On Tuesday evening, the amazing Jess Ekstrom and I came together to talk public speaking.

Jess Ekstrom is the founder of Headbands of Hope, a company that donates a headband to children with cancer for every headband sold. It’s a truly remarkable story – not just for the company’s impact, but for the story behind how she started it.

She joined us on the 2018 Next Gen Summit stage to share the story, and the speech was phenomenal. It was the type of talk that reels you in from the start. It made the audience laugh, cry, and contemplate. It made us lose track of time. She is a truly gifted speaker, who has mastered her craft just so.

Our Tuesday night LIVE! was all about jump-starting a speaking career. She gives this advice in her course, the Mic Drop Workshop, in which I’m a student. Here are my favorite tidbits from our conversation, pointers that are sure to help you in your own speaking career…

  1. Your rate is not hourly. If a school approaches you and offers to pay you thousands of dollars for one hour, it’s easy to think, “WHOA! I’ve come a long way from that $12/hour job at that smoothie shop!” While yes, indeed you have, remember that the rate isn’t really about that hour. To bring this to light, Jess shared a famous story about Picasso. Later in his career, he was approached by a women who asked him to draw something for her. He scribbled a few doodles on a napkin. “That will be $5,000,” he said, to which she replied, “It only took you a few seconds!”But, it wasn’t about the time it took him to draw it. It was about everything he had done to get to that point in his career. The rate you’re paid to speak should reflect all the wisdom you’ve gleaned from your experiences. Remember this in setting rates, too.

  1. Sometimes, free events give you more benefits than you think. On the note of rates, keep in mind that taking gigs for free can offer more value than you think. It’s not all about the paycheck. When you’re just getting started, it’s critical to begin to build your network and portfolio. Jess shared that many of her gigs are landed because of referrals from an audience member from a past talk – free ones included. Getting in front of people is the best way to get booked more. You can also ask venues if they will provide a photographer or videographer to capture content from your talk, which is vital for building your speaking website and putting together a speaking reel.

  1. Imagining the audience in their underwear does not help. Jess still gets nervous, even though she is no rookie to the speaking game! But, she said, imagining the audience in their underwear isn’t the best advice. Rather, remember that nerves can sometimes be mixed up with excitement. Just because you’re feeling antsy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re nervous. Affirming to yourself, “I’m EXCITED!” changes the narrative around how you’re feeling, and pumps you up for the big stage.

  1. The stories worth sharing are not always of triumph. There’s a famous story that Jess tells in her speeches about how she lost the $10,000 her dad loaned her for her company because the manufacturer she wired money to was a scam. She shared in the LIVE! that she used to keep that story like a ‘skeleton in the closet,’ but one day, she decided to include it. “The audience reacted in a way like never before,” she reflected. She shared that if you become vulnerable and go deep with an audience, their reaction to you will match that level of depth. If your entire speech is a superficial glaze over of your accomplishments and general advice, the audience won’t become as invested in you.

  1. Anyone can be a speaker. The most powerful message Jess shares is that truly, anyone can be a speaker. We all have unique and intriguing stories to share. The best speakers are not necessarily the most lauded individuals (although Jess herself certainly is!). In fact, she shared that embracing the imperfections and messy stories is what has really helped her book gigs. If you have a story that you believe is worth sharing – a story that can inspire and inform an audience – then you can and should be a speaker!

I was so fired up after my talk with Jess. I’m thankful for the opportunity to talk with her for the LIVE! and to be in her Mic Drop Workshop. To watch the LIVE! In full, click here!

The Next Gen Community LIVE! Series brings tactical advice and inspiring stories to the community in a conversation-like fashion, encouraging questions and engagement from the audience. LIVE’s! feature bestselling authors, renowned speakers, and well-seasoned industry experts every week on the Next Gen Summit Facebook page.


  • Haley Hoffman Smith

    Speaker & Author of Her Big Idea

    Haley Hoffman Smith is the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women's empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown in May 2018. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown's Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas, and Her Big Lash, a cosmetics company.

    At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She speaks on topics such as women's empowerment, innovation, social impact, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses, most recently at Harvard, TEDx, SoGal Ventures, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and more.