PRP 135 | Public Speaking Industry


When the COVID-19 pandemic came, the entire speaking industry fell overnight. Live conferences were canceled, gatherings stopped, and events put on hold. But, if there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it is to learn how to adapt, especially with the use of technology. In this episode, Juliet Clark is joined by Whitney McDuff, the founder of Whitney McDuff Consulting, where they specialize in launching and building public speaker brands as well as public relations. Whitney shares with us what she sees with the industry then and now, the opportunities at hand with the virtual setup, and the lessons we need to take with us from the current situation. Providing some more advice, she then talks about the importance of storytelling when it comes to speaking or pitching and leveraging social media to continue to grow and show up in front of people.  

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Leveraging Stories In The Public Speaking Industry At The Time Of Pandemic With Whitney McDuff 

Before we get started, I want to remind you to go over and take the Promote, Profit, Publish Quiz. You’ll find it at Find out if you’re ready to publish that book or maybe you need a platform first. Do you want anybody to read it? That would be the first thing I’d do. I don’t make this stuff up because I’m not that good at it. Our guest is Whitney McDuff. She is in the business of purpose-driven people as a speaker, brand strategist, content specialist, PR navigator, published author, blogger, and poet. We’ll talk a little bit about that too. Whitney is the Founder of Whitney McDuff Consulting, which specializes in launching and building public speaker brands as well as public relations. Her speakers and clients have worked with ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, and the Stephen Colbert show, to name a few.  

For over fifteen years, she’s managed the public relations strategies and assisted in building the public speaking brands of entrepreneurs, influencers, thought leaders, and authority brands. Building the pitches and assets they need to land speaking opportunities and monetize their genius. Whitney’s experience and expertise extend to a variety of verticals, including sales and marketing, entrepreneurial, human resources, health and wellness, and leadership coaching. She’s also the author of her number one selling children’s books, The Lollie Tree, and a follow-up book called Where the Lollies Go. Welcome, Whitney. 

Thank you. It’s always so weird and awkward to have your bio read. 

That’s why I do it. I don’t get it. It’s funny because someone is like, “I never knew I was so awesome.” Somebody read mine in front of me and I was like, “Did you write that yourself?” They were like, “No, you wrote it.” Before we get into all of the stuff we’re going to talk about, tell us the story. I was on a call with you one time and you told the story about Where the Lollies Go and I thought, “This is so sweet.” 

I’ll back up a couple of steps. When I was pregnant with my son, this is such a cliché, as any writer will know, a lightning bolt and idea hit me for a children’s book. It was called The Lollie Tree. We call my mom Lollie. That’s her grandmother’s name. The whole book was about a little boy overcoming fear. That book became a bestseller. It was such a fun experience. I’m glad my mom got to see it come to light and her influence on everything in my life associated with creativity. It totally came from my mom. It was such a great thing. 

Anyway, fast forward, my mom unexpectedly passed away, so that was tragic. Through that grief, I wanted to honor her in some way. I have two brothers and all of us spoke at her funeral. In my piece of the funeral, I’d written a poem for her. My mom loved poetry. She absolutely loved the children’s books. I wanted to write a poem that explained to my children what happens when someone we love passes away. That love never goes away. It simply transforms. This poem came to be called Where the Lollies Go and it’s a story of that transformation.  

Everyone has an incredible story that we can learn from. Share on X

Long story short, that poem became its own book. It also became a bestseller unexpectedly. It was a strange process different from the first book because it’s a book I never wanted to write. It only came to fruition because my mom passed away. There wasn’t a giant marketing push. It wasn’t anything like that. It was a labor of love to honor her. Anyway, it ended up hitting bestseller status. Wonderful. I’m so grateful for all the support. I hope that she’s super proud of it.  

It’s a way for adults and children to help process what happens when we lose someone that we love. It’s got absolutely stunning illustrations. My illustrator came back from the first book. She has crazy masterpieces throughout. It’s beautiful. I’m proud of it and glad that something productive could come from the ashes of heartbreaking grief. That is Where the Lollies Go and I’m looking forward to seeing how the book can help other people try and heal. 

