As a speaker, event organizer – really as any member of the ever-expanding thought leadership industry, it’s not hard to see the things that make it run smoothly. In recent years, there’s been new and improved technology, designed to share ideas and make event management a breeze. There’s also been “thought leaders for thought leaders” (like SpeakerFlow!) to help professionals in the industry run their businesses more efficiently. But, behind those changes, one thing has always remained the same: the importance of community. For speakers, specifically, that can mean – among other things – considering whether or not to join a speakers association.
As you might guess, deciding to join a speakers association can be a big step for new and experienced speakers alike. There’s undoubtedly a long list of benefits one can gain from joining one. But, conversely, there’s also a lot to consider, especially if you’re looking for an association that can support you long term, even as your business grows to phenomenal success.
Here, we’ll cover the seven most important details to consider when deciding which speakers association is the right fit for your speaking business. That way, you can weigh your options, decide, and get back to growing your business in no time. 👌
Make sure their membership fees fit your budget.
First and foremost, make a budget for your speaking business to break down how much you’re spending each year. If you’re an up and coming speaker, how much are you making each month in speaking gigs, and how much are you spending on technology to book them? Additionally, if you’re an experienced speaker, how much are you charging per gig, and how much are you spending to employ your team? Each of these answers, combined with the other elements of your budget, is important when considering the cost of joining a speakers association relative to your income.
When joining the National Speakers Association (NSA), for example, new members are required to pay an initial $570 fee to become a part of the NSA Headquarters. They’re also required to pay $495 each year to renew their membership. Plus, if they want to become a member of their local NSA chapter, it costs an additional $150-400 each year, depending on the chapter in question.
Considering this, when you’re shopping for speakers associations, keep in mind the upfront and recurring costs. Then, make sure they fit your budget, so you can ensure a return on your investment.
Consider their geographic focus (regional, national, international, etc).
Speaking of local chapters, the second thing to look for in a speakers association is their focus, geographically. On a national level, several countries operate associations specifically for their citizens. This includes the aforementioned National Speakers Association in the United States, the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) in Canada, and the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) in the United Kingdom. These are ideal if you’re looking for broad connections but still want to stick to events within your home country.
When it comes to speakers associations, this is the middle of the spectrum. Scaling down, on a local level, many national organizations also manage regional chapters, allowing members to stay active locally between large, national events. Looking at the NSA once again, there are a total of 29 chapters around the U.S., including one in my home state of Minnesota.
Alternatively, on the other end of the spectrum are international organizations, such as Toastmasters International. Unlike national or local groups, these associations are geared towards speakers around the world. They’re also designed to help connect speakers internationally, making them a valuable option if you’re interested in speaking for international audiences.
Depending on your budget and your speaking business goals, one of these choices may be more suitable than the others. You may also be a good fit for multiple “sizes” of associations, such as national and local groups. If you’re unsure, just ask speakers currently enrolled in the groups you’re considering.
Connect with current members to learn about the organization’s culture.
That brings me to the third thing to consider when choosing a speakers association: culture. To put it simply, in the words of late Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, “If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself”. In other words, if you’re surrounded by people that make you feel valued and supported, you are going to more confidently implement the things you learn and more quickly grow your business. Makes sense, right?
For speakers associations, specifically, considering organizational culture can be difficult, especially in recent years as more and more groups opt for virtual rather than in-person meetings for routine meetings. However, there are still a handful of things to pay attention to, when interacting with members of the groups you’re considering.
First, pay attention to members’ words. Part of any group’s culture is the language they use. Whether or not you feel comfortable with that language – meaning the words themselves, their tone, and their implications – can play a major role in how much you gain from your experiences with said group.
Second, pay attention to members’ actions. Like words, the way that group members act around and toward each other demonstrates a host of other truths, such as how much they respect one another. Look for speakers whose actions are relatable, things you could see yourself doing, not things that make you feel intimidated or uncomfortable.
Lastly, pay attention to members’ successes and failures. It’s easy to be in awe of a crowd of confident, type-A people. But, at the same time, look for the truth behind the smooth, professional facade. How much has their business grown in the last year? How are they adapting to industry challenges? These are the questions that truly matter.
Review their mission statement and how it aligns with your goals.
Besides interacting with the people behind the associations you’re considering, make sure to also look at the organization itself. Behind any high-quality, forward-thinking group is a good mission statement to explain why they do what they do.
