It’s hard work. Not the actual speaking part. That is the easy part for me. Figuring out what direction I need to go. What do I speak about: domestic violence, single mother in addiction, homelessness, self-hate, prostitution, crawling out of the hell of addiction, finding God, starting over with nothing, finding a wonderful husband after being married three times, pursuing a dream when all odds are against me, starting a woman owned business, helping other addicts, product development, getting a product to market? There are too many experiences, too many topics. I had to find the one thing I was super passionate about. That passion is who I was and where I am in my life today at 59. I found out I can incorporate all the above and have a profound message.
The other thing that is hard work is all the research it takes to get myself in front of the decision makers that book event speakers. 100’s of emails, numerous hours of research and the follow ups take discipline.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dana Knowles.
She is an accomplished inventor and motivational speaker that holds nothing back. She is the owner of Dana’s Tuxedo, Director of Inventor Relations at inventRight, ”pet peeve” specialist, and a recovering drug addict/alcoholic. Dana is a passionate advocate for women wanting to get sober and begin to be productive members of society. She is also a role model for women who wish to recreate themselves to do what they really want to do “No Matter What!”
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 was raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh PA in a middle-class family. The youngest of three, I was always given everything I needed. Family outings were the norm. My mother worked from home and dinner was always on the table when dad got in from work. I had great morals and work values instilled in me at an early age. I learned how to work hard and save money if I wanted something.
In this day and age, I would probably be diagnosed with some kind of learning disability. I struggled retaining information, therefore I hated school because it was hard for me. I was one of those kids that all the teachers loved but still failed every class — except Speech Class and school plays. I was not athletic enough to be a jock, not acrobatic enough for cheerleading, and not smart enough to be a book worm. At an early age I was molested by a family friend. I would become very lost at that time and soon found my tribe, “The Dopers.” I dropped out of school my senior year. I soon found myself pregnant and married to my first abusive husband, which was a short-lived relationship. I did not know it at the time, but this was the beginning of my trudge down a dark seedy path of drug and alcohol abuse, three failed marriages, homelessness, prostitution, exotic dancing and all the insanity that comes with that lifestyle. This lasted for a long grueling 20 years.
It was a mental hell, coming from such a good family, knowing right from wrong, and living a life that was against every grain of my being was slowly killing me mentally, spiritually, and physically. Having all my dreams slowly ripped away from me as I was being tortured by the demons of addiction was hard to endure. This was a misery I could not seem to pull myself out of, no matter how hard I wanted to. At the age of 35 I hit my bottom. I crawled into a drug and alcohol treatment center beat up, malnourished, and dying. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn. I latched on to a few sober women who gently walked me, over the next years, back into a life I had only dreamed of. I finally have become the woman I was always meant to be. A woman with respect and dignity who does not wish to shut the door on my past. My past experiences are a blessing to me today. I embrace my past to help me be the best version of my present self.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
While living the life of an addict I always was a “one day I’m gonna” type person. I would dream up all kinds of ideas. I make a joke, “Every idea sounds good when you’re drunk.” For the last 15 years I have been working on studying everything I can about how a product goes from an idea in one’s head to a store shelf while working on myself. I surrounded myself with people in the field of inventing to learn from and encourage me to continue when it gets hard.
As for my speaking career, I believe this all started back in my stripping days. I was used to being in front of a crowd, working the crowd, knowing what they wanted. And I was good at talking the talk and being whoever I needed to be for that moment in time. The only difference now is that there is no pole on the stage, I get to keep my clothes on, and no one is throwing money at me. I laugh while writing this because I never would have thought all those trips to the stage, I was being groomed by the powers greater than myself to take such a career path as motivational speaker. It is like the color of my skin or eyes. It is just who I am.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was recently appointed the position of Ambassador at inventRight. InventRight, is an educational program, teaching students from over 60 countries, how to license their ideas. As Ambassador of inventRight I am the face people see and the voice people hear when speaking about product development and the difficulties in the industry. I research large consumer good companies, find the decision makers within those companies and forge long lasting relationships. This opportunity, along with my speaking path has opened many exciting avenues for me. Over the past years I have traveled to share how I reinvented myself and inspire others to do the same. While living in these Covid times, it has been a privilege to speak virtually with many groups, as well as be on numerous virtual panels and give interviews with dozens of top industry leaders.
