Finding Your Niche in Your Speaking Business with Jessica Miller-Merrell

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Jessica Miller-Merrell was a corporate HR professional when she started her blog in 2005 as a unique way to recruit sales people. When she was asked to speak about Twitter on a panel, she figured she better learn about it and started using it. Early on, Jessica’s first love was always and still is, human resources and recruiting, but she found herself consulting people with social media, and being pulled in other directions. Even having been a podcaster for the last 6 years, she’s had people ask about talking about podcasting, but that is not her niche. It’s the one thing Jessica wishes she would’ve released when she first started her own business. Know her niche, stay in her lane and focus on what she loves. 

What other lessons did Jessica Miller-Merrell share? 

  • Speaking, whether in person or online is the cornerstone of her business
  • Toastmasters was a way for Jessica to improve her speaking for board meetings and connecting with others through the power of speech
  • A lot of paid speaking is trial and error
  • Be sure to know your worth and know when to discount your services
  • Before taking on any speaking opportunity, know what the overall goal is
  • Live streaming on LinkedIn, Facebook or YouTube can be a great way to connect with your community
  • Be sure to let people know what products and services you offer when you speak


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Who is Jessica Miller-Merrell?


Jessica Miller-Merrell is the Founder of which began in 2005. Workology is workplace resource destination for HR, recruiting professionals and business leaders. The site was listed twice as a top 75 career resource by Forbes Magazine. She is an HR and Recruiting process and optimization consultant and a published author of Tweet This! and The HR Technology Field Guide. Her new book, Digitizing Talent: Creative Strategies for the Digital Recruiting Age is available Spring of 2020. Jessica has been listed by Forbes as a top 50 social media power user. Because of vast industry expertise and knowledge, Jessica’s professional opinions and expertise are sought after and sourced by publications and media including Economist, Forbes, CIO Magazine, CBS, Entrepreneur Magazine, and SHRM’s HR Magazine. In addition to Workology, she regularly contributes to Huffington Post, Forbes and Fortune Magazine in addition to HR and recruiting blogs.Jessica Miller-Merrell is workplace change agent and author focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer, she’s the founder of Workology and host of the Workology Podcast.

Jessica is an experienced consultant and HR and talent acquisition practitioner having worked with companies like Whole Foods, AT&T, OfficeMax, Home Depot and the Chickasaw Nation. She has extensive experience in HR and talent acquisition trends and processes. She is available to keynote and speaks at conferences, events, and webinars in addition to her work as a digital, HR and talent acquisition consultant, analyst and author.

Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resource designation in 2008 and earned a Bachelors degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University and a Masters in Business Administration from Webster University. Jessica is from a small town in Kansas and lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.

You can with Jessica Miller-Merrell on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,  LinkedIn and check out her podcast and the Workology website


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Below is the full transcript from the show with Jessica Miller-Merrell. Please note that there may be some errors as it was auto transcribed using (referral link that provides us with a 1-month Premium Pass

Tim McDonald 0:00
All right. Well welcome everybody to the business of speaking show. I am your host, Tim McDonald. And today I am joined by somebody that I am so glad to have here. Jessica Miller-Merrell. How are you doing, Jessica?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 0:13
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on here.

Tim McDonald 0:15
Oh, no, I’m so grateful that you agreed to do this. I know, we’ve been connected online for years and years. And I believe we only got to meet in person once, but it was a great opportunity. So yeah, really, for those tuning in for the first time, the business is speaking show is really focusing on not what the speakers talk about onstage. But really how they got started, and their journey to the stage and what they’ve learned along the way. For people who are thinking about getting involved in speaking, just getting a speaking business launched. Or as 2020 has taught us, no matter what we think we know, as speakers, we don’t know too much of anything the world has taught us. So with that being said, Jessica, I’d really love to dive in. Before we get back to the beginning stages of when you got started. Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now how speaking plays a role in your business today.

Jessica Miller-Merrell 1:10
So I run a community called Workology, it’s a human resources and recruiting online destination. And we provide resources, support, and a variety of different ways, mostly digital these days to help human resources in HR recruiting professionals support their organizations, and themselves as individuals personally and professionally.

Tim McDonald 1:34
Well, that is fantastic. And so, you know, I’m sure and I know, I met you because we were at a conference and they believe you’re involved in speaking at that. As I was, um, but you know, tell us a little bit about, you know, how does the speaking play a part in your business today.

