When I first started, I wish someone had told me that testimonials are the highest form of credibility for your business, especially when starting out. I spoke many times in the beginning without getting testimonials and if I’d collected them from the beginning it could have potentially accelerated my speaking success.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brittany Sherell.
A competent, fun, and engaging speaker and consultant, Brittany has spoken internationally to hundreds of organizational leaders and students and coached dozens of women leaders to achieve breakthrough in their professional and personal life. Brittany is the founder of Elam & Co., a global training and personal development brand, where she currently works with professionals and student leaders to activate the unwavering confidence to take powerful action without fear of losing credibility. Brittany believes that there should be a safe space for leaders to be honest about their needs, blind spots and area of uncertainty. Brittany has been featured on several media platforms, including the Authority Magazine, UpJourney, and ImproveHerHealth. Brittany holds a Master of Arts (M.A) in Organizational Change and Leadership and has been selected as a TEDx Speaker for 2021. In her spare time, Brittany loves spending time with her close-knit family, trying out new coffee blends and spending time with her two fur babies Fritz and Snoop.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/62ca01a18c856e53274561a756e1070c
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a very rural town in South Carolina…it’s so rural, even to this day there isn’t a single traffic light. My mom is a retired Teacher and my dad loves everything about being a Trucker. My parents each had plenty of siblings with my mom being the eldest of six and my dad being the youngest of 4. Yet, when they married they only had me. Being raised as an only-child meant that I was often called to be a leader before I even knew what it meant. I always had to accept responsibility and be accountable because I never had siblings to pin my mischief on. I always had to be intentional about building solid relationships, because I didn’t have my own built-in biological network to rely on in social settings. Furthermore, I also felt the pressure to “get it right” because, well, I was my parents’ only child and only chance to “get it right” as parents. That same anxiety to “get it right” is the everyday pressure that so many leaders struggle with in the professional realm globally. I saw it dismantle company culture and plummet organizational morale and decided to become a solution.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2015, I landed a job I was over-the-moon excited about. It would allow me to make huge impact on a daily basis through teaching and development and came with some great work/life balance perks. Everything got off to a great start, but I quickly realized that something about the kind of work I was doing had shifted tremendously. See, beforehand, the jobs I’d held had only required me to manage myself. In this new role, I was suddenly thrust into managing a team of people who found it hard to respect me because I was the youngest, freshest kid on the block. I recall getting called into meetings where I’d be questioned about the attendance and performance of my team and I remember feeling so confused about it all…was there a section on how to manage people and delegate tasks in the employee handbook that I’d somehow overlooked. I honestly felt betrayed that I was being critiqued on my ability to develop a team, when I’d been given absolutely no tools to complete the task. It wasn’t until I and other team leaders started having regional huddles that I realized…I was not alone. We were all feeling lost in a sea of unclear expectations and felt like private failures. It became clear that this was a systemic problem, and I was committed to becoming a solution, but first I had to save myself. I dived head-first into revisiting curriculum from my Master’s program in Organizational Change & Leadership. I consumed as many books as I could on coaching teams to success and even signed up for various training sessions. As a result of investing my time, money and resources into seeking what I needed, I was able to develop a roadmap that allowed my team to perform so well, they were nearly unrecognizable by the end of the year. Seeing the impact and realizing I had uncovered a blueprint that works, was like a magnet that drew towards helping as many others as I possible could to confidently navigate leadership roles without fear of looking incompetent.