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?
One of the big things I do as a product developer and speaker, is to reach out to pitch myself or ideas in hopes of landing that big deal. I do massive follow up to keep myself at the top of their list. I have hung up on people, accidently of course. I stumbled over my words massively on this one call, I paused, took a deep breath, and asked if I could begin again. We both laughed. I had a coughing spell on the phone one time. Luckily, the person on the other end was patient enough to let me get over it. In my business I do not stop until I get a definite answer. During a certain product development pitch some years ago, there was a guy I just could not get a No from. I called him every two weeks and began having conversations with him on his voice mail over the 8 months I tried to get an answer. I began to think of it as a game and have some fun with the messages I was leaving him. At one point I even said, “Please just tell me No and I’ll go away. “ At the Chicago Housewares Show I knew he would be there. I searched him out, introduced myself, looked him straight in the eye, while shaking his hand and said, “Please tell me No.” He squeaked out a little “No.” I responded by saying, “Now that wasn’t so hard was it?” I realized at that time the “No’s” are sometimes hard for people to give.
Just recently I left a voice message for someone I had never met about an upcoming event. It was the perfect message. I nailed it! Which is not unusual, I just always get excited. I set down the phone and didn’t realize I never hung up on my end. I began to give myself kudos for a job well done out loud as well as a few other affirmations. I frequently talk to myself. After a minute or so I realized I never hung up on my end and everything I was saying to myself was on his voice message.
The lesson I learned is “Don’t take everything and everybody so damn serious!”
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?
In 2005, I started getting serious about inventing, I joined my local inventors club. The Inventors Network of the Capital Area in Washington, D.C. (INCA). I needed to be around like-minded people. I first became the treasurer. Then In 2016, I became the President of INCA. It was my job to get speakers. Previously in 2009, I attended an event at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I met Stephen Key, contributor to Forbes Inc, author, leading expert in licensing consumer goods and co-founder of inventRight. I eventually connected with him on social media over the years. I asked him if he would like to speak at our group the next time he visited the D.C. area.
One Simple Idea was a book Stephen Key had written. I figured I had better be familiar with it just in case the subject came up. I listened to his book once, twice, a third time. I was blown away. The book was all about licensing ideas and getting paid a royalty. I had arrived. This is the man and the book that changed my career path forever. I began to study under him and his program inventRight. I was taught how to begin with an idea in my mind and take it to market. As I studied under him, he began to learn more about my past and my story and he encouraged me to expand my speaking career from the recovery angle to different areas and sharing my story with others.
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?
“Fear is the Thief of Dreams.” This is inscribed on a little coin I carry with me. I think my biggest hurdle was the fear of being truthful about my past and how that part of me would be embraced. Being extremely transparent about who I was is fearful at times. I think I had to realize what I wanted more, being frightened into paralysis or follow my dreams? I do not get intimidated easily now, but I was not always like that. When I first got sober, I was scared to death of everything and everybody. I suppose my age has a bit to do with why I am not scared anymore, combined with all the mental work I have done on myself over the last 23 years of sobriety. I wasted 20 years of my life and I am not spending any more time not doing something I know I should be doing. I don’t want to wake up 20 years from now and say “I wish I would have.” That scares me more than failure.
What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
Life is so full of wonder. God has created me to be productive and thrive. Every day I get up thinking what exciting thing is going to happen, what can I make happen. Over the years I have learned a lot about my mind, my will, my emotions and my passions. I have learned that I am a good person, not a perfect one. And when I consciously live in the now, each good day helps me counterbalance my dark past. At 59, I have found what I love to do and I’m moving full speed ahead. If I can help a few people in my lifetime begin to take the baby steps towards what they dream about every day, then I have succeeded in my reason to be here and everything I have experienced in the past was not a waste. To embrace everything that has happened in our past with no regrets and use it for good in the now is the message I want to empower people to embrace. I often share at the beginning of my talks, “you are either going to love me or hate me, either way it’s ok.” My reasoning behind this? If you love me and I inspire you that is great. If you are upset, that is great too. I figure if I annoyed you, I probably touched a nerve. If I can reinvent myself when all the cards were stacked against me then no one has any excuse as to why they cannot do “it” too. What is “it?” Anything you want to do. Either way I have given the audience something to think about. You cannot unhear information. Once it is in the brain, you cannot ignore it or pretend it never happened.
