Why do you do what you do? What is the reason behind it? Has it changed since you started the process?
The most common question I got in the hallways at the TI Convention this year was, “Why did you go for the Accredited Speaker?” That was usually followed up with, “I thought you already were.”
No, I was not an Accredited Speaker. Yes, I have been a full-time professional speaker since October 2001 when I quit my day job at Bose Corporation. By the way, quitting your day job is scary, and it is not something I recommend until you have at least a year’s worth of income in the bank and you are already thriving as a part-time professional.
Why wait that long?
It is not an easy industry to break into. There is not just one speaking circuit to get into in which you find success and then find yourself in the land of milk and honey. Even top professionals have to continue to improve their platform skills and marketing, constantly. There are also many different speaking business models. It is important to note that even my business model has changed dramatically over the past two years. I’m now considered more of a trainer than a speaker. The reason I advise that you have the income in the bank and thrive as a part-time professional is because you might love the speaking part but not the business part. Without the effort off stage, you may never get on stage. It is a business, and there are greatly skilled speakers who are broke and great marketers with average speaking skills who thrive in the speaking business.
According to the Toastmasters International website:
“The Toastmasters International Accredited Speaker Program is designed for professional speakers who combine expert knowledge in a particular subject with mastery of the spoken word, making them sought-after experts in their respective fields. If this describes you, you’re invited to apply for the Accredited Speaker Program.”
Part of the accreditation process is to verify your professional speaking business. You must show your marketing materials and your website and submit a video of you speaking. You also must document that you have presented 25 professional speeches, 15 of which must be paid. Out of over 300,000 Toastmasters, there are currently 69 Accredited Speakers.
The truth is, I was challenged by another professional speaker, Cathey Armillas, to get the designation two years ago. I was challenged, game on! In 2015 I went for the designation and did not make it to the final round. Bummer. Nothing is certain.
In 2016 I had my paperwork done and decided to go for it again. This time I passed to the final round which included giving a live presentation at the Toastmasters International convention in front of 1,000 people. Like the speech contest, your final presentation is judged in several categories. Unlike the speech contest, each participant can pass or fail. It is possible that all who make it to the final round could achieve it or none could achieve it.
If you want to become a professional speaker, why would you not? Any professional industry has designations and accreditations. They are recognitions within that industry. Getting recognized in your professional trade association by your peers is helpful to separate you from the hobbyists. There is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist. We all have to start somewhere; I did back in the mid-1990’s. Getting an industry designation also requires effort and direction. Giving the effort in the right direction shows that you can jump through industry hoops.
If you are an emerging speaker and you want to build your biography, absolutely consider this! Every speaker website and most every organization I have presented to have asked for a speaker bio. In the beginning of any new career, you have a thin resume’. Here is a way to build your credibility actively and enhance your marketing. A few years ago, I went for my Certified Speaking Professional, a certification by the National Speakers Association. t helped push me and forced me to get more organized, which is crucial to your longevity in any industry.
Long before I wanted to be a speaker, I wanted to be an actor, I remember that my resume’ was thin. I had to find ways to build it. Since it is challenging to get auditions without a list of clients, you have to make things happen. I actually started my own public access TV show in order to build my resume’. Find a way. Getting your AS is one way to do that.
This year, after passing the video portion of the process, I knew I was going to get the opportunity to give a twenty-minute presentation at the International Convention. Although speaking in front of an international convention is not easy, believe me when I say that it is much simpler than winning five speech contests!
I remember hearing a brilliant quote by Jim Rohn, a mentor to Tony Robbins. In fact, Tony Robbins used to work for Jim and sell tickets to Jim Rohn seminars. Google him. His quotes are filled with wisdom. I love this one:
“Set a goal to become a millionaire for what it makes of you to achieve it. Do it for the skills you have to learn and the person you have to become.”
Think about that. Don’t do it for the money; do it for the person you become. Make it a goal to become an Accredited Speaker, not for the letters after your name, but for the speaker and business person it makes you.
When I joined the speech contest back in 2001, it was for a different reason than when I joined in 1998. In 1998, I did it for ego and the trophy. In 2001 I entered the contest with the intention of making one of my stories that I was already telling so good that someone would pay to hear it. With that intention I could not lose.
When preparing for my AS presentation, I talked to many former AS recipients. I got good advice. I spoke to many people along the way, too. I discovered that some people thought I should get it because I had won the speech contest. Some people thought I shouldn’t get it because I had won the speech contest. There was a target on my back. I was OK with that because it caused me to work harder and prove myself on the platform, not because of something I had done in the past. If I work harder, both my audience and I win.
