Sheila Murray Bethel, Ph.D.
Chairwoman, Bethel Institute,155 Las Juntas Way,Walnut Creek 94597
Having emigrated to the U.S. from Croatia, the parents of Sheila Murray Bethel instilled in their daughter a fascination with leaders, encouraging her to learn about the country she was born into. Together they studied American presidents and lived the example of leadership in their community, starting a chapter of Girl Scouts, opening a library and a community center.
And through this, they taught her that exceptional leaders help people who have less than they do and to always observe what makes a great leader.
It's no wonder, then, that she grew up to be a woman who has worked on projects with four U.S. presidents, created and hosted two National Public Broadcasting television specials, was appointed to the Board of Advisors for America's Promise by Secretary of State Colin Powell and established the first privately owned business training center in Eastern Europe - not to mention she is a bestselling author and a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame with more than 3,000 presentations to over 2 million people in 20 countries.
With a Ph.D. in communications, which she earned in 1998, Dr. Murray Bethel said it wasn't her formal education that taught her how to connect with an audience, which is what makes a strong communicator. She had to learn how to use body language and words and how to deliver the message in a way that connects people and forms common bonds.
But she didn't start out as a professional presenter. She began in the health care industry, then moved to mortgage banking to better support her family as a single mother of two boys.
One day at a seminar, she heard a speaker and realized she knew as much as he did, he was just great at presenting it. So she called him and told him she wanted to get into the industry.
"You really want me working for you, not your competition," she told him. "He invited me to lunch, and I was hired on the spot."
After two years of using her sales skills to maje just enough to pay rent, she was told there was not really room for a woman speaker in the company. With only a high school education, she struck out on her own, convincing companies they should take a chance on having the first-ever woman leadership keynote speaker.
That is how she broke into the corporate world, which at the time had no women chief executives and only one professional female speaker, Dr. Eden Ryl, later to become one of her greatest mentors.
"It took eight years of 12 hours a day of work to get the guys to let me in," she said. "At first, eight out of 10 turned me down, two said yes. After about eight years, half would hire me."
Even today, she was just hired for five speaking engagements by a major insurer that said it had never had a female keynote speaker before.