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Speaker coaching, for love and money

As a storyteller, I thrive on helping people tell their stories — and that work is not confined to the written word. I embrace every opportunity to provide speaker coaching services, because it means helping people present the best version of themselves and the stories they want and need to tell.

Although I offer this service for a fee, I sometimes do it purely for the love of speaker coaching. Not only does it apply my extensive communication and storytelling skills, it gives me a chance to flex my muscles in theatrical directing, which I did for many years.

A white woman with blonde chin-length hair stands onstage in front of a screen that says "frank 2020."Of course, presenting public remarks isn’t quite the same as playing a role onstage. Speakers are putting themselves out there, with no character to hide behind. So it’s no wonder that some people are terrified of public speaking. Heck, even after decades of acting and public speaking I still get nervous before I go onstage. But there’s really nothing to fear, especially if you have a speaker coach to offer tips and insights that help you shape your presentation. When I presented a talk at the 2020 frank gathering of public interest communicators, I was grateful for input from fellow coaches and theatre friends. (You can find some of my other public speaking appearances here.)

Early on, I had a coach who encouraged my public speaking, and my coaching style is informed both by what I learned from the late, great Joel Silberman and my theatrical experience. Every speaker coach has their own approach — and every speaker deserves coaching tailored to their unique needs. I’ve worked with people who have never given a public talk, people who have given TED Talks before I worked with them and everything in between. I meet each speaker where they are, and there’s no end to the kinds of advice that can be helpful to any given speaker. Perhaps they need tips on stage presence or simply the confidence that what they’re doing is really good, although even the best talk can be sharpened by a fresh perspective. Or maybe they need help shaping and refining their content and slides. Like any good story, a public talk should have a beginning, middle and end, and it should draw the audience into the speaker’s world.

I’m proud to have served as lead speaker coach for the frank gathering for so many years I’ve lost count. That role means not only coaching some of the speakers but also offering logistical and coaching advice to my esteemed fellow coaches. That’s work I do almost entirely for the love of speaker coaching (and frank), as a pro bono service. At the 2023 gathering, I also had the pleasure of presenting a workshop entitled, “Get Ready for Your Next Public Speaking Engagement.” I was honored that fellow frank speaker coaches Mark Dessauer and Iman Zawahry joined me.

Photo of a short-haired blonde white woman speaking onstage, with the words "Netroots Nation" behind her.We began by sharing our own favorite tips for public speaking, and I learned from hearing how they work with speakers. In addition to my tips — let your true self shine and trust yourself; be confident — their tips reinforced the importance of structuring your talk for the greatest impact (there’s storytelling again), engaging with your audience and, whenever possible, including a personal story.

Then we broke into three groups and gave individual coaching to people who brought a talk they were working on. In my case, one participant had a piece that was already beautifully written and nicely presented. But there’s always room for improvement. It’s hard to describe the satisfaction that comes from offering some concrete suggestions (after giving kudos for what’s working well), seeing the “lightbulb moment” in a speaker’s eyes — and then watching them take that input and soar. This participant only needed some minor tweaks: consider pausing here, or emphasizing that word, or showing us more emotion in this section. Every time she rehearsed her short piece again, it got better and better.

It’s always a thrill to coach speakers at frank and others I’ve worked with, and although speaker coaches never tell who they’ve coached, I am grateful for the speakers who have publicly thanked me for my efforts. But I always remind speakers that it’s really all them. They are the ones with an idea they’re passionate enough about to present in front of an audience, and they are the ones who step into the spotlight to share their thoughts.

The way I look at it, I’m there to help them be the best possible version of themselves, offering whatever guidance I think they need and want to hear.

Interested in my speaker coaching services? Please contact me and let’s talk! 

Photo credits: Top image unknown; bottom image Anne Savage Photography.

Learning something new every day

As I head to the frank gathering at the University of Florida, I have many reasons to reflect on learning.

