We’ve all got a powerful speaker inside of us. The question is, how do we let him or her out?
All too often, we have incredible things to share with the world but don’t have the words or know-how to stand boldly center stage and speak with passion, love, and conviction.
Enter Dr. Keri Yang, founder of Pretty Powerful Woman and Powerful Speaker Academy. She’s an international speaker, speaking coach, and business mentor with close to two decades of experience on live and virtual stages. She teaches her clients how to leverage the power of their personal presence, speak with style, and use captivating stories to build an instant connection with their audience.
“With powerful body language and a strong magnetic presence, you can step into the spotlight while staying true to your most authentic self,” says Dr. Yang. While she has things figured out now, owning her power didn’t exactly happen overnight.
In this exclusive interview, Dr. Yang shares how she found her confidence and built a business out of helping entrepreneurs unlock their powerful speaking skills.
Celinne Da Costa: Tell us about your background.
Dr. Keri Yang: Growing up in Taiwan, an island deeply ingrained in humble Asian culture, things were different. As a woman, I was told to be quiet and not talk too loud. I was taught to just keep my head down, work really hard, never take credit and let work speak for itself. I never doubted this approach, because that’s just what everyone did.
To the outside, I was a shy girl from a nice family. I excelled in school and did all the right things. But I had this fun, creative side to me that didn’t fit the mold. It would come out with family and friends, but never in front of authority figures. I was a chameleon who played different roles so I could be everything to everyone. Deep down, I believed there was something more for me… I just didn’t know what that was. I’d often wonder, “What are people doing out there? What’s happening on the other side of the world?”
Da Costa: How did you kick off your speaking career?
Dr. Yang: Growing up, public speaking was never my thing. I wasn’t the type to grab spotlights or raise my hand to say, “Pick me!”, but when I was 10 years old, everything changed. A teacher signed me up for a speaking competition at my school because I was a good writer. I was horrified, but being the good little student I was, I prepared.
On the competition day, I got up on stage in front of 700 people… and I completely forgot my words. I was mortified. I thought I was done, but imagine my surprise when they announced I had to do another round of speech freestyle. At that moment, I really didn’t care. I got up and said what I genuinely thought. To my surprise, the audience was laughing and engaging, and I ended up getting the highest votes for that round. It was then that the seed was planted – that actually, in one talk, I changed how people perceived me. And I did so by being myself.
Fifteen years later, while working in healthcare, I finally decided to explore what life would be like on the other side of the world. So I applied to the top 10 PhD schools in the U.S. and got accepted into every single one after my interview. It wasn’t because I was smarter than others, but because I knew how to sell myself. I understood that nailing those interviews wasn’t about being a speaker — it was knowing what story to share and how to communicate my value. This experience taught me that even an everyday conversation can be a stage for you to sell yourself. Speaking your way to sales by being completely yourself is a truly powerful skill, and one that I teach my clients.
Da Costa: What happened next?
Dr. Yang: When I got to the U.S., I realized I needed to quickly learn the language and push myself to connect with others because they weren’t just going to come and talk to me — I was that foreign student. I had to learn how to walk into a completely different group of people and introduce myself. This is how I started getting the courage to put myself out there and learn how to build connections that would later strengthen my speaking career.
While we may look different on the outside (and perceive people who look different from us as a threat), human beings are more similar than we think. At our core, we all have similar needs, desires, and dreams. Learning to connect with my audience on a deeper level helped me with much of my success on international stages during the next period of my life.
After finishing school, I went back to corporate and my “work hard” mentality kicked in again. I was new, and insecure about being more junior, a woman, and a minority. I didn’t dare to speak up and made myself small. I started wearing neutral business clothing and glasses to look more senior so people might take me seriously. As I led meetings and presentations, people invited me to lead more webinars, presentations, and symposiums, and it had a snowball effect. As soon as people heard me talk, I’d get more opportunities.
The more I spoke in symposiums filled with hundreds of thought leaders and government officials, the more I realized that speaking was my gift. I also started to notice that people didn’t expect me to be on that stage before hearing my talk. I could feel their distrust before I even started. I fought that feeling and continued to develop my skills as a successful speaker and presenter. But along the way, I hid the real me to fit the mold and lost my sense of identity.
Da Costa: What was the point that made you turn speaking into a business?
Dr. Yang: One day, my good friend came to town to visit. She screamed, “What happened to your closet?! These are grandma clothes!” I shrugged, “Well, it’s for work”, and her reply struck me: “Just because it’s for work doesn’t mean you have to dress for a funeral!”
That’s when it really hit me: I was going to a funeral every day because I was dying inside. I dulled myself down to meet other people’s expectations. I hated that I couldn’t be my expressive, colorful self. After that, I did a 360-degree audit on myself, asking questions like “How do I want to feel?”, “What do I love about myself?”, and “How do I want others to feel about me when they hear me talk?”. As I worked on my authenticity, my speaking started improving.
I improved so much that I had professionals in my audience come up to me after conferences to ask, “Can you train me to speak like that?” I started taking on a few paying clients and teaching them to speak. Then, I started an online business. I built momentum, and within a year, surpassed my 6-figure corporate salary. Now, I work with professionals to help them share their message in a powerful way that their audience finds interesting, engaging, and entertaining… so that by the time they present their offer in a webinar, podcast, interview, or on stage, the audience is already sold.
My clients went on to have +20% conversion rates on webinars, make five-figures a month from their speaking skills, and sign clients and programs right after their talks. Most importantly, they’re able to do this while being themselves: dressing as they like, telling the stories they want, and speaking in a way that matches their personality while spreading their message. It’s about polishing, not changing, the way you are.
I built my business with one idea: to help people use speaking to change the trajectory of their lives. Because when you have a powerful story and a solution that can help someone, you deserve a stage and an opportunity. But ultimately, you have to be the one to create that stage when opportunity knocks.
Da Costa: What advice would you give to those who are looking to put themselves out there, but don’t know where to start?
Dr. Yang: First, identify your signature style. It’s not just about finding what to wear, but owning what you love about yourself and deciding how you want your presence to make people feel so you can become unforgettable
Second, pick your signature topic and story, then consistently talk about them everywhere. Be aware of each audience’s needs so you can tailor how you communicate effectively.
Third, use the power of your voice and body language to create a strong presence. My general rule is to “take space” – have an open posture, expand your hand gestures. Your body language and facial expression also affects your vocal tone. Smile when you talk because the positive upbeat tone comes through even when people can’t see you.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to stand out. Claim your seat at the table, take the spotlight on center stage. We all want to feel like we belong, and it might seem like blending in and doing what others want you to do is the easiest route. But whether it’s an interview, presentation, or a talk on stage, true power is knowing who you are and choosing how to present yourself when opportunity knocks. One thing I’ve learned throughout my own journey is that being authentic means you can show up, speak, and deliver your message in a way that your audience will truly resonate with. With one talk, you can change the trajectory of your life.