By the way, children’s books are hard to sell, so that’s amazing. It’s a different audience. When I worked at Mattel toys, you’re selling to the parents but you have to get to them through the children. If you ever remember Saturday morning cartoons going to your parents like, “I need a Barbie doll.” “What you need is food and a roof over your head.” The big fights. 

PRP 135 | Public Speaking Industry

Public Speaking Industry: If you are a speaker, you need to go back to every client you have ever worked with and let them know that you are offering something on online platforms.


The best thing about kids there. I’m a big kid trapped in an adult body, so children have given me an excuse to watch and read what I wanted all along. My life is full of Disney movies, Roald Dahl books, and all of the things that I love anyway. I’m surrounded by Mattel and all of the things that now I will look like a weirdo when I’m sitting on the floor playing with trolls. 

I’m probably the only one who cries with Beauty and the Beast. I love that movie. The original, not the real-life one. 

The animation is so much better. That is my favorite opening of a Disney movie. The opening of Beauty and the Beast, that story with the stained glass, I absolutely love it.  

I love Gaston. I look around sometimes and go, “How many damn Gastons have I dated? I might need some professional help.” 

I’ll tell you though, it’s so interesting. This goes to the power of storytelling. I was talking about this on another podcast. Beauty and the Beast is such a great example. We don’t realize the power of those stories when we’re younger. One of the reasons I am big on giving back and believe that when you pass someone on the street who may not be as fortunate as you, look them in the eye and greet them. Everyone deserves that amazing humanity that we all share. Everyone has an incredible story and we can learn from everyone. Going all the way back, it dates back to me growing up with that story and what happens when you are not kind to people who deserve kindness.  

I was on a podcast and we’re talking about storytelling. I was like, “That’s where it stems from.” It’s growing up with that fairy tale. It has impacted me my entire life. It shows the power of storytelling because I now use that fable to teach my children how critical it is to be kind to everyone. Even if they look different than you or sound different than you, or whatever it may be, everyone deserves to come in from the cold, we shall say. It’s interesting how as an adult, you can identify with those things that you saw when you were little that have such a profound impact on how you live your life now. 

I know I’m older than you, but the value of treating everybody with kindness, I was brought up like that. It doesn’t matter that person is a janitor. They are still human beings. People have bad days and people have good days. Look around and be more tolerant. You and I talk about platforms a lot because that’s what we do. A lot of people out in the world are thinking, “I want to be a paid speaker,” in an environment where they’re going to have to make a pivot. That platform has become more important than ever.  

The interesting thing that’s going on is this is a two-sided coin. When the pandemic hit, the speaking industry fell apart seemingly overnight as many industries did. Everyone was in a panic. “What’s happening here?” It has steadied out but it looks different. Are events still going on? Yes, absolutely. In fact, there are more of them because they are easier to plan. It is a wonderful thing there. Especially if you are looking to either start out on a speaking career or level up, now is the time to do it because you can get in front of event planners and audiences.  

Even if they look different than you or sound different than you, everyone deserves to come in from the cold. Share on X

There are people that are not adjusting their trajectory and I advise against that. You need to think about your pricing and strategy when you get on these virtual stages. Where are you guiding these people? The reality is it’s not going to be the same keynote fees as it is for a live event. There’s not the same expense. Why would someone pay that when someone with the same authority and same message would do it for half the price to get in front of that audience? I want to encourage everybody to think about the audience over your ego. This is the time to pivot and be smart about what you’re doing.  

Look for these virtual events that are happening everywhere, where the great thing is for speakers and not so great for event planners because it’s more work on them. Going forward into 2021, people are getting booked. These events are getting booked out 6, 7, 8 months in advance. If we’re still in the pandemic, we’ve got bigger problems. What I’m telling you is to keep reaching out and keep getting booked. Live events are coming back. Where this works in your favor is that there are going to be more opportunities for you. Instead of an event where there’s 1 keynote for 20,000 people, because of the new rules, regulations, and precautions that we’re taking on a global scale, these events are going to be smaller.  

