Kelsey Formost Of Magic Words Copywriting On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Specific to digital speaking engagements: Don’t look at yourself in the camera as you’re speaking! It makes you self conscious about how you appear instead of allowing you to focus on what you’re saying. Once you see your frame, change the view so you’re not just looking at your giant face.
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 Kelsey Formost.
Kelsey Formost is a copywriting expert, marketing educator, speaker, podcaster & mental health advocate who helps entrepreneurs learn to write words that sell without sounding “sales-y”. She’s been featured in Business Insider, Ad Age, Glamour, Refinery29, Boss Babe & more.
Kelsey’s easy-to-understand copywriting courses & templates have helped take struggling businesses to six figures and beyond, but that’s not really what’s important to her. Kelsey’s mission is to de-mystify the process of communicating with an online audience, helping entrepreneurs feel empowered and inspired every time they need to write or speak about their business (and also, yeah, make more money in the process).
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 grew up an extremely shy kid splitting my time between San Diego, California and a teeny tiny town in Colorado. As an only child, I thrived inside my imagination but had a difficult time when put into large groups. My parents were worried about my social anxiety, so they took the “sink or swim” approach and enrolled me in a community theater production of “The Wizard of Oz”. I was horrified at the time, but as time went on and I became more comfortable in myself, performing became such a gift. Theatre gave me an outlet through which I could express myself and connect with others in a way that felt safe. From age 10 until age 30 I pursued acting, screenwriting, and performing professionally, starring in shows in New York City, writing scripts with Oscar winners, and landing prestigious film and TV roles in Los Angeles.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always love to share the story of the moment I decided to go into business for myself and leave the entertainment industry for good. I think it’s important for people to know it’s safe (and actually incredibly positive!) to completely change your career path, even if you’ve already invested money, energy, and years of your life pursuing something else.
In my case, I decided to completely change my life after hitting rock bottom at 10pm on New Year’s Eve 2017…I was fresh off a devastating breakup, sitting in my childhood home, my mom and her dog snoring on the couch next to me. I doom-scrolled through social media, seeing the engagements, weddings, pregnancy announcements, and “we bought a house!” posts from all my 30-something contemporaries, the anxiety building inside me like pressure in a shaken up soda bottle. I was so tired of hustling for approval from Hollywood, tired of hustling for love from people in my personal life, tired of hustling for respect from myself.
I had a full out sobbing-on-the-bathroom-floor-style breakdown and made a commitment right then and there: I was no longer going to invest my gifts, time, or energy in people, projects, or work that didn’t fill my cup. I was getting off the Hollywood hamster wheel of comparison and burnout. Instead of waiting for other people to say “yes” to me, I was going to start my own business.
What started as the seed of an idea on the bathroom floor of my childhood home grew into a 6-figure copywriting career. Once I felt that rush of empowerment, I became obsessed with helping other women build their own successful businesses! I found I had a gift for helping people tell their story in a way that “sold” them without sounding “sales-y”. To this day, through my courses, work, and speaking, I teach folx to talk about themselves with confidence and clarity- it will totally change not just your business, but your whole ass life!
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
At the beginning of 2020, I released my signature course “Copy Class” that teaches entrepreneurs how to write words that sell without sounding sales-y. It took me months to create because I wanted to be sure it was highly valuable and informative while still being accessible, fun and easy to understand.
I thought “Copy Class” was going to resonate most with young female entrepreneurs in their 20’s. But when I started looking at the numbers, I found there was a huge portion of my student population who were 40+, many of whom were in their 60’s.
I was getting notes from so many older women who’d felt intimidated by the online business world who were now launching their own companies and projects! To this day I find it so fascinating to see that you’re never too old, and it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.
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 was first starting out, I had a hard time saying ‘no’ to people. I took on way too many clients for way too little money and I was on a one-way train to burnout town.
One day I was driving home after (yet another) coffee date with a potential client who wanted to “pick my brain” before hiring me. We’d met at a fancy cafe where I shelled out ten dollars I didn’t have on a tiny oat milk latte, and I’d spent almost two hours essentially giving her an entire business plan, for free. While I was in the car, she’d texted to say hiring me wasn’t going to work out but that she appreciated my time.
I was done.
I pulled into a parking structure with a roof deck that overlooked Los Angeles. I knew this because it was my favorite place to go cry. Which was exactly what I needed to do in that moment: have a good old fashioned mascara-running-down-the-face cry.
