Am I Pretty Enough To Be A Motivational Speaker?

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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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Am I Pretty Enough To Be A Motivational Speaker? Kelly Swanson on pretty.

How do looks factor into a client’s buying decision?

Well, now that’s a hard question to answer, since many buyers won’t admit to buying someone based on their looks – if they are even aware that they are doing it. While I would love to think that we have advanced as a society to where people don’t buy based on looks – I have seen otherwise.

I make it a habit to ask my clients what made them pick me. And occasionally (twice in the past two weeks, as a matter of fact) they will say, “We just liked your look.” So I know it happens. And that means we can’t ignore the way we look. Does this mean we can’t speak if we aren’t pretty? No. It means we have to be aware of how our look factors into our brand.

Do I have the right look to be a motivational speaker?

Let’s face it, we live in a world that idolizes skinny, young, sexy, stacked women with no wrinkles. Magazines, movies, television, romance novels and fairy tales all feature the pretty little princess with the white teeth. It’s the world we live in. And so it makes sense that many of us as motivational speakers feel we aren’t pretty enough for the spotlight.

I didn’t look like the princess in high school. I looked like Androgynous Pat from Saturday Night Live. So I wasted a lot of years thinking that I wasn’t pretty enough to make a difference. I’m over that now. I was wrong. You don’t have to look like a model to make it as a motivational speaker. Trust me.

You don’t have to be a size zero. Your teeth don’t have to be blindingly white. Your lips don’t have to have their own zip code. And you don’t even have to wear pantyhose. (Gasp.)

The stage is big enough for all of us – even if you don’t fit the stereotype – especially if you don’t fit the stereotype.

But looks do matter.

Yes, I said it. Looks do factor into your success. I’m not saying it has to be good looks. I’m not saying you have to be a certain size or shape.  But what you look like does impact your brand.

What you look like, what you wear, how you do your hair, the clothes – they all fit your personality and your brand as a speaker. And clients buy a brand and a personality in their keynote speaker. Just as every musician has a style, so should every speaker. And you should sell that – or at least use that to cement your brand and your personality.

It’s not really about choosing a pair of green high tops or purple hair. It’s about a style that is congruent with your personality and your “character” on stage. I am a great example.

When I dressed in cheap suits, pantyhose, a conservative short bob, and simple jewelry, I was completely at odds with my style as a folksy storyteller with a southern accent. It just didn’t make sense. It didn’t fit me, the things I did on stage, or my true self. And it made me look like every third speaker out there, which is the kiss of death in the business of motivational speaking. So I set out to reinvent myself, yet stay true to myself.

When I set out on this journey to figure out my look, I realized that it was the first time EVER (I was currently in my 30’s) that I had thought about what I wanted to look like, not what I thought I should look like. That’s when I realized I didn’t want frosty blonde hair, I wanted shocking red. I didn’t want a conservative bob, I wanted so much hair I couldn’t fit it all under the roof of my car.

I didn’t want to wear sensible shoes, I wanted animal print cowboy boots. I didn’t want nice expensive jewelry, I wanted the cheap gaudy stuff. I had found my look. And stepping into that look freed me.

Once I found my “look” I had to sell my “look.”

Once I started wearing clothes I had bedazzled, and hair extensions, I had to change the pictures on my website to reflect my new look. Because, after all, I wanted to give them a true representation of what they were buying. And if there was a chance I would show up in a denim jacket, then I wanted them to know that ahead of time.

That’s when I hired a cartoonist to draw me. The first draft he drew me in a pinstriped black suit. We cut it. I said, “Draw me in cowboy boots, a denim skirt, and a flowy shirt. Think artsy, not business woman.”

I hired a photographer who didn’t specialize in speaker head-shots, because I didn’t want traditional speaker head-shots. I was thinking album cover, not head-shot. So I had her shoot photos of me with the intent of catching my personality, my down-home brand. And she did a great job.

I am truly convinced that this new look I found (which is totally me) helps me get business in a big way. It helps sell my brand. It tells them what kind of speaker I will be. Does it turn some away? I’m sure. Which is fine with me. I’m not here to please everybody. If I was, then I wouldn’t really be that unique.

So don’t stress because you’re carrying around some extra pounds, or because your beard has gray in it (unless you’re a woman, then you might want to rethink some things.) Don’t stress because you don’t have fancy clothes or straight teeth. And most of all, don’t hate those pretty women out there and think they made it just because they’re prettier. That’s a lie. Sure, being pretty opens some doors. Being good at what you do opens more.

Remember this parting thought as you venture out to find your own look:

When it comes to finding your look as a motivational speaker, be true to yourself, congruent with your brand and your style, and remember that when you seek to blend in, you end up in the chorus line of this business. And nobody notices those speakers in the chorus line. Find the courage to be you, to be an individual, and to find a look that reflects your true individual style – and take your rightful place in the spotlight.


  • Your own personal brand and being true to yourself? Amazing message! And I actually had purple hair :)

    This holds true whatever “character” we need on our dream path. My latest discovery? I’m not afraid to rock bright color workout leggings while coaching boot camp!

  • I snorted out my coffee at: ” I wanted so much hair I couldn’t fit it all under the roof of my car.” LOL. Someday i am going to be sitting in a room where you speak enjoying every moment of it.