Instead of one opportunity on stage, you may now have 5 or 10. That is a huge win for speakers. There are more opportunities to get in front of the people that you need to talk to. You need to think about your messaging and how you can connect to those people. You need to spend your time trying to get in front of audiences that need your content. You need to think about what your call to action is going to be to get these people in your network so that you can continue to nurture that relationship and grow these relationships from a stage to a 5, 6, 7-figure relationship. 

I have to be honest, back in October of 2020, I went to my first live event since January 2020. I came home and I was like, “Why did I do that?” I ate bad food and I walked around the hotel where I couldn’t enjoy myself. I had a mask on. I came home and I was tired and exhausted. I thought, “I can do this from home. I’m on a summit about every week. Why do I even need that anymore?” I don’t know if it will ever change a year or two down the line, but should people be taking advantage of those virtual stages now? 

Absolutely. Here’s the thing too. There’s a large group of people who are thinking we’re just around the corner where this is changing. There are companies that have had a huge wake-up call that they don’t need to hold these giant conferences that they can do this all online. If you’re not working daily to not only perfect your pitch but to be interesting on a Zoom call, where we all know attention spans are about as a lightning bolt flash. When you have a computer screen in front of you with every social media tab open and your emails in the left-hand corner, you’re not working every day to be the engaging speaker that can pull people away from all that and captivate them.  

You are making a fatal mistake because these online events are going to do nothing but grow. People have seen how many resources they can save hosting it this way. They can pull people in from around the world without the expense. You have a real opportunity here to grow your brand on a global level. You can as easily speak in China as you can in the United States. Harness that, take advantage of that, and see it as an opportunity instead of a mountain you have to climb over. There’s so much that we can be doing to grow our bank accounts and grow a brand. 

If you think that what she’s saying isn’t true, I want to point out that we all own businesses. You spoke to the bottom line of these businesses. They’re realizing they don’t need this overhead. They don’t need to fill a meal quota, a hotel quota, and all that money that goes out in advance. They can do some advertising and bring people into these things. It’s a game-changer. I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was before. 

I do want to encourage your readers. This is something that when you say it, it sounds so obvious, but I know that people are not doing it because every time I mention it, they’re like, “I haven’t done that yet.” If you are a speaker, you need to go back to every client you have ever worked with and let them know that you offer this keynote on online platforms. They are not instinctively thinking that way because they never have had to do it until 2021. It’s a great way to reconnect with old clients to let them know that they can have this service from you.  

Companies around the world are looking for ways to engage their employees. If you are somebody who is speaking to a company and you have engaging content, please reach out to your former clients and let them know. It’s a great way to touch base and a great way to get them thinking about you for other people that they talk to. It’s a great, easy, low hanging fruit way to pick up speaking gigs with people you already have a relationship with. 

Not only true. Think outside the box. This isn’t just for coaches, authors, and speakers. Back in May 2020, we had an event and we had a magician. That’s the thing that you can come in and do. We had a virtual wine tasting. It was so much fun. We had to bring our own wine, of course, but they taught us how to appreciate all of those things. It was fun. Comedians are huge. It depends on what setting you’re in because I personally like the offensive one, so I have to watch it. There are all sorts of different people that you can bring in to be engaging because when you throw a virtual event, you have to up your game now.  

You can’t just say, “Stand up and shake it out. You’re going to dance in your underwear for five minutes in front of the camera for us.” Remember, most people don’t wear pants when they’re on Zoom. There are some precautions. Tell us about what people can be doing now to build their platforms from that. That’s what you and I talk about a lot. My people that go to produce a book, they don’t have a platform built. The same thing with speakers, nobody is going to know who you are unless you get out and you pitch yourself correctly, even for podcasts. How do you do that? 

The trick with pitching, in general, is you can’t sound like everybody else. That seems such an obvious thing, but people tend to gravitate to what they know. You have a story and more than likely, you’re in the position you’re in because you transform something about your life or business that gives you the credibility to be able to help other people. You have got to incorporate that into your pitches. People connect to stories. You can throw stats at me all day long, all that jazz, and that’s fine for supporting material in a keynote or a presentation, but if you’re not telling a good story, you’re toast. People are not going to stay engaged, so start perfecting that.  