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?
One of the most important effective things I must do is know my audience. What do they want and expect? If I am talking to a church group, I better talk about spirituality and witness to all the miracles in my life. If I am speaking to a woman’s group, I may ad lib some funny things that only women can appreciate. Sometimes I can be more hard-core, other times I must put a softer touch on the subject but still be able to get my message across. Being able to be flexible and adapt to the vibe of the room is extremely important in the moment. Not all audiences respond the same way. I always have a moral at the end of my presentation. To me speaking is just telling my story. I always focus on the takeaway, give the audience something to really think about long after I am gone. I need to be relatable. I like listening to people I can relate to and are fun to listen to, so that is the type of speaker I am. A bit of humor goes a long way and I love to laugh. I was speaking to a group and shared about being married four times. Husband #4 is a good one. When I asked if there were any attorneys present, everyone pointed to the one attorney in the room. They assured me, however, that he was like husband #4, a good one. It was a funny moment that made me relatable to the audience.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
I always get a little nervous just before I go on stage. It passes very quickly. I am there to perform. Probably the best advice is I must know my material, what is expected, and how much time I am expected to talk. Practice, practice, practice and then practice more. I record myself. I never, ever just wing it. I am very scattered. My mind goes a million miles an hour and sometimes my mouth cannot keep up with my brain. To not allow that to happen I like to have slide presentations to keep me on track. I am a very visual person as most inventors are. My slides are very colorful and easy to follow. More pictures to get my point across than a screen full of words. I present the way I like to be presented to.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Do not wait until I am ready, because I’ll never be ready. I did not have anyone pushing me when I first wanted to start speaking publicly. It was not until Stephen Key told me I had a voice and people needed to hear what I had to say that I focused more on expanding my speaking career. I began with small inventor groups that I had already known. I didn’t wait until I was ready. Eventually my speaking career grew organically. From one gig I got another and another and another. If I would have waited until I was ready nothing would have happened.
- I do not need to be perfect. I thought I had to look perfect, speak perfect and act perfect. I can just be myself and it is ok. I love to interact with the audience. One time I was asked a question, so I got off topic a bit, stopped, looked at the audience and said, “I’ve got a question for you, what the heck was I talking about?” To make mistakes shows my vulnerable side. I always include the audience in my presentation if possible.
- It’s hard work. Not the actual speaking part. That is the easy part for me. Figuring out what direction I need to go. What do I speak about: domestic violence, single mother in addiction, homelessness, self-hate, prostitution, crawling out of the hell of addiction, finding God, starting over with nothing, finding a wonderful husband after being married three times, pursuing a dream when all odds are against me, starting a woman owned business, helping other addicts, product development, getting a product to market? There are too many experiences, too many topics. I had to find the one thing I was super passionate about. That passion is who I was and where I am in my life today at 59. I found out I can incorporate all the above and have a profound message. The other thing that is hard work is all the research it takes to get myself in front of the decision makers that book event speakers. 100’s of emails, numerous hours of research and the follow ups take discipline.
- Time takes time. It does not happen overnight. I started speaking in front of smaller women’s groups, church groups and inventor groups within 100 miles of my home. When COVID-19 hit, it gave me an opportunity to expand to a whole world of speaking in a way that I would have never imagined. Being on panels and being interviewed by large and small groups has given me experience and credibility I could have never dreamed of. It doesn’t happen overnight.
- There are so many people that want to help and see me succeed. I always lived under the illusion; it was me against the world. I began reaching out to people who were where I wanted to be and was surprised how many people wanted to help. All I had to do was ask. One of my first connections that helped me was a speaker that presented in front of INCA a few years back. I was so impressed with her work and her achievements, I thought this is someone I need in my network. Creating a relationship with her made all the difference in the world to me. She is there to guide and teach me. And she knows people, who know people, who know people and so on.
