An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
A premise, and a promise. The premise is the personal story you tell that taught you the lesson. The promise is the takeaway for the audience.
At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Ekstrom.
Jess Ekstrom is the founder and CEO of Mic Drop Workshop: an e-learning company with the mission of helping more women tell and sell their stories as thought leaders.
What started out as a way to spread the word about her company, Headbands of Hope, turned into a booming speaking career. She’s named a “Top Rated Speaker” by Forbes Magazine and has shared the stage with President Joe Biden, Tyler Perry, Jenna Bush Hager and more. When Jess discovered the discrepancy of women in the speaking industry, she set out to change it by providing courses, community and free resources through Mic Drop Workshop. Mic Drop has now helped thousands of women gain impact and income through thought leadership.
She’s the bestselling author of Chasing the Bright Side with Harper Collins and working on her first children’s book. Jess will never turn down a taco and will always ask to pet your dog.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I started out as your typical lemonade stand kid; standing out on the street corner with my sister and flagging cars down as they drove by. The feeling when a car stopped and asked for some lemonade was electric to me. And if there’s one thing we do as kids, we follow the electricity without a shadow of a doubt.
I started selling (or swapping, I should say) my clothes on a site called SwapStyle. I would get a white sheet from our linen closet and hang it up in my bedroom when the light was shining perfectly through my window. I’d hang up clothing items in front of the sheet and take the picture on my mom’s digital camera and upload them to my profile. I remember I wanted this green Juicy Couture jumpsuit (oh the 90s!) and I traded in almost everything I owned to have it. I wore that jumpsuit every day for months!
Then I discovered eBay and started selling my American Girl Dolls and toys on there. I loved packaging up a sold product and going to the post office with my dad to ship it. The electricity was booming.
The big boom happened on a family camping trip where I was frustrated that my headphone cords were tangled in a knot. I told my dad (who’s an entrepreneur), “I’m just going to invent headphones that are like slinky cords so they never get tangled again!”
He sat me down and looked me in the eyes and told me to, “Keep thinking that way. Keep thinking about how you can solve problems and you will.”
And that was the moment I became an entrepreneur, was when I thought about the world through a lens that I could fix it.
Ten years later, I started my first company, Headbands of Hope. For every headband sold, one is given to a child with an illness.
Five years after that, I started my second company, Mic Drop Workshop. An online course and community for women to become paid speakers.
Three years after that, I started my third company, Prompted.io. A personal development platform delivering Prompt Pathways from Thought Leaders.
I was looking at the world through a lens that I could fix it.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I started Headbands of Hope, I was a broke college student and to make matters worse, I had gotten involved with a fraudulent manufacturer and lost a loan from a family member.
I realized that public speaking was a way for me to tell my story about Headbands of Hope…and also get paid to tell it.
My speaking career blew up and I was speaking at over 50 colleges a year. Then it grew into corporations and events. Forbes named me a “Top Motivational Speaker.” I shared stages with Tyler Perry, President Joe Biden, Olympic athletes, musicians and more.
I was speaking at an event where I was the lunchtime keynote and a guy was the morning keynote. A few weeks later, I got a call from the meeting planner from that event.
“Jess, I wanted to give you some information that you can ignore or not.” The meeting planner said.
“Okay, what is it?” I was nervous.
“We did audience feedback cards and you were the highest rated speaker of the day.” She said.
“Great! So, what’s the problem?”
“We paid you $13,500 to speak. We paid (morning keynote guy who I won’t say his name) $50,000.”
That moment, amongst many others, was when I became hyper aware of the discrepancy amongst paid speaking engagements for women. So many times, I’ve been the token woman in a panel or a speaker lineup. Don’t even get me started on tokenism for women of color.
Mic Drop Workshop was born. And three years later, we’ve helped over one thousand women land paid speaking engagements.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was speaking at an event for event planners. After I spoke, I sat and listened to the panel about diversity in the speaking industry and how only 30% of speakers are women.
“We want to have more women speak at our events,” said a meeting planner for a huge company, “but they are only 12% of our speaker applications.”
The rest of the panel unanimously agreed that the number of applications they get from women to speak are a fraction compared to men.
That was a moment that I carried with me because I realized that just putting your name in the hat to speak was a huge part of the battle, especially for women. So, if I can give them the knowledge and tools for how to pitch and apply so they feel confident, then maybe I can be a part of bringing equality to the speaking industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started speaking, I used my slides as a crutch. I knew what was coming next because my slides told me. I knew the line I had to say because it was on my slide. But one of the #1 rules I teach in Mic Drop Workshop: slides are not for you, they’re for your audience. And secondly, be able to do your entire keynote without slides.
I showed up to speak at a university and when I pulled up to the location on the map, I saw it was an outdoor amphitheater. Just a stage and a microphone like I was performing at Burning Man or something.
The meeting planner came to greet me and I said, “Hi! Where is the projector?”
“Oh- we don’t have one. But don’t worry you have a microphone!”
Oh no. This was not going to be good. I thought to myself.
But nevertheless, I went up there and surprisingly crushed my presentation without slides. From then on, I changed my relationship to my slides and only used them when I knew it would enhance the presentation, not for my own personal guidance.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I met my husband in college right as I was starting Headbands of Hope. We’ve been together for almost ten years and he’s been with me throughout the many highs and lows of being a business owner. He’s a big part of the reason I felt like I could leap and take risks, because I always knew he’d be there no matter what when I got home.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Failure will always feel better than regret. Period.