You all need to hop on camera. We have every social media platform at our disposal. You have every tool in the universe to help you. Start making YouTube videos, doing Facebook Lives, and getting on Instagram Stories. I know that it can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re trying to figure out the technology. Heads up, everybody’s in the same boat. We’re all in this situation together. Just start talking. You’re going to build your authority and trust with people. Let people know that you speak about these things. We often get insecure because we’re like, “I’m talking about that too much on social. I don’t want to bug people.” 

We’re bombarded with 70 million messages a day. People need to understand exactly what you do and how you can help people. While Betty Jo watching your Facebook Live may not hire you, her best friend may be the head of HR at a Fortune 500 company. You need to be in front of people. While you’re pitching on these virtual stages and building your platform that way, I encourage you at the very least three times a week. You’re hopping on some social platform and educating people about how you can help and how you can serve them. 

You have to get over that initial. Have you ever used a Periscope? 


They took it down. The first time I used Periscope, I thought I sucked. I got off and I almost cried. The next day, some people I knew got on. One of the guys talked, knocked the microphone off with his hands and the camera went the other direction. You can hear them under the desk dropping f-bombs going, “We’ve got to know it’s there and somebody kicked it.” I thought, “I’m a rock star.” You have to remember that there’s always somebody out there that’s worse than you and get over it, keep doing it, and practice because you will get better. 

Here’s the thing, everybody. The culture is shifting too. We spent a long time in the perfect Instagram world and we’re still in it, but people are shifting back to authenticity. These perfectly curated brands don’t feel right anymore. That’s why people like Gary Vaynerchuk are Crushing It!. 

Did you just pump his book on my show? 

PRP 135 | Public Speaking Industry

Public Speaking Industry: This is a relationship game. Whether it’s on the micro or macro, people have got to trust you, work with you, and follow your lead.


I didn’t mean to. That’s how great his brand is. I associated that phrase with him. He’s a perfect example of the wave of authenticity that is coming through the speaker’s market. Jesse Itzler is another one, coming through and showing the day-to-day life. Sara Blakely, the Spanx CEO. Jesse is her husband. He was the Founder of Marquis Jet. David Goggins is another one who’s blowing up, the author of Can’t Hurt Me. He’s a fascinating guy if you haven’t picked up his book.  

All of these people have this in common. They are so authentic and that is the draw. That’s what people want to see. They don’t want to see this perfectly curated, amazing thing. They want to know, “That can happen for me too. I’m human and I’m imperfect.” All these are skills. Confidence is a learned skill. Public speaking is a learned skill. If you show up every day and you do the work, that can happen for you the same way that it happened for them and people want to know and see that.  

You may not be $50,000 keynote speaker. Who cares? Most people aren’t. Show the journey of you trying to get there. Let people go along with you. If you are not a $2,000 an hour health coach, that’s cool. Most people aren’t. Show that journey of how you’re going there. Get people to help you make decisions. Let them in on what you’re doing. It builds trust, credibility, and a relationship. This is a relationship game. Whether it’s on the micro or on the macro, people have got to trust you, work with you, and follow your lead. 

Don’t be afraid to let those warts show. You know from my story that I wrote my first mystery novel and killed my ex-husband in it because I was a mess. He was a jerk. I share that with people in audiences. You have 40 minutes to decide if I’m a real entrepreneur or sociopath or a bit of both. If you like that, you’ll hire me. That’s the stuff you have to be transparent about and you have to share the messy human stuff is my point besides the sociopathic tendencies. What else should they share?  

The trick with pitching, in general, is you can't sound like everybody else. Share on X

It’s okay to share your vulnerabilities. You hear that a lot. In my own brand, I’m a fairly competent person. I have my stuff. I shared a story, I waited two years to launch my company. I’ve coached people all over the world about getting over their own stuff so they can step on stage and step into their purpose. It took me two years longer than it should have to launch my own company because I was afraid of what one person that I used to work with would say. It ticks me off beyond belief to think of the impact I could have had in those two years if I’d gotten a head start and gotten over myself.  