I found a great spot tucked away in a corner, put my beat up Ford Focus in park, hit ‘play’ on my “moody heart” playlist I save just for occasions such as these, and let loose. I sobbed and sobbed, and sobbed some more. I was sob-singing along to the song “She Used to Be Mine” from the musical “Waitress” (seriously, if you ever need a good cry, look it up) when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement…I hadn’t noticed that a car had pulled in next to me, and there sat a girl behind the wheel, clearly listening in on my cry sesh and singing along with me and Sara Bareilles.
We locked eyes and the deep sadness of the song turned into a shared moment of belonging. We were just two musical theater nerds having a shitty day who’d happened across each other’s paths at the exact right time. When the song was over, we burst out laughing. I waved goodbye, put my car in reverse, and drove home.
I learned three lessons that day:
- Say ‘no’ or set clear boundaries whenever someone asks if they can “pick your brain” about your area of expertise. It’s one of the most common ways entrepreneurs get taken advantage of.
- Book fewer “dollars-for-hours” jobs and find other ways to create additional income through digital products. Dollars for hours work is impossible to scale- you’re just one human.
- There is a transformative magic in shared emotion. Whether it’s a stranger, trusted friend or family member, sharing your heavy feelings will always make them seem lighter.
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 am so lucky to have a best friend from college who has been professionally writing for years. She’s walked me through countless projects and answered hundreds of my questions. She’s been my cheerleader, and my most trusted editor. I truly wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today without her help. It’s such a valuable lesson to remember that everyone is a beginner at the beginning. The fastest way to be successful is to ask for help!
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?
My mom told me a story once about a time when she was trying to decide whether or not to go back to school to get her graduate degree after being out of college for almost a decade. She was debating the topic with her mom, saying she felt like too much time had passed and that it was too late for her to become a student again.
My grandma’s words of advice for my mom in that moment were so profound. She said, “whether you go to school or not, the time is going to pass anyway. It’s up to you to decide where you want to be in five years, because those five years will pass no matter which path you take. It’s not about making the “right” choice, but rather, which choice will you look back on in five years and regret less?”
Time will pass no matter what you do. It’s so much better to collect failures that point you in the right direction than it is to always wonder “what if?”. Failure is simply an opportunity for re-calibration towards the next right choice.
What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
I show up with one main mission: to tell the WHOLE TRUTH about what it looks like to do what you love in order to fully de-mystify the process for others. Too often we’re only presented with the “end result”; the shiny 6-figure-generating Boss who appears to have it all figured out. This makes us feel intimidated at best and discouraged at worst.
I’m here to pull back the curtain to show two things:
- First, no one feels like they have it all figured out. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who admit they don’t know everything and are open to learning.
- Second, I want to show that while being an entrepreneur isn’t all champagne and roses, it absolutely is possible to be wildly successful doing what you love!
I’ve seen way too many people- especially women- hold themselves back because they’re intimidated. My mission is to give people the actionable tools they need to speak about themselves and their businesses with confidence while also helping them set up excellent systems to take care of their mental health.
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?
I pinch myself on the regular that I get to interview so many incredible experts on my podcast, “Find Your Magic”! I’m coming up on a year of content and I’m blown away each and every episode at the vulnerability and the value my guests are willing to share.
“Find Your Magic” sits at the intersection of mental health and entrepreneurship; my guests and I share actionable business advice as well as deeply personal stories about what it’s really like to do what you love. I’ve spoken with everyone from Google Ads experts to dating coaches to therapists who specialize in treating burnout. If you ever need a shot in the arm of inspiration or to feel less alone as you build your business, I hope you’ll tune in!
As to what’s next, I’m currently updating my entire suite of products — from my signature course, Copy Class, to my done-for-you email templates — and I’m also in the thick of building a new class on how to create passive income through digital products!
I’m also scared to tell you I’ve been quietly working on a book for the past 9 months…I’ve already written 40K words and am so excited (and nervous) to see where it takes me!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”… This was such a gut punch when I read it in James Clear’s famous book “Atomic Habits”. Goals can give us great direction, but it’s an absolute guarantee we will never achieve any of our goals unless we set ourselves up for success by implementing systems that work for us. Big success is the result of thousands of small choices.
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.
- Want to get booked repeatedly and gain a reputation for being an excellent speaker? Remember this copywriter trick every time you create a presentation: there is only ONE question in an audience member’s mind at any given moment, and that question is, “what’s in it for me?”
One trick is to use the title of your session to tell them EXACTLY what’s in it for them. For example, instead of titling my keynote, “Copywriting for Websites and Emails that convert” I’m super specific and tell my audience EXACTLY what’s in it for them: “3 Copywriting Tricks to 3X Conversions in 30 minutes”.