Whenever I feel the fear of “what if it doesn’t work out?” I remind myself of this quote that I’ve said thousands of times in my talk. One audience member even got it tattooed on her arm in my (awful) handwriting! Talk about a great testimonial.
What drives you to get up every day and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
My mission when I speak is to help people train their optimism muscle so they can not just envision a better world, but create it. I have many stories where optimism was my gasoline to success, not skill. So if I can share my story with this greater message, then maybe someone out there will go for it too.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
One of the keys to writing a highly booked keynote and bestselling book is a disciplined writing and self-reflection habit every morning. But I couldn’t find any journals or software that prompted me to write and reflect based on my interest that day or challenge I was trying to overcome.
That’s why my newest venture, Prompted.io, is an online journaling platform with hundreds of Prompt Pathways you can embark on to achieve your goals, get out of your head and get clarity on your direction. Each pathway is written by a successful Thought Leader who’s gone down that same path.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, then perhaps the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” — Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound.
I did Outward Bound when I was a kid and at the time, I didn’t appreciate it. But this quote stuck with me because every time we are challenged or try something new, we’re gathering more evidence that we are more than what we imagined. I think successful people don’t always get it right, but they continue to try and surprise themselves when they do.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.
- A premise, and a promise
The premise is the personal story you tell that taught you the lesson. The promise is the takeaway for the audience.
A lot of speakers focus too much on the premise and not on the promise. Anyone can have a great story, but in order to be a highly valued speaker, you have to relate it back to something teachable for the audience.
In my course, Mic Drop Workshop, we do an exercise called Moment to Meaning. What was the snapshot moment in your life that made you pause? And what’s the universal meaning that you can pull from that?
2. A transformation
Before you ask yourself, “what should I speak on?” I’d rather you do this visualization first.
Imagine you just gave a talk and absolutely crushed it. Standing ovation, tears, laughter, applause so loud you can’t hear yourself thank the emcee. Then the audience leaves and heads home. What do you want the audience to think, feel and do differently after hearing you speak?
How will your talk be a before and after moment in someone’s life? Fill in the blank: After people hear me speak they will _____________ because my talk will ______________. For example, mine is: After people hear me speak they will learn how to train their optimism muscle because my talk will tell the story of how I started a company by using optimism more than skill.
The transformation of your talk is the value proposition to a meeting planner. The better you can articulate the transformation, the more you can advocate for yourself to get paid gigs and the better you can serve your audience.
3. A signature keynote
Another mistake I see speakers make is they have a website with a list of topics they can speak on or a list of keynote talks. In Mic Drop Workshop, I call this being a Cheesecake Factory Speaker where your menu is so long that you have no idea what you’re good at.
A meeting planner wants to know your chef special! What’s the one thing you know you’re going to hit out of the park?
Don’t be afraid to say: this is what I speak on and nothing else. In fact, that’s where you can get better at your craft by focusing on one signature talk and you’ll attract bookings by being clear about the thing that you’re good at.
If you want help crafting your keynote, you can take my free 3-Day Keynote Writing Challenge on MicDropWorkshop.com.
4. A deflated ego
As a keynote speaker, it’s not about making yourself look good, it’s about serving your audience. And in order to do that, sometimes you have to tell stories where you learned a lesson. And sometimes the stories where we learn the greatest lessons are at lower points.
I used to think being a speaker was going up there and showing all of my accomplishments. Save that for the emcee to read in your introduction. Your talk should be about helping the audience achieve the transformation you set out to provide. In order to do that, you have to be real and honest. Check your ego in your green room and leave it all on the stage!
5. A speaker companion
If you want to grow your speaking business, I urge you to lean more into collaboration than competition. Speaking can be such a collaborative industry if you let it. Think about it: if an annual event books you to speak this year, the chances of them booking the same speaker next year are low because they want to mix it up.
I end every gig by asking them, “are you looking for speakers for your next event?” And 99.9% of the time they say, “YES! Do you know anyone?”
And I have a roster of women speakers who I suggest to speak based on their needs. And then those women refer me to their past events too. You can even set up a revenue share if you want to get a kickback for referring your speaker friends that get booked.
In Mic Drop Workshop, we have a community that we call Speaker Sisters where we share gig leads and speaking opportunities. If you’re wanting to be an ally for underrepresented groups, this is a great opportunity to refer them for gigs.
Find yourself a speaker companion or group where you can pass the baton after you speak at events to keep the good going!
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
There are so many tips and tricks you can do to overcome your fear of public speaking (but don’t picture the audience in their underwear!), but the two I find most helpful are:
- Diagnose your nerves as excitement. Nerves and excitement are the same physiological response. So instead of your butterflies indicating you’re nervous, tell yourself you’re excited!
- Have a mantra before you go on stage. My mantra is: the pressure is a privilege. It’s a really grounding reminder that every time I have a microphone in my hand, it’s a gift that many people will never have. What a privilege it is to have the pressure of hundreds (sometimes tens of thousands) of people listening to you speak!
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement, it would be more diversity in Thought Leadership: books, speaking, everywhere we get advice and information. For so long, “experts” have looked the same. I believe thought leaders can shape the future; so I’d like to help shape the future by providing more opportunity for women to influence it.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Bozoma Saint John, the CMO of Netflix. She is such a powerhouse and an example of thought leadership changing the world.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
And if you want to follow Mic Drop Workshop, here is our Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/micdropworkshop/
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Jess Ekstrom of Mic Drop Workshop On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.