Bonnie St. John is the first African-American ski racing Olympic Medalist, a former member of the White House economic team under President Clinton and an entrepreneur. Here, she tells us about the women who helped change the course of her career and her life as a working mother.


Susan RoAne, a very successful speaker who literally wrote the book on “How to Work a Room,” actually picked up the phone and reached out to me early in my career and said: “Be a keynote speaker!”

“You have a baby girl at home that you want to spend time with,” she continued, “If you teach all day seminars and workshops, you’ll be away 5 days a week. The keynote speaker gets paid MORE money and goes home after one hour. Besides, you have star quality. Make the most of it.”

I was incredibly grateful for this advice, and it changed the course of my business plan. I had been more comfortable teaching workshops in small groups—aiming for the big stages frightened me. I am not a natural born speaker. Patricia Fripp, a friend of Susan’s and the first woman President of the National Speakers Association, sent me as a gift an audio course on the difference between workshops and keynotes. I attended her weekend course for building your speaker business with my office manager and made a great leap forward in growth. The National Speakers Association (NSA) is full of expert folks who support emerging speakers.

These extraordinary women, Susan and Patricia, believed in me and helped me see how to be more successful AND a better mom at the same time. I try to share that advice with other women whenever I can: sometimes aiming higher means having more help, getting paid more for your time, and having more control of your life so that integrating your personal and professional values is actually easier, not harder.

I have been running my own business for two decades, and my daughter is about to graduate from high school. She traveled with me throughout elementary school while being homeschooled; she’s listened to my speeches and given me feedback; we’ve written a book together; and now she speaks to large audiences from businesswomen to at-risk girls. The advice, example, and support of these amazing women speakers have made all the difference for so many others and us.

To learn more about Bonnie St. John, read an interview with The Story Exchange about her book, How Great Women Lead.

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