Jessica Miller-Merrell 1:54
So, speaking, whether in person or online is really the cornerstone of my business, whether I’m training HR recruiting professionals on the newest and latest like technologies, or connecting with people live on LinkedIn live or, or our Facebook Live and small groups, but I’m sharing resources and best practices and helping them become better HR and recruiting professionals. So without speaking, I would just be tweeting and you know, that’s so 2010.

Tim McDonald 2:29
Well, you’re aging us now, because we’re both OGs, when it comes to Twitter. But, yes, tell us, you know, how did this all start for you? When did you first get involved in speaking? Were you always running your own business? Or did you work for somebody else? And then how did that all evolve for you?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 2:46
So I was a corporate HR professional, and I started a blog in 2005, I was trying to recruit salespeople. So that’s kind of how I got started. Because I was looking for something different to connect to the sales professionals inside and outside that I was trying to hire at my company. And I wasn’t a recruiter, I was an HR director that was responsible for a team of recruiters and HR professionals. So I was trying to figure out, like, how do I reach these people in scale? And why I started the blog, I was a member of Toastmasters, and really wanted to find a way to connect with the community, but then also improve my speaking skills because they were really limited to workplace presentations, or if somebody from the corporate team asked me to talk during a board meeting, and that was pretty much it.

Tim McDonald 3:36
Yeah, I’ve you know, it’s interesting, as you say that, because I’ve heard so many other speakers talk about, you know, the experience that they have, or they didn’t really consider it speaking. But it really was the foundation for the early days of their speaking. So I’m just kind of curious, when you you know, you mentioned Toastmasters. And I know that you know, several people have mentioned that. What did that do that was different than the experience you’re getting in the workplace in front of those, you know, trainings or meetings that you were getting up and talking at.

Jessica Miller-Merrell 4:10
It was an organized system, or process and I was connecting with different kinds of people. So it wasn’t just me and human resources talking about you know, here’s the book of the month or here’s the update on staffing levels for for the division that I was responsible for. I was listening to other people talk about different topics. And then in Toastmasters, you get to speak on different topics yourself. So you make the presentation. It felt a lot like college speaking class or speech class, but it was more meaningful because it had a purpose. I was trying to be a better speaker, not necessarily to become a paid speaker, which that has as a result of what I mean Toastmasters has has led me to that place, but just be a better connector, either online or in person. With the power of speech.

Tim McDonald 5:03
And so when you’ve evolved through all this and you know, with being in the workplace with being involved in Toastmasters. And then do you remember the first time somebody asked you, you know, to speak and get paid? Or were you always kind of, as soon as you went out there asking to get paid to speak.

Jessica Miller-Merrell 5:25
Um, so I, I want to talk first about maybe one of the first times that I got asked to speak as like an expert. And it was really the reason I got on Twitter. Actually, in 2008, I was using social media to recruit and I had started the blog and, and people were starting to notice. And so somebody asked me to be on a panel. And the moderator was like, Can you figure out this tweeter thing? Could you try it because we want to talk about it. And that’s the whole reason I really started focusing on Twitter was because that was what the panel asked me specifically to talk about, I was seeing success in recruiting on MySpace, if you remember MySpace, and forums, not necessarily Twitter. But that was the first real speaking opportunity that I felt like the Toastmasters work and kind of the blog. And what I was doing was kind of all coming together. As far as my first paid events. It was for a government agency, they asked me to talk about how to use social media for recruiting. And I was really nervous, I probably negotiated very badly. But the presentation I thought went pretty good. I mean, they asked me to come back. And so I think a lot of speaking, especially when it’s paid is trial and error. But most importantly, you have to know your worth, and understand when it is going to be discounted speaking, like for nonprofit, or something like that, or it might be in an in kind donation, or paid opportunity for you or kind of depends on where you think it’s going to impact your business the most.

Tim McDonald 7:06
I’m so glad you brought those things up. You know, there’s so many different ways that we can look at, you know, speaking and being a professional speaker, which, obviously, most people would think professional means you’re getting paid. But there’s other ways that you’re getting value out of this. And can you just dive into a little bit of those, like, that you just described, and how they, you know, how you look at it, how you’ve processed that in your business.

