Improve Your Image, Improve Your Business

People form first impressions in the fraction of a second.  Before you say a word, your image speaks volumes.

What does your image say about you as a speaker?  Does your image appeal to your intended audience?  Do you present your best self?

How do you change the image that you project, and still remain authentic? And, for the thrifty, how can you up your image, and do so on a budget?

These are all questions that I had when I was starting out as a professional speaker in the fall of 2009.  At the time, my audience was high school students (I was giving classroom workshops to generate leads for a local business college).  Also at the time, we had a failing business that was generating a loss.  I had very little money.

So, in short, you do the best with what you have.

With $11, I went to my local Salvation Army store and purchased 2 jackets, 2 tops and a pair of black pants. I already had a pair of black shoes.  That was the sum total of my speaking wardrobe for the next 2 years.

I also got my hair cut at Great Clips and colored it myself.

Below are my speaking photos from 2009-2012.  Note that I am wearing my Salvation Army wardrobe (the exact same top and jacket) for all the pictures.  I actually picked my brand colors based on the top and jacket.  It’s what I had.

2009:  Photo taken at a Toastmasters Leadership meeting.  The photographer did remove some stray hairs (and for promotional purposes, I removed the name badge):


2010: Inexpensive photography session. $40 for a CD with about 20 pictures. Note the messy hairstyle:

DSC_0082 Same photo below, but I removed the background and some of the messy hair.

DSC_0082 - Copy 2 - Copy

2012: New haircut, new glasses, necklace and a better photographer:

0960 print ready  color adj

In late 2010, I decided to spend the money on a professional cut and color.  It was vastly more expensive than Great Clips and my home color job.  I also learned how to use a flat iron.  I looked better, and felt more confident.  What was really weird was that people started to treat me differently, like I was somehow more worthy because I had a more polished appearance.  In 2011, I started getting paid presentations for adult audiences.

Earlier this year, I decided I needed to step up my image again–this time with weight loss and clothing.  Since January, I’ve lost 17 lbs (and plan on losing another 21 by Christmas).  I also have been working with an image consultant, Dawn Stebbing of Image Evolution.  She helped me discover the colors and styles that work for me, and I’ve started to change my wardrobe.  I removed all the clothes that didn’t look good on me, or that I hadn’t worn in 2 years.  Then, my husband accidentally threw away my summer clothes when we took a vacation in June (long story short:  At the end of the trip, I put my dirty clothes in a trash bag.  And, you can guess what happened).  So, I’ve replaced most of my casual clothes and plan on working on replacing business clothes this fall.

One of the challenges for me was feeling that by changing my look, I was somehow not being authentic.  Really, I was in a rut, wearing clothes that were actually not expressive of who I was and who I wanted to become.

Take a look at your “look.”  Is your “classic” look really outdated, maybe even dowdy?

If you haven’t changed your eye glasses, clothes or hair style in 4 or 5 years or more, the answer is probably “yes.”  Consider using styling aids, like a flat-iron for a sleek look.  If you are a woman, update the make up. Lipstick is a must, but don’t be garish.

Look at some fashion sites–When I was thinking about changing my style, I started a Fashion Pinterest Board and pinned fashions I liked from mostly higher end stores’ online cataloges–mostly out of my budget, but it helped me become aware of what was current that I liked.

Consider hiring an image consultant. If you are in the Twin Cities, I recommend Dawn Stebbing of Image Evolution.  Or, take a fashion-forward friend or relative shopping with you.

As a speaker, an investment in improving your image is an investment in your business.  Let your first impression be a great one, and one that lets the true you shine!

Tips for Presentation Handouts

Handout PowerTo have a handout or not?  That is the question.

Almost any presentation could be enhanced with a handout.

Handout benefits to the presenter:

  • Your presentation will be more memorable
  • Audience members can easily contact you
  • Establishes your credibility
  • Shows that you care about the audience
  • You can have additional information on the handout
  • A handout can keep you on track during your presentation

Handout benefits to the audience include:

  • A preview of the content of your presentation
  • A take-away reminder of the concepts in the presentation
  • Not having to take many notes
  • A place to take notes, if they want
  • Action item reminders
  • Additional information or resources
  • A way to contact you

While a keynote presentation may not need a handout, having some sort of take-away item with your contact information on it is a good idea so that audience members can remember and contact you if they want.  You could have large, colorful postcards with key information and your contact information on it, as an alternative to the standard handout.  You can get 500 over-sized postcards (about 8.5 by 5.5), printed on both sides on for about $70.

