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Hilary Billings: “Fake it ’til you make it”

Remember, your speech is not about you, it’s about your audience. When you’re focused on serving others, fear around yourself dissipates. You have been charged with speaking to this audience because there is something you’ve lived through or know about that others need. When you go in with the attitude of adding extreme value over […]

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Remember, your speech is not about you, it’s about your audience. When you’re focused on serving others, fear around yourself dissipates. You have been charged with speaking to this audience because there is something you’ve lived through or know about that others need. When you go in with the attitude of adding extreme value over looking good on stage, you’re going to win.


As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Hilary Billings.

Hilary is a confidence coach, keynote speaker, and digital influencer.

A former Miss Nevada, producer for E! News, and travel host for Norwegian Cruise Line, Hilary has been a featured contributor for USA Today, Thrive Global, and Huffington Post, as well as been featured on Extra! Entertainment Television.

A sought-after speaker and live-event emcee, Hilary has shared the stage with icons including William Shatner and Bon Jovi. She has been featured on virtual summits and podcasts alongside Lewis Howes, Michael Hyatt, and Dennis Rodman.

A burn survivor, Hilary is focused on incorporating humor into moments of adversity. She is creating a new perspective on confidence through motivational comedy and other digital content. Her newest venture, The Hilary Show (aimed at adding levity to your social media feed), has garnered over 50 million views and counting.

As a speaker and influencer, Hilary helps people overcome feelings of inadequacy by using behavioral psychology to create confidence and build empowered futures. As a coach, she’s worked with women to develop authentic confidence, ranging from mompreneurs to Victoria’s Secret models.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

The combination of my experiences overcoming adversity and these numerous iterations in my career made me realize how important my message around building confidence was.

I originally was the number one graduate of my University. I went on to be rejected from every graduate school program I’d applied to. I lost numerous friends to suicide in my early 20’s. Then, just as I was healing from all this and picking up steam as a travel writer, I was hit in the chest with a malfunctioning firework and suffered burns to my chest and stomach. This was the catalyst for me entering a beauty pageant and becoming Miss Nevada. Then, I pivoted again to work as a producer, host, and content creator for numerous publications including USA Today and E!.

Through all these experiences, I battled my own feelings of inadequacy, of not being good enough, of being afraid of being ‘found out.’ It wasn’t until I started interviewing high-profile celebrities on the red carpet that I realized I wasn’t the only one that struggled with these feelings. So many of the people we idolize and compare ourselves to feel all the same emotions, but no-one talks about it.

As I started doing the research, I began to learn how debilitating the lack of conversation around confidence and inadequacy really was to our lives. The research now shows that confidence is more heavily correlated to success than competence. The amount of authentic confidence we feel plays into how fulfilled we are, how connected we are in our relationships, how strong our boundaries are, how resilient we are to adversity, how much money we make, the risks we take, and so forth.

Not only is confidence that important, but our feelings of inadequacy can be so detrimental, they can lead to depression, increased anxiety, increased levels of comparison, feeling isolated, dissatisfied, or worse- for some, they may even decide they don’t deserve to live. Unfortunately, this is the reality plaguing us, and more specifically, our younger generations, who are more hyperconnected (and consequently) disconnected than ever before.

I knew I had a lot to say on this topic, and as I began looking back on my experiences, I realized there were certain skills I developed that I could teach others to help them begin cultivating more authentic confidence immediately.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

William Shatner, at 89, is one of the spriteliest and kindest professionals I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We were both asked to attend the Bachelor of Innovation Gala at UCCS for their annual ceremony, which was so much fun to work on together. From what I remember, he had been traveling extensively before the event and even rode his horses that morning before he got on a plane to attend the event. Then, he hosted a meet-and-greet, gave his keynote, and flew back out for another event the following day. For a gentleman in his late 80’s, he’s running circles around the rest of us with his work ethic. I’ll always be a fan of the Priceline Negotiator.

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’m so grateful to my mentor and NSA Hall-of-Fame speaker, Rory Vaden, for helping me get clear on my brand, messaging, and frameworks to help my audience to my fullest capacity. A few years ago, we were introduced by a mutual friend and met for an awkward coffee, but that turned into a beautiful discussion about my dreams and how to make the most of my stories and message. We’ve worked together since to hone my content to a place where it’s effective, actionable, and moves people emotionally.

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?

Speaking, much like a lot of live-event career paths, is a tough game to be entering right now due to the challenges and unknowns surrounding COVID-19. It would be easy to feel inadequate about being new to this world, but that is all based upon how you’re defining success.

For example, if your version of success includes you making six figures, being booked solid, or sharing the stage with legends, yeah, you’re definitely going to feel daunted by thoughts of failure. But if your version of success revolves around helping others through sharing your message, you can’t fail.

Often times, we feel daunted by feelings of failure when we’re focused on ‘how we might look’ in a situation, versus ‘how we can help’. When we shift our focus off of ourselves and onto others, the world opens up. So, I encourage new speakers to do just that. Focus on their message.