Jessica Miller-Merrell 7:34
So, um, I feel like everything I have to every time I get a speaking opportunity, and when I think of speaking opportunities, it can be as simple as going live on Facebook, right, where you’re talking about a topic, live streaming has really changed the game. I know, we’re streaming live right now, it allows you access to a much larger community or a targeted community that you didn’t have before, when you know, we were all on our phones and our blackberries tweeting away. So you have to decide in each instance like what the overall goal is. For me, if I’m being asked to me to keynote a conference, then yes, it’s a it’s a paid opportunity. Unless there’s some sort of partnership or or relationship happening. I’m keynoting, here in Austin in a few weeks, the ATD conferences, training and development conference here in Austin, we’re focusing on live speaking, how training how to make that happen using the internet, I also think you need to think about the relationships and partnerships that you build, because they lend to other opportunities. For example, we kind of kicked this off and said, we’ve met in person once. But we have been social media friends and connected for over 10 years. So you and I have followed each other and have a relationship and who knows where this opportunity to speak from your show what how we might partner together in the future. So I’m not saying every opportunity should be unpaid. But I think that you should think about the bigger picture and how it might be able to help you. Anytime I podcast, I also looked at as again as an opportunity to drive people to my community, share with them what I know, and then talk about the products and services that I have available. That’s one thing I think people don’t do enough of when they speak and it’s something that I’ve been working on is talk about, here’s a product or service and ask people invite them to come to your community, and or buy or learn more about your service. Otherwise, you’re just sending goodwill, and goodwill doesn’t pay the bills.

Tim McDonald 9:44
That’s so true. I’ve been learning that lesson myself here and continue to learn it. Um, you know, you you mentioned something and I know you know you you’re mentioning the early days and even going back to MySpace and you know, starting blogging In 2005, and I mean, today people are kind of, you know, oh blog, you know, and, and but, I mean, it’s still so relevant. But now you’re mentioning podcast you’re mentioning getting on shows like this, looking at events or conferences that you can go to that provide that opportunity. These are all marketing opportunities, right? And how do you, you know, how did you learn that this was something that was working for you, and that you knew that it was something that you want to do? Because it does marketing like this takes a lot of your time. And it’s a big commitment. So how did you kind of realize that this was for you and going to work?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 10:40
I think for me, I would say focus on your wheelhouse, don’t take every speaking opportunity. For example, I think I’ve been podcasting for six years, which is a while in the podcasting world. And I think I’ve done one presentation on podcasting, like how to do it. It’s not something I can talk about it. But it’s not in my core offering for the products and services and the audience that I reach. Now, if I decided to launch a podcast or a course on how to make a podcast, then yes, I would be speaking about podcasting all over the place. So find those places where you can really talk about what your area of expertise is, whatever product or service that you sell is, and don’t say yes to every single thing. So if somebody came to me today and said, Jessica, I want to talk about like, could you talk about podcasts, and how to do them, I would probably say, I probably don’t have anything on the schedule until November or after Thanksgiving. Or here’s a friend of mine who’s really awesome that does this that you should connect with. And so now I am expanding my network of influence and building relationships even further, while managing my time because, honestly, I think about, okay, I don’t have a course to sell. I’m just gonna be talking about podcasting. At the end of the day, like, how much is my time worth? If it’s going to take me three hours to make the presentation and then one hour to present those four hours of my time? What is that in dollar value? And do I think I’m going to get that back in the next, I would say 12 to 24 months from that opportunity? And if the answer’s no, then you make the recommendation? If the answer’s yes, then more power to you. But I think that’s the biggest mistake that new speakers make is they try to do all the things. So focus on what you’re really good at the area that either either everybody’s asking you about, or is your business and and speak on those subjects.

Tim McDonald 12:37
I love the fact that you mentioned about referring out to somebody else and kind of building that that relationship through that method. Outside of Toastmasters, which I know you said was a great resource for you early on, you know, has there been other people that you’ve connected with that have really helped you in the speaking business and getting opportunities in you know, with them giving to you as much as you giving to them?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 13:04
I’m sure that you’ve probably had other guests talk about the National Speakers Association. I have been a member briefly, it really wasn’t for me, and just because of the amount of time that it was taking. But I did find a number of people who are speakers like me in different areas that I kind of connected with on a friend level and kind of a peer level where we’ve been able to talk openly and candidly about what’s working and what’s not working. The other thing that I’ve done has been doubled, doubling down on live video, which I’m so glad specially considering what has occurred in the last 12 or six months, seven months for us is I really focused on building revenue streams online and through on demand courses and content and membership communities also. So the last year and a half, I’ve focused a lot on live video getting better at live video, practicing talking with others, I’ve done the podcast, but live video is different. So that has been incredibly helpful because now if the media calls, boom, I can get online and I can talk about a subject very quickly. And I have kind of the sound bites and I’m prepared on the fly. That has been incredibly helpful for me too.

