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Jodi O’Donnell-Ames: “You might have to start out as a non-paid speaker”

You might have to start out as a non-paid speaker: Like anything else, you need to get started and you need to build your experience and platform. If it’s the right crowd, the right topic and the right opportunity for you to be seen and valued, go for it! If you are not getting paid, […]

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You might have to start out as a non-paid speaker: Like anything else, you need to get started and you need to build your experience and platform. If it’s the right crowd, the right topic and the right opportunity for you to be seen and valued, go for it! If you are not getting paid, promote your book or services.

Open with a powerful story. Every movie or book opens with a power scene or paragraph. You need to do the same when speaking in order to make an immediate impact. Open with a human interest story that captivates your audience and keeps them wanting more. Get their attention!


As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jodi O’Donnell-Ames.

Jodi O’Donnell-Ames is a TEDx speaker, empowerment coach, author and the founder of Hope Loves Company, a non-profit organization supporting children caregivers. She is also the host of a new podcast, Gratitude to Latitude- Stories of Resilience and Hope.


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 big family in a small town. I had no idea that college was an option for me (my parents did not graduate from high school- they start working at a young age) until my junior year when my boyfriend’s mom Barbara encouraged me to further my education. I am so grateful to her for taking me under her wing. Barbara and I have stayed in touch all of these years. She is 96 and remains a mentor in my life.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I first gave a public speech when I ran for Student Council in high school. I loved the feeling of gathering information, putting it into writing and sharing it with an audience. I enjoyed everything about the experience, the impact it had on my audience and the positivity that ensued.

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

In 1996, my late husband Kevin and I addressed an FDA Panel Hearing regarding an ALS drug. Kevin was 30 years old and battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). I remember writing the speech with urgency in hopes that it would encourage the scientists to approve the first ALS drug, Riluzole, at that time. I gave the speech with our two-year-old daughter in my arms and my husband Kevin by my side. When Riluzole was approved that day, it was clear that our voices were powerful tools for change. Using my voice that day to speak for many ALS families was the beginning of my ALS advocacy work.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

That one is easy! I was heading up to a podium to speak and stumbled over an electric cord. It would have been an embarrassing start even more so if I had fallen!

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 am fortunate to have a list of people to thank, however, one comes in mind regarding speaking. My high school student council advisor encouraged me to have a voice and to share it with others. I have always been proactive in my thoughts and my actions but needed encouragement to bring that skill to a platform. With her guidance, I quickly learned the importance of addressing an audience and sharing my knowledge and perspective.

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?

I believe that the most important path in any successful career is to be authentic, prepared, and focused on serving others. When you serve others first, through your words and actions, you will succeed. If it’s something that you truly want, work hard and don’t give up! Persistence and determination pay off.

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?

Whether I am speaking, writing or podcasting, I know that there is someone out there who will benefit from my journey and information. I always think of Maya Angelou’s book, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now. We learn and grow from our experiences and challenges and it’s our obligation to pay those lessons forward. Our experiences make us who we are and may help to guide others to find their voices too.

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?

In order to be an effective speaker, you must know your audience and share stories that will resonate with that particular audience. You can have the same content, but that information will need to be tweaked Let’s say that you have a dynamic presentation about wellness. It would need to be written differently if you were talking to a group of senior citizens compared to a group of teens.

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

First of all, if you invited to speak it’s because someone believed in you and what you have to say! Don’t be terrified. Once you realize the ability that you have to educate and inspire your audience, you should relax and enjoy the experience. We all love to hear a great presentation and no one wants you to fail. Take some deep breaths before you start and welcome the chance to shine.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. You might have to start out as a non-paid speaker: Like anything else, you need to get started and you need to build your experience and platform. If it’s the right crowd, the right topic and the right opportunity for you to be seen and valued, go for it! If you are not getting paid, promote your book or services.

2. Open with a powerful story. Every movie or book opens with a power scene or paragraph. You need to do the same when speaking in order to make an immediate impact. Open with a human interest story that captivates your audience and keeps them wanting more. Get their attention!

3. Know Your Content: Prepare, practice and revise! Write your speech and videotape yourself presenting. Also make sure that you are keeping within the time parameters granted. You should know your presentation as though you are telling a story to your family at the dinner table. If you stumble on certain words or ideas, revise, because you need to feel comfortable with your content.

4. Make it Relatable: We have all heard the cliche- “I laughed, I cried!” as a response to seeing a Broadway show. To some degree, your speech should also elicit relatable experiences and emotions. Allow the audience to feel engaged — to laugh, to reflect and to dream. Give them an experience that they applaud.

5. Memorize Keywords to kick off your Speech: I typically memorize the first word and phrase of each main point so that I can present my content smoothly and flawlessly. When I gave my TEDx talk, I focused on five main ideas and created an acronym to guide me.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

A year ago, right before the pandemic, I submitted a piece to a theater production called Healing Voices: Caregiver’s Stories for McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, NJ. I will be participating in their virtual workshop in April. I am grateful that I can bring the child caregiving voice to the platform through my work as a non-profit founder (Hope Loves Company) and the mother of three adult children who were once caregivers.

Where do you see yourself heading from here?

As venues continue to open up, I hope to speak on more stages across the United States. I have also started writing my third book.

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?

I believe that the way we begin each day is imperative to that day’s success. My daily routine involves beginning the day with meditation or prayer, a healthy protein shake and stretching. Mornings are a chance to reset, give gratitude and honor your body and mind. Getting centered first is key to moving into goals and action.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have relied on this quote, “My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life but by doing your best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” Oprah Winfrey, I believe that we should all show up with gratitude, professionalism and the desire to meet and surpass the goals before us.

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 founded a non-profit called Hope Loves Company. We support children who have had or have a loved one living with ALS in their lives. Caregiving children is a world issue. Giving children the right resources is paramount to their success as thriving adults.

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!

Jesse Itzler! He and I met a few years ago when giving our Tedx talks. Would love to have lunch with him and his wife Sara Blakely.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

I am on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can also visit my website at joaspeakson.com.

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


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