Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

If You're a Female, It's Time to 'Speak up,' Because Those Speaking Gigs Are Out There Public speaking, this contributor says, has been a huge part of her business's growth. One problem: She's tired of being the token woman

By Jess Ekstrom

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Caiaimage/Sam Edwards | Getty Images

For me, speaking professionally was an unexpected facet of my business that began about six years ago. I launched my company, Headbands of Hope, as a college student, and started to get asked to speak at different schools and universities about my story. At the time, when people asked me for my speaking fee, I didn't even know people paid speakers. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I realized I could inspire others through my story and enjoy some remuneration at the same time.

Related: 7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched TED Talks Speakers

Today, I speak over 50 times a year at conferences, corporations, colleges and events about navigating failure and finding meaningful work. Speaking has been a huge part of my business's growth, plus, I've been able to travel the world and meet incredible people. However, there has been one blaring issue I've run into as a speaker: I'm tired of being the token woman in a lineup.

Along these lines, when I ask conference organizers how they found me or why they brought me in to speak, you'd be surprised at how many times they've said, "Well, we needed a woman." A woman. Not more women.

It's no secret that many conference lineups and panels are male dominated (for a good laugh, look up #manels on Tumblr). In fact, there are endless rosters of male speakers out there, and conferences don't have to move an inch to find them. It's like looking for a Starbuck's in Manhattan. They're always right around the corner.

What's more, women have just as powerful and impactful stories and messages as men, but from what I've seen, sometimes they believe that they need to have reached some certain caliber in their career to label themselves as a speaker or being a speaker means you have to be an expert or discover some unknown galaxy.

This isn't true because good speaking is inspirational storytelling. It's translating stories into messages that serve an audience. And you don't have to be an expert in a particular field in order to do that. Plus, more than ever, audiences are craving authenticity and realness in their speakers. In other words: less show and more honesty.

Plus, audience members want to see themselves on stage. They want to be able to see someone about whom they can say, "She's just like me." If there is no diversity on stage, then the audience won't be able to identify with the stories.

Here's the good news in all of this: We're reaching a point where it is no longer acceptable for conferences to host male-dominated lineups.m And women are feeling the pressure for equal representation on stage (check out 50/50 pledges like Gender Avenger). When you open a pamphlet and see a speaking lineup that's male, pale and stale, that's no longer something to be breezed over. .

Conferences are looking for more female speakers -- how to get in on this trend.

I get requests all the time for events I've spoken at asking me what other female speakers I know that they can book. The demand is there, and it's time to start filling it.

Related: What I Learned About Public Speaking From Starting My First Speaking Tour

So if you're a woman or identify as a woman and you have a story you believe might impact others, and you want to share it on stage, here are four starting blocks to get you there.

1. Remember to put "speaker" in your bio.

This is the low-hanging fruit that a lot of people overlook. No one will book you to speak if they don't know you're a speaker! So think about what touchpoints you have with people and find a way to add "speaker" to your bio.

Some places you could start with: LinkedIn, your Instagram bio, your business card or your email signature.

2. Find your message

Your story might be starting your business, but your message is what you learned from your story that can serve the audience. So maybe as a business owner you learned about overcoming challenges, or solving problems, or working in teams or leadership. Pick one topic and hone in on that.

Speakers that have a long list of things they talk about is kind of like going to a restaurant where they serve both Chinese and Mexican. Be good at one thing so you can focus on that.

Then use that message to craft your talk.

3. Speak for free.

You can definitely get paid to speak, but the best way to get the paid gigs is just by speaking, even if there's no fee. My first gig was for a slice of pizza. My second gig: for $2,200. And it went up from there. This can happen for you too.

So identify local events or contacts nearby that need speakers. There are so many clubs and organizations that run off of free speakers for their monthly meetings -- like Rotary Club or Chamber events. Speak for free (if they pay you, that's great too) so you can get better at your talk, get a testimonial, video footage, pictures and referrals for future gigs.

Use this collateral to build a speaker website for yourself.

4. Find a "speaker sister."

To me, this is the best-kept secret of speaking. Find someone who's also a speaker who's at the same experience level as you but addresses different topics. Work out a referral structure where you refer her to your past events and she refers you to hers.

More than likely, your event will not book you year after year (some do, but most have repeat attendees so they need variety). Therefore, you can refer your speaker sister to the event you just spoke at and get a small cut of her fee. Then she can do the same for you.

In my online course for women speakers, we have a closed Facebook community for Speaker Sisters to refer one other and help out in the speaking world. In my opinion, the course itself is great but the community part is the real value. What someone says about you carries more weight than what you say about yourself. So finding a way to generate referrals is the kerosene to starting your speaking business.

It's the perfect storm right now for female speakers. Events are looking for more diversity and audiences are craving authenticity. Couple that with the fact that women are emerging with powerful stories that can shape lives.

I truly believe that when you're handed the microphone as a speaker, it's an opportunity to spark societal shifts. So if those shifts are just coming from one side or one kind of voice, where do you think we're all going to shift?

Related: Getting More Women to Tech Conferences Starts with the Businesses That Send Them

In fact, a microphone is a gift in your hand. And that gift should be given to voices that have truths to tell and messages to share. You don't need to be an expert to be a speaker, you just have to use your story as a means to inspire change.

Jess Ekstrom

CEO and Founder of HeadbandsOfHope.com, Speaker and Author.

Jessica Ekstrom founded Headbands of Hope when she was a senior in college in 2012. She created the company to bring joy back to kids who have lost their hair and help fund childhood cancer research. Headbands of Hope has given tens of thousands of dollars to childhood cancer research and has donated headbands to every children's hospital in the United States.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business News

'Creators Left So Much Money on the Table': Kickstarter's CEO Reveals the Story Behind the Company's Biggest Changes in 15 Years

In an interview with Entrepreneur, Kickstarter CEO Everette Taylor explains the decision-making behind the changes, how he approaches leading Kickstarter, and his advice for future CEOs.

Business Ideas

87 Service Business Ideas to Start Today

Get started in this growing industry, with options that range from IT consulting to childcare.

Business Models

How to Become an AI-Centric Business (and Why It's Crucial for Long-Term Success)

Learn the essential steps to integrate AI at the core of your operations and stay competitive in an ever-evolving landscape.


5 Steps to Preparing an Engaging Industry Presentation

You can make a great impression and generate interest with an exciting, informative presentation. Find out my five secrets to creating an industry presentation guaranteed to wow.