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Last year, I unexpectedly dealt with temporary loss of sight in my right eye and it required me to have daily trips to the hospital for extensive treatments, even after being released. That completely altered the way I lived for a moment. I had to suddenly rely heavily on my support team to help with some of the most menial tasks of my day. On one particular Tuesday evening, I recall my mom driving me to Dollar General just to grab a few household items and as she was about to go checkout, she stopped in her tracks abruptly and said…”Have you posted a podcast today?” For context, I have a 10-minute podcast that releases a new episode every Tuesday. The thing is, my mom knew next-to-nothing about podcasts nor how to even access them to take a listen, but in that moment, she was genuinely concerned that we’d need to find a solution for me to produce my weekly episode. The reason that moment was transformative, was because while my mom didn’t fully understand podcasts…it became obvious that she’d been paying attention to details of my work…details I never thought she’d be concerned with. Thankfully, part of my planning is to batch record episodes so my podcast episode stayed right on schedule even when life got off-course. The lesson in this is, focus on doing the work. Other people are truly paying attention and when they see you doing the work consistently, relentlessly, they’ll respect it even if they don’t understand it. My mom didn’t understand podcasts but it didn’t discount her belief in mine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Wow, I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared this before, ha! But, here goes. When I was first starting out, I developed and designed a journal for ambitious women creatives. I had poured my heart into this 2-in-1 journal/planner and I was absolutely thrilled to be sharing it with the world. I was so thrilled, I bypassed all best practices for marketing, (well actually I bypassed all best, good or any practices for that matter lol). Instead of taking the time and soliciting the help I needed, I actually took a screenshot of the pdf copy of the journal cover. Talk about embarrassing when I think of just how audacious yet naïve I was to actually post that on my website and think anyone would be enticed to buy. It was blurry, dark and of course unrefined…yet I was just so excited to let the world know, so quite a few folks caught a glimpse of that catastrophe.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’d have to attribute my ability to make intentional action that aligns with the vision I’ve had for my life, to two people. The first person is Patrice Washington of Seek Wisdom, Find Wealth and she was my very first coach. Coaches were never anything discussed in my family or community unless it had to do with sports, yet when I felt compelled to use my experience and expertise to create impact in the world, I realized I vaguely knew “what” I wanted to do, but the “how” seemed so out of reach for me. I found Patrice and she truly activated my ability to believe without bounds that I could create massive impact in the world, even with my small town upbringing. Without her priming my mind to be able to tap into limitless possibilities I wouldn’t have been prepared to receive nor create the opportunities that lay ahead for me. The second person is Ashley Nicole Kirkwood, founder of the Speak Your Way to Cash community. I had no idea that I could actually get paid to speak, train and develop leaders across the globe until I met Ashley. Ashley taught me very strategically how to build my brand as a speaker and develop the backend processes to build out a sustainable business that reaches globally. Her guidance has proven to serve as a reliable compass for my speaking career successes.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
The truth is you may be afraid to fail, but you fail every day anyway. Maybe you hit up the grocery store and fail to get everything on your list. But you don’t quit. You don’t assume you’re too incompetent to ever grocery shop again. You assess the situation, explore solutions (like is there another store on the route home), and then you take intentional action. That’s exactly how this works. The thing is, it works to your advantage when you choose to own your imperfection allows you to show up and serve powerfully from a very REAL place. Clients bring me back multiple times, not because I’m a guru, but because I’m imperfect. I’m 100% authentic and for that reason, my speaking works because people are able to connect with me and relate to the content. If you’re going to fail at some stuff everyday anyway, you may as well commit to failing forward doing something that makes you feel alive on the inside.
What drives you to get up every day and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
It’s the LinkedIn messages after a talk, it’s the hugs or tears after a talk…it’s the surprise email weeks after a talk thanking me for leaving them better than when I found them. It’s the surprise email weeks after a talk when someone reaches out to say, hey, I used one of your strategies and I just landed new job or my team is doing better than it ever has. Every message, every DM, every email, every survey response…it all reminds me that I’m carrying a unique gift that enables me to serve others and there are more people out there searching for my voice as their solution. I have to get up and use my voice so that they can find me.
Can you share with our readers a few of your most important tips about how to be an effective and empowering speaker? Can you please share some examples or stories?