Some fellow Toastmasters told me they were encouraged by my willingness to keep working on my craft. Bonus! The week before the presentation I went to a Toastmasters club every day for a week, honing and recording my presentation. It got stronger and tighter each time. My opening question was, “Do you want to speak? Or be heard?” It was working, but I was trying to explain the difference between speaking words and actually making a difference in your audience’s thinking.
I know professional visuals were part of the judging. They should be, because it is part of your professional brand. During one of my final presentations, I had the idea of creating this visual to help clarify the difference. When we speak, we speak to the conscious mind. When we are heard, that happens in the subconscious mind.
Without the last couple of live run-throughs, that visual would not have existed. Because I was working hard, I created a better visual that will serve every audience I give that presentation to for the rest of my career. Do you see the power in that? The process made me better able to communicate my message.
Many Toastmasters who were at my live run-throughs had been to my trainings. It was eye-opening when some of them bounced my own advice back at me! Yikes. Love it. Due to my twenty-minute time limit, I had to cut much of what I wanted to say. I also wanted to end on a powerful new story I was working on. When I tell that story, it is set up by my sitting down on a little chair and having a conversation with myself as an eight-year-old.
When I used it with this speech, it confused people. My audience reminded me that the purpose of the story had been to reinforce the message of that speech. Duh! My bad. I tightened the conversation and had it relate more directly to that specific message. That feedback was crucial to making it work under the pressure of the judges. The first version would not have been nearly as powerful. This feedback, too, will serve my future audiences. The pressure forced me to improve.
I’d like to set the record straight for emerging professional speakers. If you compete in speech contests, why do you do it? If it is for a trophy or validation, you can and will lose a lot. Only one person wins each year. If you compete to improve your skills, you can win every single time. Every time I did a live run-through of my speech and got feedback, the speech got better.
Winning a speech contest does not equal a professional speaking career. Yes, it may be a credential, but no one has ever hired me for a large fee or any fee just because I have a trophy. What is your intention?
Now, I have been hired because of people seeing and loving the stories that I worked on in the speech contest. The contest has its place but not in a win/lose sense. If you want to become a professional speaker, the honing of your skills is important. A Speakers Bureau doesn’t care if you have a trophy. They do care if you have first-class marketing materials and a professional demo video showing a powerful story and audience engagement.
If you want to become a professional speaker and are still figuring out your way, I think the Accredited Speaker is a much better track than the speech contest. Why? Because it starts preparing you for what matters in the industry and forces you to start proving yourself in the real world. Speech contests are all done within the comfortable, clap-filled world of Toastmasters, which is great when you are building your confidence. It is not great to condition you to handle tough audiences.
In the real-world you will be rejected, and you will have to learn to market. Going for your AS requires that you interact and build your business in the real world. You need to present 25 professional speeches outside of Toastmasters.
This is a long process. Submissions must be in annually by January 1st and February 1st. You can download the forms now. Start filling them out, and see what areas you need to check off or work on. Even if you want to make it a distant goal several years down the road, start now.
If you already are a professional speaker, the paperwork process will be easier and faster for you. It helped me that I still had my documentation from getting my CSP.
If you wish some day to be a professional, start now. Start learning the basic paperwork, so you can start understanding the industry and how it works. Put pictures on your vision board and start breaking down what you need to do into manageable tasks and goals. If getting paid speeches eludes you, check out my Get Paid to Speak by Next Week® Program or my Get Paid to Speak Community.
Another way the Accredited Speaker process helped me was by requiring me to reach out to the event planners I had worked with in the past. This business, like most, is about relationships. You know how good you are when you see if event planners are willing to do you a favor or not. It was actually good to reach out to an old client of mine. Rekindling that relationship and staying in touch led to that client’s not only bringing me back again but also to purchasing my DVDs for their sales people to sell. Bonus.
Thank you, Cathey, for challenging me. Whether you are challenged or encouraged, consider pursuing your Accredited Speaker if you want to be a professional speaker. To be clear, there are many great professional speakers whom I love and admire who do not have designations after their name. There are also some who have various designations after their name whom I would never recommend myself.
Make it not your goal to have more letters after your name, but for the speaker and business person that the process will make you.
Darren LaCroix, AS, CSP
World Champion of Public Speaking
P.S. More about the Accredited Speaker Program…
Photos by Angie Key, Keyframe Photography