In the 40 years since its launch, the Toastmasters Accredited Speaker (AS) Program has created a cadre of exceptional professional speakers. These individuals are experts among experts—combining superior speaking skills with in-depth knowledge of a topic, making them sought-after presenters in their respective professional fields.
Current designees are experts in widely diverse subject areas, including industrial workplace safety, entrepreneurship, neuroscience and mental health, negotiation, finance, executive leadership, diversity, disability, change management, productivity, education, work-life balance, and much more.
The rigorous AS process is reserved for Toastmasters who are already paid professional speakers and are seeking the competitive advantage of a respected designation to distinguish themselves in the highly competitive public speaking arena.
Program requirements are challenging. Applicants must be members in good standing, have earned a qualifying education award, and made at least 25 non-Toastmasters presentations over three years. There are additional criteria, including a high-quality video presentation, to round out Level 1 of the process. Candidates moving to Level 2 give a live presentation at the Toastmasters International Convention each August. Successful Level 2 presenters earn the AS designation; those who don’t qualify are given the opportunity to apply again the following year.
The program is hard work, but worth it, designees say. “AS speakers are the professional voice and ambassadors for Toastmasters International. It’s an honor to hold the designation,” notes Rochelle Rice, DTM, AS, CSP, co-chair of the 2021-2022 AS Program Council.
Paul Artale, DTM, AS, Ph.D., notes the program helps candidates sharpen important strengths beyond simply speaking as subject matter experts. It’s also instrumental in drawing out the applicant’s mindset for the business of public speaking.
“I think the program helps many aspiring candidates focus on their speaking business,” he explains. “The process helps you as the speaker define your professional brand and think about how you want to present yourself to both the Toastmasters community and the public sphere.”
While only a small fraction of Toastmasters members ever pursue the AS designation, many of its benefits mirror those essential to the Toastmasters experience in general.
“Even before you earn the AS you learn the power and beauty of the Toastmasters community,” Artale says. “Whether it is clubs and Districts allowing you to practice your signature talks or past designees who are always willing to offer advice to those applying for the designation, you learn that Toastmasters provides countless methods of support.
The program helps candidates sharpen important strengths beyond simply speaking as subject matter experts.
“It also reminds you that you’re part of something much bigger than yourself. The designation carries with it the ability to help other Toastmasters in their speaking journey (whether they are trying to earn the AS or not), and creates voices for improving Toastmasters as a whole,” Artale says.
Perhaps surprisingly, the AS speakers are positive about program changes brought by COVID-19. Instead of sidelining the program’s visibility or deterring candidates, it’s unveiled new possibilities.
“In my opinion, COVID-19 challenged the AS program to adapt to an evolved speaking environment. Overall, I believe the program is better suited to assess professional speakers,” says Forrest Tuff, DTM, AS, the program’s newest designee.
Rice believes the program’s new flexibility, partially induced by the pandemic, actually benefits today’s professional speakers and the clients who want to hire them. “The program has demonstrated the agility to help today’s speakers thrive and adapt to an ever-changing world,” she says. “These individuals are more prepared than ever to deliver high-level professional presentations that clients are looking for.”
Stephanie Darling is senior editor for the Toastmaster magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.