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How Latina Speakers Are Born – The Mariela Dabbah story

I frequently get asked how I became a speaker. There aren’t that many Latina speakers out there so I understand that regardless of the topic of my presentation, my audience is curious.

A Latina speaker is born

I came to the U.S. 25 years ago with two suitcases, a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Literature and a new husband. The first job I landed, as secretary at a bilingual book distributor, sealed my future. It was such a small business that I got to do everything and develop a whole array of skills. Four years later, when the owner decided to retire, my now ex-husband and I bought the company in monthly installments.

Mariela Dabbah Latina speaker presents at high school in Texas

Mariela Dabbah, Latina speaker, presents at high school in Texas

As we distributed books to schools we quickly realized immigrant parents needed to be made aware of the importance of being involved in their kids’ education. We developed a series of workshops to teach parents a wide range of topics from how the education system worked to how to encourage their children to do homework. And everything in between.

Observing how easily parents shared their struggles with me, I discovered that I had a knack for connecting with my audience. And the best part: I enjoyed speaking in public. And that’s how I became one of the few Latina speakers in the country.

Mariela Dabbah’s path to become one of a few Latina speakers was full of twists and turns

I spent several years presenting parent workshops across the country. My most defining moment as a speaker was a training I did for the Yup-ik community in Alaska. I did a ton of research before I ventured across the continent to a little community called Napaskiak whose inhabitants still survive on fishing and hunting.

Latina speaker elicits reaction from audience at Tesoro Corporation | Audience reaction to keynote presentation at Tesoro Corporation, event organized by NSHMBA

Latina speaker elicits reaction from audience at Tesoro Corporation

Librarians and parents flew in from all over a school district the size of the state of Ohio. They came to hear me, a Hispanic speaker who didn’t have any children, speak about parent involvement. I spoke in English with a Spanish accent and we had interpreters translate everything into Yup-ik. It was during that trip that I fully grasped that I was able to reach any audience regardless of culture, language or background.

And for the first time I also realized that I wanted to have a career as a speaker.

Mariela Dabbah: From writing to public speaking

The reality is that it’s not easy to make a living as a public speaker. Much less so if you are one of few Latina speakers with a narrow focus. So I needed to expand the topics I covered and gain credibility in the space. I began teaching a course at a local college on how to get a job in the U.S. and soon realized that, much like with education, there was a need out there for immigrants to connect the dots. To understand how the system worked.

Mariela Dabbah Latina Speaker

Mariela Dabbah Latina Speaker

It was easy to see that writing a book on the subject would give me the credibility I needed. I developed the right connections until I was offered the chance to write such book: How to Get a Job in the U.S., Guide for Latinos.

As soon as the book was published I started doing workshops and presentations at community colleges and libraries, which helped me shape and refine my public speaking skills. Simultaneously, I began contributing media segments on CNN, Univision, Telemundo and other media to continue raising my profile as a speaker.

Shortly after, my publisher asked me to write a book to help parents understand the education system and I wrote: How to Help Your Children Succeed in School. After that came, Help Your Children Succeed in High School and Go to College and Latinos in College: Your Guide to Success.

Mariela Dabbah motivational speaker presents to parents with McDonald RMHC HACER scholarship

Mariela Dabbah motivational speaker presents to parents with McDonald RMHC HACER scholarship

By then, I was such a familiar face in Hispanic media that McDonald’s hired me as their spokesperson for their RMHC /HACER scholarships. I traveled the country doing parent outreach presentations in Spanish and English in front of hundreds of parents. That work helped me raise my profile as a Latina speaker to the next level.

Read about how motivational speakers make money

Hispanic speaker who speaks to anyone who will listen

Every one of my books opened up an entire new world of possibilities. Each one provided an additional layer of understanding and empathy towards yet another audience. From jobseekers to immigrant parents trying to help their kids, to students as young as third grade all the way up to graduate school, to Latinos who worked in large corporations (The Latino Advantage in the Workplace) to women looking to succeed in their careers (Find Your Inner Red Shoes.)

Mariela Dabbah, Hispanic Motivational Speaker, signs books at Harvard Business Club

Mariela Dabbah, Hispanic Motivational Speaker, signs books at Harvard Business Club

Learning about the experiences of different people is the most fascinating aspect of my work. On the one hand it forces me to be a lifelong learner and on the other it enables me to easily connect the dots. Because I’ve researched and worked with people at such a wide range of life-stages I can see the larger picture.

Since the launch of the Red Shoe Movement most of my work as a speaker is in corporations around women’s career advancement and success. The topics include networking, branding, women empowerment, career advancement, negotiation, executive presence and work-life integration. And of course, I continue to speak to college students, professional organizations and parents.

Public speaking at Vital Voices El Salvador

Public speaking at Vital Voices El Salvador

Being a Hispanic Motivational speaker

My goal is to inspire my audience to fulfill their dreams. I do it by provoking “aha” moments and by sharing subtle insights, concrete tools and resources. I’ve never called myself a Hispanic motivational speaker even though I get excited when people feel motivated by my presentations. I believe that if you call yourself a Hispanic motivational speaker you set up the expectation that you will only get people hyped up, a feeling that tends to be short-lived. I prefer to offer actionable tools to help people move to the next level of their lives and careers.

Reaching all audiences as a motivational speaker

Reaching all audiences as a motivational speaker

Are you looking to become a public speaker?

If you’re reading this because you’re considering a career as a public speaker — or to be one of the few Latina speakers to boot— I have a few suggestions for you:

  • Think of an area you’re passionate about, like health, finances, love, or beauty.
  • Identify a few topics within the area that really interest you. In health, for example, it could be exercise, or natural foods.
  • Learn as much as you can about your chosen topics.
  • Decide how you will raise your profile and gain credibility as an expert in the topic. It could be by offering a podcast, webinars, publishing a book, writing for highly reputable media, etc.
  • Join your local Toastmasters to develop your skills.
Mariela Dabbah Keynote speaker at Hispanic Retail 360

Mariela Dabbah Keynote speaker at Hispanic Retail 360

  • Start small and practice. As you gain confidence you can venture in front of larger and larger groups. The biggest mistake I ever made was to do my first parent workshop in front of a large audience. I was new to public speaking and freaked out because I didn’t know how to speak while holding a microphone. I spoke so fast, people couldn’t understand a word I was saying so they got up and left. The more people I lost, the faster I spoke until there were only three or four parents left. I was devastated.
  • Talk to colleagues to get an idea of how much you should charge every step of the way. Latina speakers particularly need to consult with white men because they command the highest fees. Develop a group of trusted colleagues with whom you can share this sensitive information.
 Here's an article about How to become a motivational speaker that you might enjoy.

Granted, public speaking is not for the faint of heart. But if you have a powerful message to share and love to be up there connecting with an audience, it’s an adrenaline rush like few others. Prepare for it and you’ll do great!