8 Ways Your Bad Headshot Could Be Costing You

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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Okay, what does that picture above tell you about me? What words immediately pop into your mind? Stop and think about it for a minute.

I’ll tell you what words pop into mine:

Crazy, Looks Like An Idiot, Needs To Lose Weight, Funny, Fun, I Want To Play, How Hot Is She In Those Pajamas!

There is no right or wrong answer to that question. I just want to point out that pictures make you feel something about that person. If my goal was make you think my butt is small, this picture failed.

But if my goal was to show you that I’m not afraid to have fun, then I think this picture wins. If I was looking for the picture that showed me in my best light, I would not have chosen that one. If I was looking for a picture that made other women want to hang out with me – Bingo.

Photos Matter!8 Ways Your Headshot Could Be Costing You - My main bio shot

Selling is emotional. For those of you dreaming of a public speaking career, speakers are hired as much (if not more so) for their personality as for their content. And one way to show your personality is through your photos.

So why are you using your church directory picture?


Many speakers are losing out on business simply because they choose the wrong photographs. They choose canned overly-posed fake pictures with the same background, the same pose, and the same color suit as thirty-seven-thousand other speakers. The goal in this business is to set yourself apart – not blend in. See what everybody else is doing and do something different.

Think Album Cover – Not Head-shot

If I had one advice I would give to speakers when it comes to head-shots, and any other photos they use on the website or in publicity photos, it would be to think “album cover” not head-shot.  Album covers sell the personality of the band. They tell you about the style of the music. They are cutting edge, fresh, and built upon the personality of the members.

And they get our attention. Clients don’t buy church directories, they buy album covers.

8 Ways Your Bad Head-shot Could Be Costing You

8 Ways Your Headshot Could Be Costing You - Church photo1. Your head-shot was obviously taken on an iPhone in your living room by your spouse. 
This is not good enough, and makes you look unprofessional. Get a professional to take your picture. I actually recommend one who doesn’t do head-shots, if you truly want someone who doesn’t play the by rules.

2. Your head-shot could double as your church directory picture.
get on the internet and go look at a hundred speakers’ head-shots and you will quickly see what I mean. Church directory photos never show personality.  Show us your personality. Even if you don’t go to church, you know what I mean.

3. Your head-shot shows you in front of a big yellow wall in a conference room at the Motel 6 behind a podium, and you’re not even facing us.
I have nothing against speaking in a conference room at the Motel 6. But having this as my head-shot is going to work against me if I want bigger gigs. My clients are getting impressions about me even when they don’t realize it. So I want them to think of me for bigger gigs in bigger venues.

I’m not telling you that you can’t market yourself in small conference rooms. I just want you to be aware of what your picture is saying about you.

8 Ways Your Headshot Could Be Costing You - Motel 6

4. We can’t see your face.
The point of a head shot is to see your head. We want as much face as possible in the picture. There are exceptions to this rule. I will use photos that show me in an impressive venue, and I don’t really care if you see my face at all. I want you to see the size audience I had. Sometimes I will use a cartoon logo because I want you to have an impression of fun and funny.

I love head-shots of speakers in action – sky diving, riding the bull, rowing a boat. It shows us who you are. It shows personality. And personality sells. Maybe not as your head-shot, but definitely for other photos on your site, and definitely for promotional and publicity purposes. Audiences want to come see a fun speaker – not a speaker who looks good on camera.

8 Ways Your Headshot Could Be Costing You

5. Your kid or your dog or your husband is in the head-shot. 
I love kids and I love dogs and I do love my husband. But when they show up in a head-shot, it screams unprofessional. I don’t mind seeing them on your website, because it allows me to see you as a person. And people buy from people they like. But not in a head-shot.

8 Ways Your Headshot Could Be Costing You - Me with hubby

6. You are wearing something you would never speak in.
I used to buy a suit just for my head-shot. Now that’s just dumb. Why would I sell them something they aren’t going to get in person? What I wear is a perfect chance for me to show them my personality and the style of my speaking. Since my stories are folksy, I have some head-shots in jean jackets and cowboy boots.

8 Ways Your Headshot Could Be Costing You - Natural me

7. You’re in the same pose as forty-seven-hundred other speakers.
It’s time to retire the “here’s me with my hand on my chin” pose. It’s also time to retire the “here’s me laughing at something I see in the sky” pose. And it’s time to retire the “here’s me pointing at you and laughing” pose.

I say go for relaxed and comfortable. When I look through a family photo album, it’s not the canned yearly Christmas picture that I love, it’s the impromptu spontaneous ones.

8. You look nothing like your  head-shot.
Your head-shot is the same one you have been using for twenty years.  Now this is just sad, and I see it all the time. And I hear meeting planners talking about it all the time – about speakers showing up and they don’t even recognize them because they look nothing like their head-shots.

 If you have hair in your head-shot, and you don’t now, it’s time get a new picture taken.

If your photos suck, don’t worry. I’ve had plenty that did, and some of them are probably still on my site. It’s never too late to change them out – one photo at a time. And here’s the good news: You don’t have to go lose ten pounds, or a get a whole new look. This isn’t about being Speaker Barbie.

This is about being YOU. Showing us who you already are.

Remember to think album cover, and your head-shots will take you out of the chorus line and into the spotlight.


  • Ha! Speaker Barbie made me laugh out loud at work :) Love the album cover advice. And I would like to apply these rules to every “professional” profile in social media. Great family shots are not your business page profile photo, please.

    Thanks Kelly!