As a keynote speaker, you talk about confidence to a variety of audiences. What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with them?

We’re living in a time where so many of us are battling feelings of inadequacy on a daily basis. Our negative thoughts scroll through our heads like we scroll through social media comparing ourselves to others. For some, this means they’re living their life in a less than optimal way. For others, this may even keep them from getting out of bed in the morning.

While many personal-development speakers can give you a laundry list of actions to try to boost your confidence, I’m a big believer that we have to first distance ourselves from the negative emotion of inadequacy. It’s a lot like shifting gears in a car. We can’t go forward before we come to a neutral position.

I feel that telling someone to, “Fake it ’til you make it,” or “Just focus on gratitude,” while well intentioned- causes more harm than good, and it certainly doesn’t inspire people to feel better. You ever been told to calm down when you’re angry? How often does that work? If you’re not in a neutral place to receive the progressive emotion, someone telling you to jump straight to it while in a negative state will be ineffective, and most likely leave you feeling more alone and misunderstood.

My methods for cultivating confidence are all about helping people remove the pretense and establish neutral ground so that they can move toward building sustainable positive emotions.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

This goes back to what we were talking about earlier. One of the top causes of inadequacy is being too self-focused (I talk about how to overcome this further in my free workbook on my website).

If someone is giving a speech, they need to stop focusing on how they’ll be perceived and instead focus on the message that they’re giving and how it will serve the audience at hand. I’ve coached many people to remove themselves from being the center of the speech, and instead, focusing on seeing themselves as a conduit for the message. This has been received with great success because now it’s no longer about you.

What are 5 things you wish someone told you when you first started as a speaker?

1. Be clear on what message you want to share with the world. It’s so easy, because our life experiences are so vast, to want to share a very broad message of inspiration. But specificity is what we latch onto as humans and what makes us relatable. As a now recurring Miss USA judge, I cringe a little at contestant interviews that contain blanket clichés like, “You can do anything you set your mind to,” or “Our children are our future.” These aren’t bad messages, but because they don’t speak to a personal or profound experience that will change someone’s way of thinking, they’re not as effective as they could be. In order to do that, we have to introduce new information: new stories, new perspectives, new paradigms. The more you focus on how your unique lens can lend itself to a unique message, the more profound the impact you’ll have on your audience.

2. It’s not enough to have a message. You have to give the audience actionable takeaways. My mentor, Rory, says all the time, “You know you’ve changed someone’s life when you’ve changed their daily habits.” That’s what we’re going for- methods the audience can put into action right away to improve their lives. Feeling motivated, inspired, and empowered by a speaker is a wonderful feeling, but that speaker will not follow you into your daily life. We have to teach people how to be their best advocates and motivators. We do that through action steps.

3. Remember, your speech is not about you, it’s about your audience. When you’re focused on serving others, fear around yourself dissipates. You have been charged with speaking to this audience because there is something you’ve lived through or know about that others need. When you go in with the attitude of adding extreme value over looking good on stage, you’re going to win.

4. Even if what you are talking about is dark, it can be light. There’s a reason we love dark comedies and dramedies. It’s because life is full of tension and pull and balance and swinging from one emotional high to another low. Don’t be afraid to insert humor if you’re speaking on a serious topic. In fact, it should almost be a requirement!

5. Ask what color the backdrop will be for the event. This may sound superfluous but it’s actually rather important. When speaking on a large stage, if the backdrop or screen will be white, you don’t want to be in a white dress. If the backdrop is blue, you probably don’t want to wear a clashing color. By knowing this, you can coordinate your wardrobe to stand out against the stage so people can easily see you.

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?

Outside of my speaking career, we’ve recently launched a Facebook Watch Page called The Hilary Show to help bring levity to your social media scroll. Part of how I help people overcome feelings of inadequacy is by leveraging humor in our overly serious and polarizing news feeds. We’re making all sorts of fun content from surprising friends with giraffes to teaching you how to make your own glowsticks. It’s silly, it’s light, and in difficult times for many, it’s a great reprieve from reality.

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?

Part of what makes us lose confidence and feel more inadequate is taking life too seriously. I try to incorporate play and joy wherever I can, even when things look bleak in the world. I recently bought myself a llama coloring book to help me unwind at night.

Can you share your favorite, “Life Lesson” quote? How is this relevant to you in your life right now?

These days I’m living by Maya Angelou’s quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

As a recovering perfectionist, this quote speaks to both the personal growth and grace I’m working into my daily life. I think it also is timely for helping me process some of the current events we’re witnessing. It’s not about getting it right; it’s about intentionally focusing on expanding your knowledge and using that to inform your actions. There is no failing if I’m growing.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We’ve talked about this before in prior interviews, but I still believe cultivating compassion on social media is so pertinent. We need to start meeting ourselves and others with more grace, curiosity, and desire to understand versus dominate. It’s okay for us to disagree; it’s great that we can share different perspectives. But it’s time to stop vilifying each other for disagreeing. We’ve seen what happens when we try to prove everyone around us ‘wrong’. The effects have even been fatal for our young people.

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