For 47 years, Jeanne Robertson has kept
audiences laughing. Here are some of the
secrets to her success—and how you can
keep the phone ringing for years to come, too.
Boring. Rude. One-liners. Profanity.
These descriptions are simply not in
Jeanne Robertson’s lexicon. She doesn’t
use inappropriate language, and she’s
not a stand-up comedian with a pocketful of zingers. This 6’ 2” 66-year-old
humorist with a Southern drawl knows
what her audiences want— tasteful
humor that leaves them laughing. And
that’s exactly what she delivers.
That’s just one of the ways this
Cavett Award recipient, NSA past president and Toastmasters International’s
Golden Gavel honoree has remained
successful for decades.
“Speakers used to say that at a
certain point in one’s career, the phone
just stops ringing,” Robertson says.
“Today that means the e-mail requests
aren’t coming in.”
But that hasn’t been the case for
Robertson. In fact, last year, when a lot
of speakers and businesses struggled,
she had her best year yet.
A Real Miss Congeniality
Robertson’s speaking career began in
1963 when she became Miss North
Carolina and the Miss America
Pageant’s Miss Congeniality. She gave
more than 500 speeches that year.
“But even after all those paid
speeches, I never realized I could make
a full-time living as a speaker,” she says.
That’s when Robertson finished her
degree at Auburn University and started
teaching physical education and speech.
On weekends, she emceed beauty pageants across the South, where she
entertained audiences with original
“People began to ask, ‘Can you
string those stories together and speak
at our convention?’” she says. She
In addition to her weekend bookings, she often took sick days to speak.
But she had to turn down jobs that
required a lot of travel.
“You can’t get to Kansas and back
on a sick day,” she says. “Something
had to give.”
Realizing a full-time speaking career
was possible, she left her teaching job
and started marketing herself, leaving
her education colleagues befuddled.
“You can’t waltz in here and get a
teaching job again,” they told her.
“All I knew was that invitations to
speak were coming in, and I wanted to
accept them,” Robertson says.
Now entering her 48th year as a
paid, professional speaker (
including those moonlighting years),
Robertson’s career is a model for
speakers of all ages who want to stay