I’d never shared that story. People in my circle knew it, but I shared it publicly. I cannot tell you all the messages I got like, “Thank you. I have been on the fence about this forever. I want to start my own company and I want to do this. I want to build my speaker brand. I want to get on videos. I want to leave my marriage,” or whatever they want to do. When you are vulnerable in your own failures and successes and allow other people to be, it’s endearing and it’s helping people, which is ultimately what we all want to do.  

That’s such an important key. Stop being afraid. Use the power of your story and what you are overcoming on a daily basis because nobody wakes up as the most confident person 24 hours a day every day, 365 days a year. Nobody goes through a year without making a single mistake. Share that and let people in. Help them grow and learn from what you did the same way you’re learning from the people you’re watching.  

You have a podcast pitch program for those people who are maybe taking baby steps out or maybe they’re not getting those speaking gigs. Podcasts are a great way to get yourself visibility. Talk about that. How much is it? It sounds like a great program.  

This was one of the pieces that I offer in the big speaking program that I do with people, but I pulled it out on its own because with what’s going on, podcasting is hot as everyone knows. It is an easier toe in the water, I will say. It’s a different vibe than stepping up into a keynote. It’s a great way to build authority, confidence and credibility. Getting on podcasts is wonderful, but here’s the problem. People either don’t know how to pitch themselves or they don’t know how to get in touch with the people that make those decisions. 

PRP 135 | Public Speaking Industry

Public Speaking Industry: Use the power of your story and what you are overcoming on a daily basis because nobody wakes up as the most confident person 24 hours a day every day, 365 days a year.


This package has solved both of those problems. It’s super easy how it works. You get on the phone with me and we build your pitch together. My team curates a list of 100 targeted leads and the direct contact info for those leads. You quite take the pitch that we built, send it to the leads, you get booked, and you get visible, credible and profitable. It is the most no-brainer decision for anyone who is looking to build their brand. It’s $250 and the price is going up in January of 2021.  

The list alone is worth three times that. You get the hour with me to build this pitch that you can use for the next 1,000 podcasts. Get this together and get the tools that you need. I cut the headache out of trying to find these people. Send the list, build your credibility, and go from there. Let things snowball and you’ll start to get the hang of it. Let’s be real. You can podcast and you don’t even have to wear pants. If that isn’t the greatest business endeavor I’ve ever heard of, I don’t know what it is.  

You can throw stats all day long, but if you're not telling a good story, you're toast. People are not going to stay engaged. Share on X

Podcasting is awesome. Here’s the reality from a business standpoint. Podcast audiences are so niche. These are people who are already hot for your content. I was saying on a video that this isn’t like the ‘80s where you have three TV channels and a radio station in your life and that’s the only way that you can access people. Podcasts are about everything in the world. When you get specific about who needs to be hearing your content and what you’re talking about, I guarantee, there are a million podcasts about it. Get in front of those people. They are reading this podcast because they are already hot for your content. You need to be in front of them. I take the headache out. Let’s build it and book it. Go make money. 

Where do we find you? 

You can find me all over the place. I’m Whitney McDuff everywhere on LinkedIn and Instagram, and My email is super easy, I’m the only one around. If there’s another Whitney McDuff in the world, show yourself. I’m easy to find on almost every social channel. Please come and find me. I’d love to help you build your pitch and get successful in sharing your story.  

Whitney, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. 

Thank you. You’re awesome. I’ll talk to you guys soon. 


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About Whitney McDuff

PRP 135 | Public Speaking IndustryWhitney McDuff is in the business of purpose-driven people. As a speaker-brand strategist and content specialist, PR navigator, published author, blogger, and poet, Whitney is the founder of Whitney McDuff Consulting, which specializes in launching and building public speaker brands as well as public relations. Her speakers and clients have worked with ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, and The Stephen Colbert Show to name a few.

For over 15 years she has managed the public relations strategies and assisted in building the public speaking brands of entrepreneurs, influencers, thought leaders, and authority brands, building the pitches and assets they need to land speaking opportunities and monetize their genius. Whitney’s experience and expertise extend to a variety of verticals including sales & marketing, entrepreneurial, human resources, health & wellness, and leadership coaching. Whitney is the author of the #1 selling children’s book The Lollie Tree as well as its follow-up, Where The Lollies Go.


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