Speaker: Within NSA you have frequently encouraged open discussion about diversity. How did you become interested in
Patricia Ball: My extended family was from a small town outside of
Little Rock, Ark., called Benton. I was born there. People in Benton had very specific views about “outsiders.” It was only as I
got older and started traveling to other places that I began to
meet people who differed from me in numerous ways. It was
also exciting to discover that often we weren’t as different as
we thought. Once we got to know one another, there were
many similarities, such as the things we were concerned
about like raising kids, values, respect of laws and rules.
We were more alike than we thought. It just took getting past
the thin veil of what made us different that enabled us to
relate to others.
Speaker: You've been a member of NSA for a long time. With
regard to diversity, tell us about what it was like when you first
Patricia Ball: I joined NSA in 1975 and visible diversity was almost
nonexistent. There were approximately 100 members and of
that number, only about 10 were women, which included
founding members Susie Sutton, Dottie Walters and Merlyn
Cundiff (co-founder of NSA with Cavett). It was hard for a
woman getting started because we weren’t always taken seriously. Many times, in those early years, I was told that I was the
first woman speaker the organization had ever hired.
Speaker: I understand that you had a lot to do with the formation
of the Diversity PEG. Why did you think such a PEG in NSA was
Patricia Ball: It was important to have this happen for three reasons
that still apply today: First, more speakers speak on the broad
topic of diversity—or areas that cross over into diversity. As
members of NSA, they need and demand guidance and
information from their professional association. Second, our
atricia Ball, CSP, CPAE, is a communications specialist, focusing on power, gender,
and diversity exchanges among people
and groups. She served as national President of NSA from 1996 to 1997. During her
term both the Diversity PEG and the International
Federation for Professional Speakers (IFPS) were
established. She later served as the third president
of the IFPS. In this issue of Speaker magazine, editorial board member Francine Ward, JD, talks with
Patricia about how diversity has evolved within NSA
and why it’s important to continue to address—and
represent—differences in the industry.
audiences are more diverse. In the past, speakers spoke to
groups who were like themselves. For example, southerners
spoke to southerners, white men spoke to white men and black
women spoke only to black women.
Today it’s different. Many speakers find themselves before
audiences who are filled with people who are quite different
from them. People from all walks of life are speaking to people
from a variety of backgrounds. Third and, most importantly, it is
necessary to have diversity as part of our association’s mission
because we are changing.
The face of NSA has changed dramatically. The days are
long gone when NSA consisted of mostly middle-aged white
men and a handful of white women and focused on keynote
speakers. Today we have trainers, motivational speakers,
authors, coaches. We have African-Americans, Latinos, Asians,
Native Americans, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities.
Today, our membership is truly eclectic.
Speaker: Was there controversy within NSA over the creation of a
Patricia Ball: Absolutely. My greatest challenge was that people
asked me “Why diversity?” They couldn’t understand the need
for a focus on differences. They said speakers were speakers,
yet, apparently from the makeup of our organization, we
didn’t value speakers who were different, evidenced by the
fact that we had so few.
Speaker: Some people believe that issues related to diversity have
been resolved within NSA. What’s your opinion?