The best way to ensure you’re successful as a speaker is to make sure your audience has clear takeaways they can apply to their life and their problems after they leave your session. In the case of my session title, my audience knows exactly what they’re walking away with before they even attend. Plus, it helps me write my actual speech by simply answering the question, “what’s in it for them? What information is most helpful for this target audience?”
2. Understand and prepare for your unique physical needs and quirks before taking the stage. Speaking is an extremely PHYSICAL experience. You can be completely confident about the content of your presentation, but the physicality is often what trips people up most. Here are some ways you can set yourself up for success;
- Wear clothes that hide sweat. Leave that long sleeve dark silk top at home. Trust me.
- Understand you’ll probably feel an urge to pace. Plan moments of stillness when you practice (rather than thinking you should just stand still the whole time…which is boring).
- On pacing: choose footwear wisely! You can wear heels but make ’em as comfy as possible because blisters suck. Actress trick: you can buy stickers for the bottom of your shoe that muffle any clicking sounds!
- Plan for a pre-presentation pee. Getting onstage and feeling like you have to pee is the literal worst. Actually, schedule 15 minutes to find a bathroom and do what you need to do. Not kidding.
3. LISTEN UP because you don’t wanna miss this one- I use this trick CONSTANTLY! Are you ready? Here it is: Use trigger phrases to re-gain people’s attention in the moment. These can be phrases like: “Get your notebooks out”, “listen up, this is important”, “if you take nothing else from today I want you to hear this”, “write this down”. This is actually a psychological phenomenon where you’re using a verbal cue to prep the audiences brain’s to receive an important point. It literally makes people sit up and pay attention! (Yes, I actually used a trigger phrase at the beginning of this tip about trigger phrases).
4. Repetition is recognition! When writing your speech, it can be extremely effective to choose a keyword or phrase that you repeat throughout the presentation. Similarly, you can repeat a point in the moment to hammer it home. This trick works extremely well in tandem with the trigger phrase trick above. I’ll give you an example… Imagine I’m speaking to you about copywriting (my favorite topic) and in the middle of my speech I say “Businesses that invest in copywriting see three times more conversions than businesses that don’t. I’m gonna say that again because if you take nothing else from today I want you to remember this: Businesses that invest in copywriting see three times more conversions than businesses that don’t! That’s 300% better results!” You as an audience member are much more likely to remember that statistic because I repeated it AND used a trigger phrase to make sure you knew it was important.
5. Specific to digital speaking engagements: Don’t look at yourself in the camera as you’re speaking! It makes you self conscious about how you appear instead of allowing you to focus on what you’re saying. Once you see your frame, change the view so you’re not just looking at your giant face.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
If you’re someone who gets nervous before speaking in public, remember that speech is actually mostly muscle memory. One of the best ways to alleviate anxiety as an actress was to know my lines so well I didn’t have to think about them. So if you’re a nervous speaker, simply practice saying your speech out loud. The more you repeat the words you’re going to say, the more your body actually memorizes what it feels like to say the words.
An example: Think about the ABC song that you learned when you were a child. Anyone almost anywhere in the world can ask you to recite your ABCs and you’d be able to do it instantly, right? It’s the same thing with public speaking! If you just repeat the words you’re saying over and over, they start to feel at home in your body. When you feel at home in your body you’re much more able to relax when speaking in public.
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 this: have the courage to incorporate your self work into your career work. Too often we compartmentalize the different areas of our lives, when in reality, all the aspects of our daily life and work are part of a holistic, symbiotic whole. Our mental health deeply affects our creativity, our ability to show up in relationships, the functioning of our physical body — everything.
Acknowledging how the wellbeing of our mental and emotional selves affect everything else in our lives is, I believe, the key to true fulfillment. It’s the only way we can show up to give our true gifts to the world in our fullest capacity.
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!
Gabby Bernstein has been a real North Star for me. From her books to her courses to her podcast to her speaking, I always walk away feeling inspired! I’m actually writing a book right now after taking her bestseller masterclass.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
I spend the most time on Instagram @kelsey.writes sharing lots of funny informative videos on copywriting, marketing and mental health!
You can also learn more about how I can help you develop a unique brand voice that sells (without sounding “sales-y”) at www.kelseyformost.com.
Finally, I’d love it if you tuned into my podcast “Find Your Magic” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts. I invite a new expert each week and we talk about the intersection of entrepreneurship and mental health!
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Kelsey Formost Of Magic Words Copywriting On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.