Stay true to who you are. It’s so easy to get caught up in what others are doing or how others convey their story, but the people you are called to serve with your voice and your story need you to remain authentic or otherwise they won’t even recognize that you’re the solution they’ve been searching for. For example, I’m a very conversational speaker, and I may not always deliver impeccable diction. I may slide a few “ain’ts” up in my speech and yet that doesn’t make me any less competent, but does allow my authentic self to show up and shake the room. Another tip is, don’t discredit the value and depth of small day-to-day experiences. It’s okay if you haven’t traveled the seven seas, or climbed Mt. Everest you still have experiences that offer immense value. For example, one day I went to get tires for my truck in a neighboring town and the gentleman at the shop immediately asked, “Where are you from?” There were no outright indicators like an out-of-state license plate or anything but he had this inherent assumption that I wasn’t from the town. There’s huge value in even a small 5 min interaction like that, because I realized it’s a direct reflection of what it’s like when you’re called to operate in your gift. Even when you think you’re blending in, other people can still easily recognize that you’re called to do life differently. That was an otherwise ordinary experience that had extraordinary depth that can shift the way people see life. Don’t overthink it, just know that you can even leverage what seems simple to deliver a powerful transformation.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
It is widely believed that somewhere around 75% of the population has a fear of public speaking, contrary to what you may believe, many transformational speakers are NOT a part of the 25% that do not struggle with that fear. Many of us are also a part of the 75%, we are just intentional about not allowing that fear to hold us hostage. I always tell folks, fear is often my compass to let me know that I’m stretching myself and that I’m growing. With that said, when I’m presented with new opportunities, I always welcome fear into the room, I just command the fear to take a seat in the corner, because I refuse to allow it to run my show. So understand two things, even your most inspiring speakers likely experience some level of fear or anxiety every time they speak, they just commit to taking action anyway. The other key principle here, is to shift your focus from getting rid of fear…to actually using it as a compass and developing the skills to command the fear to take a backseat to your purpose.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone told me in the beginning that I could actually get paid well for using my voice. (for years I spoke for free, while some of those same organizations were paying other people well to do exactly what I was doing. But I didn’t even know that I could command a rate.
- I wish someone told me that I didn’t have to be a ground-breaking researcher, doctor of philosophy or 10x best- selling author in order to gain respect in the speaking industry. I started my business while still serving as a full-time school teacher…essentially no fancy job title.
- I wish someone told me that when you share what you do with others…it won’t feel “salesy” as long as you’re genuinely serving. For a long time, I struggled with openly sharing with others about my business, and that can be one of the single-most detrimental habits to the growth of your business and impact.
- I wish someone had told me when I first started that there’s no need to be intimidated when working with high-level execs…they’re just people too.
- When I first started, I wish someone had told me that testimonials are the highest form of credibility for your business, especially when starting out. I spoke many times in the beginning without getting testimonials and if I’d collected them from the beginning it could have potentially accelerated my speaking success.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Thank you kindly. I truly enjoy coaching others to transformation and I’m most excited about focusing more on long-term relationships with clients. So often in the speaking realm, there’s a focus on having speakers come in on one or two occasions and that’s the end of that experience. I’m making a shift to focus on building out longer-term relationships so that I can partner with organizations to create safe spaces for development that can truly affect sustainable change.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
To keep me on my A-game, I stick to a morning routine. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekday, or the weekend. My morning routine is my uninterrupted time to center myself and focus on pouring into myself. Being a transformational speaker and coach, it is absolutely a non-negotiable to set routines and enforce boundaries that protect your peace. My morning routine calibrates me for the day, that way, regardless of how chaotic yesterday was or how chaotic the rest of the day may become…I’m able to show up as the most powerful version of myself, because I refilled my own cup before trying to pour into someone else’s.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that I live by is, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is
to have succeeded.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson This quote serves as the heartbeat of the work that I do. Whether I’m speaking, teaching, coaching or writing…I ask myself, will a life breath easier because of this? It’s a constant reminder that my purpose is bigger than me and that there’s no room for selfish motives.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d inspire a movement called the #ConfidentMe movement. Our world could be even more effervescent, if only more people had the courage to break free from self-doubt and take a chance on their visions and dreams. Imagine a world where people no longer second-guessed the worth of their contributions and could confidently birth new ideas into the atmosphere. That’s the kind of movement I’d love to see firing on all cylinders.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would absolutely LOVE to have lunch with Sarah Jakes Roberts. While she’s recognized as a minister moreso than she is a public speaker, she has also served as a source of affirmation for my authenticity as a speaker. Even in moments where I may have second-guessed if my unique approach to speaking was “too much” or would be viewed as “unprofessional,” she was that consistent example that the people you’re called to serve can not only handle how you deliver…but they actually crave it. She took a non-traditional approach to ministry and doing so unapologetically, drew in the untraditional tribe she’s called to serve like an electro-magnetic field. She was the rekindling I needed in moments of doubt, and I’d love to thank her for that face to face.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!