At SpeakerFlow, for example, our mission is to “help thought-leaders build better businesses through technology, strategy, and community”. We also have five core values, ranging from “Stay Humble & Kind” to “Get Sh*t Done,” that illustrate our team-wide attitude as we accomplish that mission. Combined, the behavior of our team members, our mission statement, and our core values make it decidedly clear who we are, as people and professionals. It also makes it easy for speakers to decide if they want to work with us. After all, if you identify with our values, you’ll likely be a good fit for our products and services, too.
In the same way, when you’re weighing speaker association options, don’t stop after connecting with current members. Dig deeper into why they’ve stuck around. If it’s not already apparent on the association’s website, ask your new connections outright, “What are you and your fellow members working towards?” and “What is your mission, as your work relates to the speaking industry? And the world, as a whole?” Then, if these answers match up with your own goals and ideals, save the associations in question for Step #5.
Explore their educational materials to be sure they’re up-to-date.
Speaking of Step #5, the fifth thing to look for, when considering speakers associations, is their educational materials. Although it’s increasing year over year, until recently, the amount of resources specific to speaking businesses was relatively small. Over the last fifty years or so, this allowed many associations to focus largely on sharing the resources they had and, in the process, position themselves as authorities in the speaking space.
The NSA, for example, claims to “elevate excellence, share expertise, and challenge one another to improve”. Similarly, the Global Speakers Federation’s stated mission is to “Provide support to member associations on forming, managing, and leading associations, including sharing best practices”. But, while this sounds good initially, your job is to ask, “But are those best practices relevant now?”
To make sure the answer is “Yes,” there are a few steps you can take, besides discussing each association’s content with current members. For one thing, you can do your own research to compare associations’ educational material with other industry data sources. This includes information from groups like the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), Meeting Professionals International (MPI) – even articles from your old pals at SpeakerFlow, such as our 2020 State of the Speaking Industry Report.
Wherever you choose to look for comparison, make sure the associations you’re scrutinizing stack up. Not only should their educational material be recently published or recently updated. It should also take into account industry trends, such as the virtual speaking boom that kicked off in spring 2020. That way, you know the association’s leadership is attentive and invested in sharing high-quality, actionable insights with their members.
Assess the credentials they offer and if you could benefit from earning them.
In addition to educational materials, many speakers associations also offer ways for their members to distinguish themselves in the industry. Similarly to content, these offers generally fall into one of two categories. On one hand, working through the necessary coursework can be immensely informative. Plus, the certification itself can be a valuable addition to your speaking resume. On the other hand, they can instead be an easy-to-achieve, frequently-received “gold star”. This allows the association to profit off of members’ efforts to earn it. Ouch.
Admittedly, the latter of the situations is much less common. More often than not, earning a speaking certification takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Consequently, when considering a speakers association, it’s up to you to look at the credentials they offer and decide if they’re worth earning for your specific use case.
For instance, with the aforementioned rise in virtual speaking, many speakers were looking for a way to stand out from the crowd including one of our past clients, Brittany Hodak. For Brittany, virtual speaking wasn’t just a short-term plan. It was something she was already good at, not to mention something she wanted to have in her toolbelt for years to come. Ultimately, these factors led Brittany to earn eSpeakers’ Certified Virtual Presenter program. This certification allowed Brittany to showcase her skills as a virtual speaker and her commitment to mastering virtual speaking at a time when event planners were looking for it most.
Likewise, with your own speaking business, always consider association credentials relative to your goals. If they can help you meet those goals, great! It might be worth joining the speaker association in question. If not, put your time, money, and energy into coursework or coaching that will.
Interview current members about how their membership has impacted their careers.
Finally, the last – and most important – thing to do when considering a speakers association is to ask its members if they’re better off now than when they started. As in any industry, managing a business in the speaking industry is largely about ROI.
When it comes to your website, for instance, aim for a site that acts as a salesperson for you. That way, your efforts to build and maintain it are worthwhile.
When it comes to your speaking collateral, put in exceptional design and copywriting work from the beginning. That way, when the next event planner sees your speaker kit, they won’t hesitate to hire you.
In every aspect of your business – and with every speakers association you support – make sure you’re gaining as much from it as you’re putting into it. In terms of money and time, especially, talk to current association members about what they’ve gained from their membership versus what they’ve spent. Then, if the same potential applies to your speaking business, dive on in and let the business growth begin. 🚀
For more information about building your speaking business or to learn more about our partnerships with NSA and CAPS, drop us a line! Alternatively, for more personalized advice, meet us for a quick call. We’d love to meet you and find out how we can help you build the speaking business of your dreams.