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?
I am expanding my portfolio in two arenas. The first is my position as Director of Inventor Relations at inventRight which is a very prestigious position. When consumer good trade shows become live again, I will be attending many of these events representing independent product developers, playing the role as an ambassador for inventRight. This will allow me to meet many new people in my field. Suiting up, showing up and being in the right place at the right time is half the battle.
I see myself shifting my inspirational speaking career into more diversified areas. I am well known in the inventing arena and recovery world. I am growing my motivational speaking profession to entertain a wider variety of inspirational educational subjects and venues. Allowing me to share my experience, strength, and hope in a broader manner. When I continue to set myself up for good things, good things will happen.
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.
I wake up every morning and say, “Good morning God, help me be the best me I can be today.” I say each night “Thank you God for another sober productive day.” It is a great way to start and end the day. I have many daily readings from inspirational books about different things I may struggle with from time to time. Someone told me a long time ago, we wake up in the morning suck down a few cups of coffee, eat a little something, pick out our clothes, do our makeup and hair and run out the door. We do not take care of the most important thing, our mind. I take care of my mind first before anything else. My mind and my thoughts are the most important thing to me. I religiously listen to the great inspirational speaker Earl Nightingale, among others. I am a believer the mind does not know the difference between what we tell it and what is real.
I abused my body while I was using drugs and alcohol for over 20 years. Luckily, I did not suffer any major health or mental consequences from my past horrendous habits. I guess I thought I would live forever. I still attend 12 step meetings on a regular basis some 23 years since my last drink and continue to help new women wanting to get sober.
I hit menopause a few years back and the weight started to add up. Last year I began eating extremely healthy with the help of a nutritionist and lost 20 lbs. by learning how to eat healthy, not only for my body but for my mind. This has made all the difference in my self-esteem, energy level and focus. I look in the mirror every day and say, “Damn you look good for 59”.
I also end each day with 3 things that happened to me during the day that I am grateful for. Trying to find gratitude to put on my list was a hard task at first, but now it comes naturally to find the good in everything as I go about my day. When I look for good things, I always find them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Well behaved women rarely make history.” The definition of behave is to manage the actions of one in a particular way or to conduct oneself in a proper manor.
That was not always my favorite quote but for the last 10 years I have lived by it. I am not scared to not act proper, to speak my mind, to ask for what I want and say what must be said to whomever it must be said to. I explain it like not having a filter. I think things out loud. Sometimes it comes off as misbehaving or going against the norm. I am however very aware of when and how to say something or do something that may be considered as misbehaving. For instance, I was at a dinner a few years back, the first lady of West Virginia was visiting. When I first met her, I realized she had her shirt on backwards and the tag was showing in the front. I looked at my husband and he said to me, “Don’t you dare,” meaning do not say anything. I did not say anything at first but then I thought I sure would want someone to tell me if I was wearing my clothes backwards. I waited for the right moment, quietly walked up to her, whispered in her ear, “Is your tag supposed to be sticking out the front?” Her response was one of shock and gratitude. Shock because she had been attending different events all day and not one person told her about her shirt and gratitude because I had the courage to tell her. She sent me a thank you a few weeks later for being such a good friend. I am sure she will never forget me.
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?
My message is always to inspire broken people. Whether it is something that haunts us from our past or something that we have always wanted to do or know we should be doing, but do not have the courage or know how to move forward with. My inspiring movement would be to take our broken self, dig deep to find our God given talents, and put them to good use to follow our passion and help others.
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!
Melinda Gates. According to Forbes she is the 5th of the most influential women. Her goal is to help people, especially women and girls lead healthy productive lives. She seems so normal other than her extreme wealth. Her altruistic passion for helping others is something to be admired and to learn from. I would love to have lunch with her.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online
LinkedIn: Dana Knowles, Facebook: Dana Knowles Inspires, Instagram: Dana Knowles Inspires, YouTube: Dana Knowles Inspires, www.danaknowlesinspires.com
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!