Tim McDonald 14:24
So I obviously you know, I’ve been doing live video for probably 11 years I guess. But when you when you are looking at making the transition from a voice environment to a, you know, video environment, what are some of the unique challenges and things that people need to be aware of?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 14:48
lighting? I think that’s the biggest challenge. I have a ring light in front of me. And then I have other studio lights I don’t have them on right now but when I’m filming YouTube stuff for myself We will have a variety of lighting. So you want to think about your background lighting, a quiet set a good microphone, those are really important and they can set you apart from from others. For women, it’s incredibly important to make sure you have a colorful shirt on, have some makeup on look, you know, young and refresh to lighting is going to help with that, too. So that’s, that’s fantastic. But those are kind of the fundamentals. I think, once you anybody can start again, live video is amazing, because anybody can do it. But it also means everybody can do it. And then you can really stand out from the pack that you’re different or better and, or well versed at this live video thing. So popping up your camera or your phone, looking straight into the, into the camera versus down here where you know, your eye kind of wonders and just just try to start talking and create a connection.

Tim McDonald 15:58
And that connection. I know when you’re up on stage or in front of a room of people, it’s so easy because you can read their body language you can see, you know, and interact with them. How do you create that through a camera?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 16:13
Through asking questions, through moving your hands and kind of being a little crazy. I mean, with videos, live video, in particular, sometimes you have to amp up kind of the emotions and the facial expressions so that it can come through to the other people who are watching. I also like to ask questions, and look seek engagement. So if people go crazy over one part of my presentation, even if it’s just an ad lib, or something I threw together on a Facebook Live and a group that says to me, I need to rethink this and maybe expand on this topic. And that might be next week’s topic, or YouTube video or a new presentation that I’m going to be giving where I’m offering people a chance to buy a course or something that I am selling. So video is awesome. Live video is awesome, because you can test your your market to understand what resonates with them. One of the courses that we sell is for HR certification. So HR professionals take an exam, kind of like the bar exam, but for HR. And so I have a group a free group with about 4000 people, and I go live two or three times a week over there. And and sometimes it’s just random sometimes it’s planned. We have a push for some marketing, or I’m answering a question. But a lot of times it’s just me throwing something out there just to test the market and see is this gonna resonate with people. And really live video allows you to do that. So you can ask questions, and then you have great market research for your paid presentation or you new webinar or whatever you’re going to be speaking at.

Tim McDonald 17:51
Well, I love that. Well, I know we’re kind of getting close to the end here. So one of the things I love asking my guest is if you were to go back knowing what you know now to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 18:11
Niche Niche Niche Niche. Um, in the beginning, I got lots of activity from social media work and career consulting and my my passion, my love is human resources and recruiting that community of people. So I wasted a lot of time and had a lot of conversations and with people doing its social media consulting and other things that weren’t really what I what I loved. I think it was confusing to my customers or my community sometimes what exactly does she do, but now it’s very clear, I help the human resources and recruiting community, and we probably provide resources for them to be very successful. It’s scary to Niche and to be really specific, because it feels like oh my gosh, I’m going to miss out on all these other opportunities. But the reality is that it’s more it’s you spend a lot more time inventing new processes and doing all these new things because you’re so broad, so I could go back I would just say hey Jessica, focus on HR, that’s what you’re good at. That’s what you know, and just get out there and do your thing.

Tim McDonald 19:21
I think that is one of the best ways to kind of wrap things up here. So great advice. Jessica, how can people learn more about you connect with you online?

Jessica Miller-Merrell 19:31
So our communities called workology so you can go to And we have over 8000 articles and courses for HR and recruiting professionals. You can simply when you get to the website, go to the Facebook chat that’s there in messenger that’s going to be me or somebody on my team and it’s a great way to connect with me. You can also email me at [email protected]. And then I’ll be able to, to answer questions or talk more about human resources.

Tim McDonald 20:00
Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us today, Jessica. And thank you for watching. And if you are watching for the first time on YouTube, this is the part of the show where we are going to sign off of YouTube. However, Jessica agreed to stay on with me and I get to ask her one additional question. And that question is only going to be available to our email subscribers. So if you head over to speaking dot business and just sign up for free for our email list, it’s a weekly email that comes out, you will get the exclusive content and the answer to the question that I am going to ask Jessica right after we sign off here. So thank you so much for watching.

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