The PSA Story – A Brief History

12th June 2023 | By Rikki Arundel

Before 1999 there was no professional speaking industry in the UK. Most keynote speakers at corporate or association events were imported from the USA or Australia. Or they were celebrities, often not booked for their speaking skills, but for their name.

Back then I was known as Richard and had been actively working as a professional speaker for 10 years. I regularly appeared at the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management and the Life Insurance Association events as well as other sales and technology events. I was also an active member of Toastmasters, but was frustrated by the lack of any support or help for speakers wanting to go beyond the basic Toastmasters Club meetings and competitions.

At a speaking club meeting, I mentioned this problem to Peter Jones, another professional speaker and a Red Coat Toastmaster. Peter told me that he was a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), the association for professional speakers in the USA. At the time, there were just six UK members, none of whom had any contact with each other.

It seemed obvious for me to join the NSA and I contacted the other members. One of them encouraged me to attend the annual convention in the US and I flew out to Minneapolis, Minnesota in July 1995.

The Turning Point

That event was a turning point in my life. I was completely blown away by the experience, meeting many of the world’s top speakers – Zig Zigler, Brian Tracy, Tony Alessandra, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hanson, Les Brown, W Mitchell, Patricia Fripp, Naomi Rhode, Terry Brock, Cavett Robert … and too many more to list. I returned to the UK with a passion to bring something similar to the UK.

This idea was not without its challenges. Only one of the UK NSA members was interested in helping to set up a UK equivalent. We could have formed a UK chapter of the NSA, but that needed us to persuade 50 people to join NSA at over $400 per year. That option gave members little in the way of benefits in the UK, so we didn’t pursue it.

Instead I focused on talking about a UK association to speaker friends in the UK. One of those people, Brendan Power, a financial adviser and speaker, was keen to help. We had a number of informal discussions and following his trip to an NSA Chapter meeting in California, while in the US in 1997, he came home with renewed enthusiasm. We started putting together a plan.

One day, out of the blue, I received an email from Warren Evans, a Canadian speaker I had met at an NSA meeting, who was passionate about creating an international federation of speaking associations. He had received an enquiry from someone else who wanted to set up a UK speaking association and encouraged us to work together.

Exploring Opportunities

The new enquiry had come from explorer Rex Warner, who at the time was onboard a small ship heading up the east coast to Edinburgh! He was keen to work with Brendan and I and as a speaker who worked mostly with bureaus, brought a different set of skills and experiences to the project.

We then discovered that another UK Speaker, Graham Davies, had joined the NSA and was happy to provide some valuable legal input to setting up the association. I reached out to fellow Toastmaster, Phillip Khan-Pani, who brought his copywriting and publicity skills to the team. Rex invited Martin Nichols, a brilliant after dinner speaker and red coat Toastmaster, who was also an accountant with a lot of meeting planning experience. Ros Gardner, previously the customer services director at M&S was also persuaded to join the steering group, along with Craig Hampton, an American speaker and NSA member living in the UK.

It was now early 1998 and plans were drawn up for the Professional Speakers Association to launch in October that year. But there’s a lot involved in setting up something like this, so to make sure we had enough time to market the event in those pre social media days, we decided to move the launch 30 January 1999.

Lift Off!

The Professional Speakers Association (of Europe) was officially formed on 11 December 1998 with seven members and was launched at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London on Saturday 30 January 1999. The launch meeting was a great success, with over 120 delegates! Around 50% of them signed up as members. A similar number attended the second meeting, held on 27 March 1999, at the same venue. The membership had now grown to 115 founder members, plus 8 affiliate members who were mostly speaker bureau owners.

By August 1999 the PSA membership had grown to over 150, with almost 20 affiliates. This was a sufficiently large association to meet the entry requirements to join the newly formed International Federation for Professional Speaking (now the Global Speaking Federation) and become its first joining member. 12 PSA members joined me, as President, at the NSA Convention in San Antonio, where the PSA was formally welcomed into the federation by Founder Warren Evens. We were taking off!

We started to spread around the UK, with Chapters (now called Regions) in London & South East, Midlands (Birmingham), Northern England (Manchester), West Country (Bristol), and Paris/Brussels. Plans for Ireland and Scotland were also in hand. The PSA underwent some changes. Craig Hampton had to return to the US due to health issues and Ros Gardner left due to personal commitments. Marie Mosely was appointed to the Board in September 1999.

The first AGM of the PSA was held in April 2000, when the presidency was passed from me to Brendan. National meetings continued to be held quarterly in London and often impromptu meetings were held when members of other federation associations were visiting the UK. We received help and support from a number of NSA members in the early days, without whom the PSA as you know it today, would not have survived.

Our inspiration for founding the PSA had been attending NSA conventions and chapter meetings but we also knew from experience that conventions are expensive and time consuming to organise. This is why we waited until the PSA had a stable membership and healthy accounts. 18 months after the launch of the PSA, we held our first annual convention in October 2000, at the Saville Court Hotel with around 120 delegates. This may have been small by NSA standards – but it was just as inspirational.

Constant Change

The PSA continues to evolve and change and grow. The name was changed to the Professional Speaking Association, to open up the membership to a wider range of speakers, trainers and consultants. We continue to evolve and will keep serving our members for at least another 25 years! Will you still be with us?!

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