re the real deal. They signify your commitment to the trade and your willingness to strive for excellence.

Why does this matter so much? Won’t your demo video speak for itself? 

Here’s the thing. Event planners in every industry are incredibly conscious of risk mitigation. A wild card speaker, even one who’s very talented, means unpredictability. Public speaking certification functions as an additional endorsement from a known organization with known standards. Testimonials from past clients, awards you have won, and references from other speakers also accomplish this. Certification should not be the only tool in your toolkit! 

Important factors in your decision-making process

Before you pursue any public speaking certification, make sure it aligns with your goals. Do big speakers in your niche have certifications? No? You probably don’t need one. On the other hand, if you’re entering a highly competitive industry, the right certification could be just the leg up you do need. The best way to find out whether certifications align with your niche is to ask other speakers. We always recommend finding mentors who are a few years ahead of you on a similar career path looks similar to the one you envision for yourself. If they haven’t pursued public speaking certifications, ask them why. If they have, ask them how it has impacted their ability to book paid speaking gigs. And most importantly, ask them which certifications they recommend for you!

You should also seriously consider the limitations of public speaking certifications before pursuing one. Some certifications involve continuing education in how to become a better speaker, others simply certify that you already are one. However, if you are still working on your overall confidence and clarity in your speaking business, it’s probably better to put your efforts elsewhere. Most of the work that goes into being a successful speaker is not what happens onstage, but the unseen work of building your business that takes weeks, months, and years. At The Speaker Lab, we’re dedicated to walking alongside you on that path. We provide resources, mentorship, and tools to navigate every aspect of running a sustainable speaking business. As always, you can get in touch with us here.

OK, what if you do have your fundamentals down? Well, you can consider certification as the next step in your career. Here are some of your options!

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Toastmasters Accreditation 

Many people first get into speaking through Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a nonprofit with local chapters that help individuals hone their public speaking skills for professional or recreational reasons. Toastmasters participation is an incredible way to gain confidence as a speaker and network with a diverse group of people. While Toastmasters members are not all professional speakers, they are dedicated to helping each other reach their personal speaking goals.

So how does their accreditation work? From the source: “If you are a current Toastmasters member in good standing, have earned a qualifying education award and have given a minimum of 25 non-Toastmasters speaking engagements within the past three years, you may be eligible to apply.” If you pass to the second round of the application, you present before a live panel of judges at the Toastmasters International Annual Convention. Those judges decide whether you are awarded the designation of Accredited Speaker. Once awarded, your bio can be featured on the Toastmasters website for clients looking to hire accredited speakers.

The Toastmasters Accredited Speaker Handbook further outlines the details of the process.

Cost: $100 application fee.

Time investment: The application process usually lasts January–August. 

Pros:

  • Toastmasters is an incredibly affordable organization, and the application process reflects that.
  • You can choose to be featured on the Toastmasters database of accredited speakers.
  • You aren’t competing with other applicants–theoretically, all qualifying speakers can be accredited. 

Cons: 

  • Toastmasters is focused on public speaking skills, not running a professional speaking business. 
  • Lower barrier to entry and therefore less prestigious than NSA.

NSA Certified Speaking Professional  

The National Speakers Association is the elite association for serious professional speakers. While membership is pricey (almost $1000.00 a year) many speakers join the NSA just to have access to the events and networking opportunities. We have a helpful blog comparing the benefits of Toastmasters and the NSA right here

It is no surprise, then, that the National Speakers Association public speaking certification program is incredibly rigorous and exclusive. Achieving the NSA Certified Speaking Professional badge is considered a high honor and testament to your success on stage and as a business owner. Only about 17 percent of NSA members have risen to this level! To apply, you have to show evidence of over 250 speaking engagements and $50,000 of earnings. At least 20 clients must fill out an evaluation form on your behalf. 

Cost: $375 application fee for members, $950 application fee for non-members.

Time investment: The application review process involves five phases over several months. A required four-hour course in phase One covers the application process, business ethics, and professional competencies. 

