Interview: Phillip Van Hooser – President, National Speakers Association

“We must always remember that the act of speaking professionally is only a part of our individual journeys. It is not a destination.”
– Phillip Van Hooser

The Evolution of a Professional Speaking Career

Phillip Van Hooser Since 1988, NSA President Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE, has spoken, written, coached and consulted on leadership and service professionalism issues with groups and organizations around the globe.

On Saturday January 9, 2009, he presented at the NSA Northern California Chapter meeting. His talk, Uncommon Business Practices That Will Help You Re-Think, Re-Position and Re-Tool Your Way to Speaking Success, reviewed the evolution of his own speaking career and the lessons this holds for other professional speakers.

Van Hooser stated that there are five distinct stages in a typical speaking career:

1. The dream is born

Some fall into a speaking career by chance. But Phil has dreamed of being a professional speaker since he was very young. His grandmother was an early influence who told the eight-year-old he would become a Baptist preacher. That didn’t happen, but he did became enamored with natural orators: the preachers, teachers and politicians of his Kentucky childhood.

2. The journey begins

By age 15 he had started keeping a notebook on public speaking. He recorded what the speakers he heard said, then progressed to noticing how they said what they said — the ways in which they delivered their material.

3. A business materializes

Every speaker must choose a moment to declare themselves a professional. For Van Hooser, that moment was the afternoon of April 7, 1988 when he quit his corporate job. With the “confidence born of ignorance” he started his business with no prospects or speaking material. He did, however, enjoy the support of his wife Susan who has been his business partner for the past 20 years. Now — 2,800 paid presentations later — Phil’s advice to others considering a career as a speaker is not to quit the day job until you have material developed and clients lined up.

4. The work expands

Speakers need to stay current. Changes in technology and the economy mean that what worked at the start of our careers will not continue to work. We need to evolve personally and professionally. The secret, Phil says, is to listen to the audience. As speakers we might think we know what people like, but the audience will let us know what they actually benefit from.

5. Reflection is inevitable

Many older people, looking back at their lives, wish they had taken more risks. They also wish they had taken time out to reflect, slowing down the weeks and months that otherwise pass by in a blur. Many wish they had contributed something to the world that would outlast their own lifespan.

As speakers, we must take the risk of stepping outside our safety zone and learn from our mistakes. We must invest ourselves in the people in our audience, and reflect on the unique opportunity we have to make a difference to thousands of people. Finally, when we speak with passion and conviction, we’ll see the light bulb go off in people’s eyes and know that we have connected with them. We never know when something we say in a presentation will change someone’s life. It’s this possibility, Van Hooser says, that makes the hard work of being a professional speaker worthwhile.

Grandmother Van Hooser clearly saw something in young Phillip that has now benefited tens of thousands of people.

Podcast Interview

To hear what Phil told me about his role as President of the National Speakers Association, how American speakers are perceived internationally and why professional speaking is the hardest job he’s ever had, click on the podcast icon below.

Phil can be contacted at

1 Comment so far
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When I attended my first NSA event (Fall Conference) as a non-member back in November 2009, Phil personally spoke to me several times, made me feel very welcome, and encouraged me to pursue my dream of speaking.

I just returned home from my first NSA Annual Convention (Orlando) as a new member of NSA. This convention was Phil’s swan song as president of NSA. He was very busy. I only saw him when he was up on the stage making an announcement or delivering a short presentation … until …

… until one moment I was seated awaiting a speaker and Phil spotted me and once more made me feel welcome.

Phil’s love of speaking is self-evident. Phil’s analysis of the business is right on. I know because I’m just past stage 3 in my career! Hanging with Phil and other professionals in NSA will accelerate anyone’s career. It’s accelerated mine.

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