Some handout tips:

 1. Consider your audience and how the handout will be used.

For a webinar, I provided a one-page agenda-style handout, with a link to the slides.  The link to the handout was emailed to the participants, and I also provided a link to the handout at the start of the webinar.  Webinar handout

For an educational and interactive talk, which I gave to 3 chapters of IAAP (the International Association of Administrative Assistants), I had a 4-page handout, which included a cover page, a page for note-taking (with some fill-in the blanks), a page for an interactive exercise, and a page that summarized a concept.  This handout was sent to the organization in advance so they could get the presentation approved for continuing education units.  Workshop handout

For a presentation to teenagers, I used a lot of graphics and didn’t expect them to write much.  I also included a page with examples that they could refer to later.  Teen talk handout

2. Leave some white space—in case the audience members want to jot down a few notes.

3. Put your contact information on every page of your handout.

4. Add additional resources, if applicable (also cite references).

5. Check and double check your handouts for typos/errors.  Have someone else proofread.

6. Make more copies than you think you will need.  I bring extras, even if the meeting planner says they will make copies.

7. Don’t print out your PowerPoint slides as handouts.  If your PowerPoint slides have enough information on them to be your handout, you have too much information on your slides.

8. Distribute your handouts at the time that makes sense for your presentation.

  • Before you speak for most presentations, if the audience will be taking notes, or interacting with the handout
  • After you speak, if there is some element of surprise (or, you could have your handout in an envelope with “do not open until requested,” which creates suspense).
  • After you speak, if your handout is just informational, and not needed during your presentation

Do you have some handout tips?

Speech Inspiration from Your Favorite Childhood Book

The Little PrinceFind inspiration for your speeches from your favorite childhood books.  What significant, life-long lessons or quotes have endured into adulthood?  Let your childhood speak to you as you prepare speeches.

I think I was in third grade when I started reading the book, The Little Prince.   When I received the book as a gift, I printed my name inside the front.  Little Diane Williams was proud to own this book.

Little did I know that I would be quoting the book many years later in a speech.

The book is not your typical children’s book.  Looking at it now, it doesn’t seem to be a children’s book at all.  Written in 1943, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, it is the most translated book in the French language

The narrator is a middle-aged man who has crashed his airplane in the Sahara desert  As he tries to fix his engine, a young boy, dressed like a prince, magically appears.

As it turns out, the little prince is actually from a tiny asteroid in the sky, which has only three volcanoes, some ordinary flowers, some Baobab tree seeds which must not be allowed to grow lest they destroy his little asteroid, and one solitary rose.

The Prince leaves his little planet in hopes of escaping from his annoying and demanding rose and in search of “better” things.  On earth, he happens upon a garden full of roses in bloom and is overcome with sadness, realizing that his rose, which he thought was unique in the universe, was in fact, a common rose.

To a passerby, his rose would look like all the others.

Later, with the help of a fox, he realizes that his rose is indeed special, because she is his rose, the rose he has watered, sheltered, and listened to when she grumbled. His love for his rose is what makes his rose important.

As the fox tells him, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

That quote has stuck with me for more than 40 years.  It has compelled me to look beyond the surface of situations and of people to find the heart truth.  It has inspired some of my speeches.

In one speech, about dealing with difficult people, I directly reference the book:

In the book, The Little Prince, one of the characters says:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I might change that to be:

“It is only with the heart that one can hear rightly; what is essential is inaudible to the ear.”

Listen from your heart and as you face conflict this year, and you will, try to look for the growth opportunity.  Every conflict, every difficult person, comes with a gift, if you look hard enough for it. 

Listen from your heart, bend your ear toward the whisperings of your favorite childhood books and be inspired!

What do Speakers Bureaus, Speakers Agents and Meeting Planners Want?

Serving up your message

A speakers bureau representative, a speakers agent and an meeting planner walk into a bar . . .

No joking!

Wouldn’t you like to get some of the inside speaking biz scoop from that trio?

