How to become a certified public speaker

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Interested in becoming a paid public speaker? Then you might have heard about public speaker certificates or trainings to become a certified public speaker. But what exactly is a speaker certification? What types of public speaker certifications are there? Can they help speakers? How much does it cost to become a paid public speaker, and what are the pros and cons of public speaker certifications? And if you are going to do some type of speaker certification, how do you begin?

For answers to these questions and more, read on.

What is a public speaker certification?

There are a couple of types of public speaker certification. In each of these cases, it’s helpful to think of it in terms of a franchise model. McDonald’s has a pretty set-in-stone framework for how to make a hamburger. You don’t need to recreate the wheel. You don’t need to build your brand and marketing – McDonald’s has been doing that for years! But if you want to start a McDonald’s, you need to pay a franchise fee upfront, as well as costs for much of the equipment you need to start. And the corporate wing of McDonald’s will take a portion of the revenue you make.

Public speaker certification programs are kind of like that. Some are more like a basic model that teaches you how to make a McDonald’s hamburger, and others resemble a franchise, where they’re bringing you into an existing ecosystem. In both cases, you can start a little more quickly, because you’re working with an existing formula that they know works for public speaking. But you’re also probably paying a fee.

Types of certificates for public speakers

One common example of speaker certification would be where you would get certified by a particular program or speaker to go out and present their material. Typically, you would probably pay some type of training fee upfront. And you as a speaker would likely pay an ongoing royalty to the program or speaker’s agency for any gigs that you would do using their material. You could put on your site and marketing materials that you are a certified speaker that is endorsed by the speaker or program.

The other type of certified public speaker training is when an organization trains you with its specific methodology and material but once you’ve completed the training, it actually helps you get bookings. This type of certification also typically involves you paying an ongoing royalty for each booking you do as a certified speaker, but they may help you find these paid bookings. This can help the organization. If it’s based around one speaker (for example, Jack Canfield) and he charges $50,000 per speaking gig, an organization that can only pay $5,000 can request his organization to recommend a Canfield-certified speaker to deliver the same talk at the fraction of the price. Then Canfield’s organization will take a percentage royalty (say 10%) for referring the speaker to the gig.

Pros of public speaker certification

There are a number of upsides to becoming a certified public speaker. Here are a few:

You’ll figure out what material works

If you’re just starting out as a paid public speaker, you’re probably trying to find what material works. (For more on developing your talk, check out this episode of The Speaker Lab podcast.) This kind of certification could be for you. You’re not having to really create anything new, which is a big challenge for any new speaker coming in and getting started.

The stories, jokes, content, openings, closings, and transitions may be provided for you. Rather than figuring it out on your own, if you’re partnering with an organization and presenting their material, you’re going to get material that they have tried and tested, and that they know works.

You can get booked by the organization that trains you

A second pro is that depending on the arrangement, the organization or the speaker may also help you get bookings. Depending on the organization (we’ll list a few below), it may be proactively trying to book you and represent you.

Gain credibility

Depending on the market that you want to speak in, being a certified public speaker could give you a lot of credibility with potential clients. If you apply for training from a particularly selective agency, you know that they’re not just allowing any speaker to be certified for them, and your clients may too. If you’ve been trained and certified by the best of the best, that could carry a lot of weight with potential clients, who may be more likely to book you.

Get experience speaking

Obtaining certification as a public speaker can be a good way to get lots of practice and “at-bats.” As Grant Baldwin discusses in his podcast on speaker certifications, the best way to become a better speaker is to actually speak. If you’re actively being promoted and they’re trying to book you and give you more opportunities to actually speak, that only increases your reps, which is a good thing.

Cons of public speaker certification

It’s helpful to be aware of some of the downsides to becoming a certified public speaker (which isn’t required to be a professional public speaker). Even though the pros might outweigh the cons for you, you should know what the cons are.

You lose some independence

One of the big downsides to becoming a certified public speaker can be that you become dependent on someone else for your business. If you’re being booked as a certified Jack Canfield trainee, you’re dependent on getting Jack Canfield’s hand-me-downs. You’re counting on them to book you, which is not a great way to build your business quickly.

For example, say you booked a gig through Jack Canfield’s organization. Then the gig organizer asked you to come back for the organization at a separate event. You would then need to go back to Canfield’s group and tell them so they could get a second cut. If you booked your own event, but presented the material that you were certified in, you would also need to let that certified program or speaker know.

A non-exclusive arrangement can be helpful with this. It may be best starting out to see if you can get some sort of a non-exclusive arrangement with the trainer. This would mean that you can book your own gigs. However, the kicker is that when you go speak, you would have to do completely separate material. Alternatively, you can learn how to actively book your own speaking engagements. This can help you set yourself up for even more success. (want to learn more about how to find paid speaking gigs? check out this blog post.)

Can be expensive

Another downside to certification is that it could be very expensive depending on how much they might charge for training. Oftentimes there’s both an upfront fee and also some type of ongoing royalty. One review of the John Maxwell Certification Program said membership and certification could cost between $4,000 to $6,000, excluding travel-related expenses to live events.

May not carry enough weight

Depending on the program or the speaker, a certification may not mean much or do much for your clients. Depending on the market and depending on the certification, it could mean a lot or it could mean absolutely nothing at all. If you’re not being booked by the organization that certifies you, this presents an especially risky bet.

Examples of public speaker certification

Interested in learning how to become a certified public speaker? Read on for the types of certification you can obtain, and why each might be helpful to you.

National Speaker’s Association Certified Speaker Program

The National Speaker’s Association offers a Certified Speaker Program for a top tier of professional speakers. They have a rigorous application process that requires applicants to document 250 paid presentations, earnings of $50,000 from speaking engagements, and a $375 application fee. This program is one of the higher-end tier ones out there. Only about 450 people are certified public speakers through this intensive program. (want to learn more about how the NSA can help your speaking career? check out our podcast here.)

Toastmasters International Accredited Speaker Program

Are you a member of Toastmasters? Their Accredited Speaker program is designed to give professional speakers an edge through certification by Toastmasters International. If you are a current Toastmasters member, 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.

According to their site, Toastmasters seeking a professional-level speaker are directed to the Accredited Speaker profiles, where they can view all Accredited Speakers who have chosen to have a profile and contact you for their speaking engagement. After you have received the designation, Toastmasters International will work with you to gather information. They will also write you a professional profile that highlights your expertise and skill as a speaker. Once you have approved your profile, it will be posted on the website along with your contact information.

TED Masterclass for Individuals / Organizations

TED Masterclass for Individuals or Organizations is TED’s official public speaking course. According to their website, TED Masterclass is a professional development program that helps surface the best ideas within businesses and educational organizations. The course is designed to be self-paced. Each of the 11 lessons takes roughly an hour to complete. Lessons 1-5 are required to complete the course, and lessons 6-11 are electives. (want to know more about TED Talks? check out our blog post here on how to give a TED Talk.)


Still interested in learning how to become a certified public speaker? Want to go deeper into speaker certifications? Check out our podcast with Grant Baldwin for more tips and insights on pursuing a public speaking certification. Still want more? Satiate your desire to learn more about public speaking by checking out The Speaker Lab blog here. Happy speaking!

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