Pros:

  • Within the professional speaking community, this is the most prestigious certification available. 
  • Anyone who sees the NSA CSP on your resume knows you have proven your professionalism and expertise through a rigorous and competitive process.
  • You can be featured in the NSA CSP directory. 
  • You could win entry into the NSA Council of Peers Award for Excellence (CPAE) Hall of Fame.

Cons:

  • Extremely rigorous application process. Many opportunities for accidental disqualification due to oversight. 
  • The cost is steep if you’re not an NSA member, and NSA membership itself is expensive to maintain.
  • You have to renew the designation (with evidence of the state of your speaking business) every five years. Renewal costs $200 and requires continuous involvement with NSA membership and events. 

Internationaal corollaries of the NSA have their own similar certifications. You can learn more on the website for the Global Speakers Federation

John Maxwell Certification

The John Maxwell team certification for Coaching, Speaking, Leadership and Training might be of interest especially to speakers and entrepreneurs in the religious space. John Maxwell is one of the most successful motivational speakers and Christian pastors in the U.S.. His certification program exists to help entrepreneurs, business leaders, and speakers learn to apply his methodology to increase their impact and influence. 

As a whole, the JMT program focuses more on business leadership than speaking per se. However, professional speaking is one of the “learning lanes.” The speaking lane focuses on speaking techniques as well as a few business best practices. You can read more about JMT membership here.

Cost: Not publicized, but online testimonials suggest $3,000-7000.

Time investment: The speaker track of the program involves a six hour course, and a three-day live training. Other modules, such as the coaching lane, include longer video trainings. 

Pros: 

  • It’s accessible to early career speakers (no requirements for gigs booked).
  • John Maxwell’s name carries a lot of weight in specific industries such as direct sales/network marketing and faith-based leadership.  
  • You’ll have the option to remain a member of the worldwide community of the John Maxwell Team.
  • If you maintain a membership, you can get a hefty referral bonus for any new students of the program you recruit. 

Cons

  • Huge monetary investment.
  • More of a generalist program–only six hours of speaking-specific training.
  • The “Maxwell Method” is not everyone’s cup of tea. Research his leadership philosophy thoroughly before you sign up for the program!
  • This certification might not be particularly influential if you want to speak of industries outside of Maxwell’s niche.

What Type Of Speaker Are You?

Click below to discover your Speaker Archetype and how to start getting booked and paid to speak!

TED masterclass

TED masterclass is really more of a course than a certification. But it deserves mention as an affordable opportunity from a reputable source with low barriers to entry. If you’ve dreamed of becoming a speaker but don’t know how to spread your message or speak with confidence, this is a great starting point. This self-paced professional development course is available via YouTube courses. You also get access to a library of curated TED talks and insights from expert speakers. Sure, it’s not the best public speaking certification in existence, but it’s a great start!

Cost: $20

Time investment: Six required one-hour lessons and five “elective” one-hour lessons. 

Pros: 

  • The public speaking course by TED is one of the most affordable out there.
  • Very accessible to entry-level speakers. This course walks you through things like putting your ideas into words, telling stories, and speaking persuasively
  • The videos use incredible animation along with video content to keep the course engaging and entertaining.

Cons: 

  • Not really a benefit to your resume. 
  • Doesn’t help with the business side of being a professional speaker. 
  • Unless you are giving a TED or TEDx talk, you shouldn’t necessarily model your content and delivery after TED talks. (If you are interested in that route, learn more here and here.)

Conclusion

Public speaking certifications can be incredibly helpful for honing your speaking skills or motivating you to build your speaking business. But they are not necessary and won’t make or break your speaking career. 

Ultimately, no certification will guarantee you a sudden boost in engagements. Only your hard work, honing your craft, and pouring yourself into your speaking business can do that. However, certifications can help you meet various goals that lie on the road to becoming a successful speaker. If you’re still interested, we go over even more pros and cons of certifications and accreditations in this article

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