Meeting planners often work with speakers bureaus and speakers agents because they know about the speakers and can save meeting planners a lot of time and worry.

At the final meeting of The National Speakers Association-Minnesota Chapter’s 2012-2013 Speakers Academy, a panel of professionals who connect speakers to speaking opportunities discussed current trends, what determines a speaker’s odds of being selected, what every speaker should have and best practices.


Devie Hagen, Élan Speakers Agency.  Devie is a speakers agent, who represents both speakers and meeting planners, but her primary clients are the speakers.  She looks for speaking opportunities for her portfolio of speakers, who pay her a monthly retainer plus 10% of the booking fee.

Holly Zelinsky, Nationally Speaking.  Holly’s clients are the meeting planners, but unlike many speakers bureaus, she doesn’t stay in the middle for all the communication and financial arrangements.  The clients pay the speakers directly and then the speakers pay Holly 25% of the booking fee.  There is also a one-time fee to be part of the bureau.

Sarah Ruzek, Midwest Society of Association Executives Sarah is a meeting and event planner, planning 10-12 events per year for this association of association executives, a prime market for speakers, who often are not paid to speak at events, but get “visibility.”  Speakers can join MSAE with a “consultant” membership type ($260 for 2012-2013).

Current Trends:

  • Actionable Content
  • Relevance
  • Case Studies
  • Interaction and engagement
  • Customization
  • Humor
  • No podium/lectern
  • Ted Style/innovative presentations
  • Visual PowerPoint (not so much text)
  • Book not that necessary
  • Going green.  Electronic handouts.

What determines the odds of a speaker being selected:

  • Video. Video. Video.
  • 5-7 minutes max
  • 1st minute critical
  • Show the audience you want. (large, diverse audience if that’s what you want)
  • Show audience interaction
  • Show audience laughing right away
  • Show audience engaged, nodding, taking notes
  • No music or speaker interviews
  • Show brief testimonials (OK to use your phone!)
  • 2 or more outfits in 2 or more venues (noticeably different)
  • A bad video is worse than no video
  • Full length video available upon request
  • Have a non-YouTube video option (some corporations don’t allow YouTube)
  • You can have more than one video!
  • Keep updating—fresh video, fresh testimonials

Example of a speaker with good videos (from Devie) is Ryan Estis’ website:

Aside from video . . .

  • Have bulleted take-aways for presentations
  • Referrals help
  • Get your schedule on your website as you get busy
  • Showcase opportunities (such as MSAE’s—you can also get video)

What every speaker should have:

  • Video.  Video.  Video.
  • Website
  • Photos
  • Be easy to find with contact info on website

Onesheets aren’t as critical (video is the trend).  But, your one-sheet should be available electronically as a PDF (and the version for the speakers bureau or speakers agent should NOT have your direct contact information).  A one-sheet is for “the committee.”

Best practices of top-selling speakers:

  • Be easy to work with
  • 24 hour response.  Faster is better.  The meeting planner is on a mission to fill a spot!
  • Do research. Ask questions.  Find out about current, pertinent issues.
  • Tailor the program.
  • Don’t drive the meeting planners crazy.  Respect their time.
  • Ask “How do you want to communicate?”
  • Use social media to help promote the event (a video, find out the Twitter hashtag)
  • Don’t sell from stage.
  • Be at least an hour early.
  • Add value whenever possible.

The greatest value you can add is to have a good answer to the following question:  What will be different after this experience for the audience?  What will be the ROK—Return On Knowledge?

YOLO Speaking

yolo speaking

YOLO, an acronym that’s been popular among mostly younger people for the past year or so, stands for “You Only Live Once.” It seems to be an excuse for risky behavior.  Have they forgotten you actually get to live every day, but you only die once?  The sentiment is a recent version of “Carpe Diem.”  Seize the Day.What if you knew that your death was imminent?  Is there a message that would die with you? Do you know what words you want as your legacy?That was the question facing Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, who gave a last lecture, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He died in 2008, but his book, The Last Lecture, allows his words to live on (the audio version is great for the car).  (video of the Last Lecture, 76 minutes)

What is your message?  What do you care about?  What legacy do you want to leave?Why wait?  YOLO.