In the speaking industry, just the idea of female motivational speakers, researchers, and coaches would have a century ago been regarded as radical. But today, women around the world have made headlines with powerful speeches. These include Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk about cyberbullying, Greta Thurnberg’s speech to world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit, and Mary Beard’s talk on women speaking in public.
Today, there are increasingly more opportunities for women to become speakers or advance their speaking careers. To make it as a female motivational speaker today, you need to know how you want to present yourself and the message you want to deliver. Plus, you need to have the right array of top-notch qualities, both professionally and personally.
That said, you might be wondering, what are the challenges and opportunities of being a female speaker? How do you find people who want to hear your message? What is the market like for female speakers today? What exists in the marketplace for minority female speakers?
To answer these questions, we’ve assembled a list of 6 tips from successful female speakers, for female speakers. Read on to learn more!
Tip 1: Find your target audience
To succeed as a full-time speaker, you need to have narrowed down a problem that you solve for a particular audience. This is so important it’s the first step in our SPEAK framework. Don’t quit your day job if you don’t have a solid idea of the audience you want to reach.
An advantage of being a female speaker is that there are relatively few full-time female professional speakers. If you’re a female speaker looking for a niche, women’s groups can present a ready opportunity to find gigs.
If you want to capitalize on this opportunity, you can begin by looking for events and organizations that are highly likely to be focusing on finding female experts in their area. Prominent speaker Kindra Hall said when she first started her speaking career, she researched 600 women’s business associations across the country, and she ended up booking half a dozen gigs from these groups.
Tip 2: Showcase your passion with a demo video
The more authentic you are, the more people will be drawn to your message. If you face this fact and serve an audience that aligns with your passions, your impact will be far greater.
Tell stories. No matter what your message is, stories will be what your audience remembers. Your stories should serve a purpose–a bridge to a new point, a challenge to their assumptions, some much-needed comic relief. Try to keep them first-person when possible so the audience will find themselves in your story as you’re telling it.”
When pitching to event organizers, one of the most powerful tools you can use to demonstrate your passion on stage is your demo video. A demo video is like a movie trailer that shows highlights from your talk. It gives potential clients an idea of what you can do for them and whether or not you’re a good fit for their event.
Making a demo video can be tough, but there are ways to make it easier. If you have any speaking engagements coming up, then film that. If you don’t have any footage of you speaking, can you find a small environment where you could speak (for free) just so you could film it? Worst case scenario, I’ve seen some demo videos of speakers just talking to an empty room. Now of course you can’t tell that it’s empty. You just need footage of you speaking.
For Kindra Hall, it was hard to get started. Her initial demo footage was “awful,” complete with cheesy background music. But she gave it her all because that’s what it took! Hall’s demo videos have evolved over time and is now on her third version, complete with top-notch, professionally-produced footage.
Creating a website and demo video, populating spreadsheets with leads, and cold-calling potential clients are all time-consuming tasks that are essential to launching a sustainable speaking business. If you aren’t ready to spend time on these fundamentals, you might not be ready to go full-time.
Tip 3: Recognize challenges and opportunities for female speakers
Harriet Turk has been speaking in the youth and education areas for nearly two and a half decades. On episode 82 of The Speaker Lab Podcast, Harriet Turk joined us to talk about her lengthy career as a speaker, how she got started, and what it’s like to be a female speaker then versus today.
Turk said one of the challenges of being a female speaker is that the bar is so high. Added to that, there aren’t many full-time female professional speakers. “A female speaker and I can’t be the closing speaker and the opening speaker for an event without a meeting planner saying ‘Oh, we can’t have two females as our speakers,’ but nobody would think anything about having two guys as an opening and a closing speaker. But then, people are always saying, ‘Do you know any other females [who can speak for us]?’ So it’s just a crazy system.”
According to Kindra Hall, gender bias in the speaker industry “cuts both ways.” In an interview with Grant Baldwin on the Speaker Lab Podcast, Hall said “I know that I lose gigs because I’m a woman. I know that I get gigs because I’m a woman…I figure it’s like the price of gas. Like I can’t control the price of gas.”
Hall went on to say that one event planner told her they were hesitant to hire her as a woman since they had a female speaker perform poorly the previous year. “There were men that were far worse than she was,” Hall said, but she made them “all nervous about me.”
Tip 4: Recognize that travel takes a toll
For Grant Baldwin, one of the main reasons he quit being a full-time speaker was because of the toll all his travel was taking on his family. This came despite the fact that since he started his speaking career in 2008, Baldwin earned over $2 million from 500+ paid engagements all over the world.
Many women with families face at least the same pressures as Grant Baldwin did. And on top of that, there is a broad cultural expectation that they shoulder family responsibilities more than men would be expected to do. Harriet Turk acknowledged, “it is so tough being a female speaker and then trying to have a life where you are creating a home and you want to be a mom.”
Turk started off when I was in her mid-twenties, unmarried, with no kids. “I built my business just zooming all over the country in the world, and I didn’t think anything about it,” she said. “And now it’s just like, Oh, I would build my business so differently. I would build my business within probably a hundred-mile radius or at least a three-state radius so that I wouldn’t have to be gone for my kid as much as I am.”
For Grant Baldwin, raising three daughters and traveling was also a challenge. “It just eats you alive,” he said. As speakers “we’re gone more than the average human being.”
There are ways to balance the speaking hustle and home life. But counting the costs beforehand is a crucial step, given the punishing travel schedule of many public speakers.
Tip 5: Consider adding an additional fee rate
In the speaking world, fees can be a place where there is inequality, sometimes completely unbeknownst to female speakers.
On a recent episode of The Speaker Lab podcast, Nicole Walters talked about the heavy but important topic of racism in the speaking world. She said that in the marketplace for her as a Black woman, she once had a situation where she found out that she was paid 1/10th of what the previous speaker, had gotten that year. In response to that, she said, “When it comes to the rate and the speaking gig, decide what it’s worth to you, and then go in there and ask for that and add 10% tax.”
“We all struggle with our worth sometimes, so I just go ahead and add a little extra, and that’s what that looks like,” Walters said. “I felt really good about that response and that technique.”
Tip 6: Recommend other female and minority speakers
A good rule of thumb when you land a speaking gig is to use that one gig to book at least two more. That said, you might not be able to logistically swing every other opportunity. This can give you a chance to recommend other female speakers in your network, and build bridges that can lower the barrier to entry for other female speakers and minority female speakers.
On The Speaker Lab podcast, Nicole Walters said that if a friend of yours is putting together a gig, and they have no minority speakers booked, you can help them out by recommending a diverse panel. “More than one black speaker would be great,” Walters said, “Some females would be great.” By doing that, you can take the steps to make sure they’re really helping minority communities and also benefiting their own audiences by getting them a diverse and inclusive perspective.
So you’ve learned 6 tips from successful female speakers. Want to go deeper? If you’d like to learn more about paid speaking opportunities, check out this post on how to find paid speaking opportunities in any industry. Happy speaking!