When it comes to public speaking, several studies have demonstrated gender differences in the amount of female versus male speakers. Female speakers are often underrepresented and underpaid. Public speaking can be a lucrative side hustle or full-time gig for anyone trying to market themselves and amplify their message. For women who want to use public speaking to brand themselves, learning the tricks of the trade and how to best position themselves as experts in their field is critical. Carol Cox is a speaker, podcaster, professor and CEO helping women to do just that. Carol founded Speaking Your Brand, a company designed to “help high-performing, purpose-driven women entrepreneurs and professionals create their signature talks (keynotes, TEDx, business presentation) to grow their business and become recognized as influencers in their fields.” Carol sat down with Forbes to discuss how women can craft speeches that resonate with their audience, how to best negotiate speaker rates, and how to deliver your message with clarity, confidence and conviction.
Janice Gassam: Why did you decide to start Speaking Your Brand? What is your company’s mission?
Carol Cox: So, I started Speaking Your Brand in 2015 because I had been speaking as part of the previous businesses that I had owned, which were in the technology software development space. I had been speaking at conferences…I enjoyed it, I got great feedback. People always asked me to help them with their presentations, so…I was exiting out of the technology industry, wanting to work more with people than with code, and so…I was brainstorming business ideas and talking to friends and this is one thing that was suggested and that I had thought about. At the time, this was again 2015 and…I was very much involved in women in tech and women in leadership…it just seemed like a perfect blend to be able to use a skillset that I had developed that also helped women to develop that skillset for themselves but also the confidence to get out there and share their message…our mission is to help more women develop the communication skills, platform and confidence to step into leadership, influence, and power, on stages, in the media, in business, on boards, and in politics.
Gassam: You’ve worked with many women entrepreneurs to help them develop their signature talks. What are some common mistakes women make when giving keynote and signature talks?
Cox: We help our clients with two different types of talks primarily. We have the ones where woman are doing it for lead generation, building brand awareness for what they do in their business and for generating leads…that’s a core part of the work that I do. I would say the biggest mistake that I see women make is they actually don’t put any sales messaging in their presentations at all. I know we’ve all been…told not to ‘sell from the stage’…what has happened is that then, especially as women, we tend not to be very good at promoting ourselves and so then we end up taking out all sales messaging in the presentation itself, but actually if you do a really great job with your content, and you lead the audience to understanding that there is a solution to the problem that they’re experiencing, they want the help. You’re actually doing a disservice to them by not at least helping them see how you can help them. There’s ways that you can do that in the presentation content, without it coming across as sale-sy…what a lot of women fear is they don’t want to be seen as sale-sy…but there’s ways of doing it where you’re helping the audience without feeling sale-sy.
The other thing we help our clients with is keynotes and TEDx talks…I think the biggest mistake that I’ve seen women make on that is that they don’t feel comfortable yet really standing on a soapbox and proclaiming what it is that they see is wrong in their industry…they are a little too tentative to take strong stance, but that’s what makes a really great keynote and it makes a great TEDx talk, is taking that strong stance, of course backed up with support.
Gassam: In your experiences, what are some ways that women can convey their message with ‘clarity, conviction and confidence?’
Cox: The first way is to find that support. It’s hard to develop this on your own because you can’t see your big idea from within your own headspace…because you’re too close to your own content…for someone to say ‘oh, pull on that thread a little bit.’ So, that would be the one thing. The other thing is that…to develop the confidence and comfort with the material, it’s repetition…so sharing your message a lot. So, speaking of course…speaking in front of a group of people is one of those ways to do that but so is being a guest on podcasts, doing videos online, different sales conversations…the more that you are talking about your message, the more comfortable and more confident you will feel about it and also as you get good feedback you will develop that confidence, because you will find that your message is resonating with people…the third thing for developing that clarity, conviction and confidence is to find a group of women that can give you that support and structure…close friends, colleagues, some group that you talk to virtually every month or so…people to go, to help you.
Gassam: A lot of research says that even when women speak on topics where they are very knowledgeable, the public is more likely to question their authority. How do you think women can best position themselves as experts in their field?
Cox: So, a few things come to mind. Whatever it is that your topic is…bring in that third-party research, data: other people who have said similar things, studies that support what it is that you’re talking about…if you’re hearing someone talk and they reference other big names, or universities that have done studies related to it, it just adds to the credibility of what you’re talking about. Don’t be afraid of bringing in that third party research…the second thing is, find other people to tout what it is that you do…to call you an expert…that could be…a support group of friends, colleagues in your industry, so that they can share information about you. The other thing is, things like writing a book, being an author, doing other things that give you that market credibility, joining a board, whether it’s a non-profit organization or corporate board…other third parties to help add to your credibility and expertise.
Gassam: There is a lot of research also on the pay disparities between male and female speakers. When it comes to negotiating your rate, how do you think women speakers can best negotiate for a competitive rate?
Cox: The first thing is, you probably need to ask for more than whatever your first inclination is. We tend to underprice ourselves as women. I’ve seen advice to take whatever you think you want to ask for and double it…if that makes you uncomfortable, that’s probably a good thing…the second thing is, a lot of times it takes someone else to say to you, ‘I really think you should double your rate.’ So, if you hear that from a few people, then that could also give you the confidence to do that. The third thing is…if you are being asked to speak at an event, and there is a budget for speakers and you’re in negotiations is to ask them, ‘are you paying your female speakers equitably?’ And that may give a pause…but that could give you some indication of what is going on and then you can decide what to do with that. You can also ask other speakers what they’re getting paid…as far as for negotiation, if you have an assistant, a virtual assistant or an executive assistant who you work with, sometimes it’s easier for them to send the negotiation email on your behalf so you can create a little bit of distance from yourself so then they’re sending it and they’re negotiating. Then you may feel more comfortable and more confident in asking for those higher fees.
Gassam: What are some of the best tools for female entrepreneurs to grow their business?
Cox: I’m an avid reader…a podcast listener as well…the book that comes to mind is…Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz…and then there’s another book called Built to Sell…especially for women entrepreneurs, we tend to take on too many things and we tend to be hesitant to ask for help or to ask for help as early as we can, so both of those books really give you a perspective of how to structure your business so that number one, you’re not the one doing everything, and number two, the business is all about you. You want the business to grow without you being the…linchpin.
For more information about Carol can help you develop your signature talk, visit her website.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.