A white woman with chin-length blonde hair in a blue dress sits at a typewriter, holding glasses in her hands.Of course, there’s frank — “the gathering for people who change the world” — which I’ve attended for nine of its 10 years. Within my first day there nine years ago, I knew I’d found my tribe: people who are actively engaged in catalyzing significant social change. It’s work I’d been doing but wanted to do more of, and I soaked in every moment of the brilliant speakers, breakout sessions and opportunities to talk with people at all levels of the field of public interest communications.

Over the years, I’ve been increasingly involved behind the scenes at frank. At times, I’ve served on the steering committee and reviewed research prize submissions, but my most consistent and beloved contribution is being a speaker coach and, for a number of years, the gathering’s lead speaker coach.

As a speaker coach, I draw on decades of directing theatre and being a public speaker myself. I thrive on helping speakers shine onstage, but I greatly value what I’ve learned from every speaker I’ve coached. They’ve taught me fascinating things about the work they do, and the other lessons I’ve learned have been myriad, from helping someone overcome stage fright to knowing when to step back and trust a speaker’s expertise.

But my learning at UF doesn’t end with frank. That’s where I discovered the university’s online master’s degree program in Public Interest Communications. I’m graduating in summer 2023, and my experience returning to school after 30 years has been immensely gratifying. I already work in public interest communications, helping nonprofits, foundations and campaigns tell the stories of their work in a way that motivates others to act. But even when I took the required course in storytelling — my primary area of expertise — I intentionally brought an open mind and found there is always more to learn.

In every class, I’ve sharpened my skills and absorbed new ideas and insights from both my instructors and my fellow classmates. Part of the program’s appeal is that it attracts people of all ages from all over the world, making it a wonderfully diverse learning experience. And much like speaker coaching, the learning can be a two-way street. I was honored when I learned that a story I wrote for UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency)’s Innovation Service was on the syllabus for the Introduction to Public Interest Communications class.

Although I look forward to holding my diploma in my hands, I’ve been applying what I learn to my work after each semester. I’ve brought new ideas to my clients, inspired them to create value propositions, developed campaigns based on their goals that they can use if they wish — and sometimes, I’ve learned to think differently about how I approach my own work. I’m eager to bring all my knowledge to comprehensive campaigns in my ongoing mission to create great content for the greater good.

I have some idea about what I’ll learn at frank 2023. But there’s quite a bit I don’t know and I can’t wait for the delightful surprises frank always brings forth. I’ll spend the week there with an open mind that’s ready to absorb as much as my brain will hold — and there’s absolutely no question that I will learn something new every day.

Photo by LAF Lines Photography.

New beginnings, fresh photos

I don’t have to tell you the last year has been nothing short of surreal. But with my COVID-19 vaccination process nearly complete — plus the arrival of spring and a shift in my mindset largely shaped by everything that’s transpired over the last year — new beginnings are in bud. What better way to mark the milestone than by commissioning some fresh photos for my website, my social media pages and wherever else strikes my fancy?

LAF Lines Photography, aka lidija, has been my go-to photographer for every photo shoot I’ve ever done. Full disclosure: lidija is a dear friend. But she also happens to be an outstanding photographer. Her passion is natural light and she understands it in a way Georges Seurat would appreciate. During our shoot, she pointed out how simply changing how much a window blind was opened could shift the color in the room: reddish when the blinds were fully open and the bright light was bouncing off a neighboring red-brick wall; more yellow when the blinds were partly closed and the light was reflecting off the interior space. I think natural-light photography is a big part of why her portraits capture a person as they really are. That and her knack for making a person immediately feel at ease so their true self shines.

I’ll unveil my updated website and photos soon, but I wanted to pass along this sneak peek: a blog post from lidija that shares the experience — and a sampling of photos — from her perspective.

As far as I’m concerned, a photoshoot with LAF Lines Photography is like playtime. Although this was our third photoshoot in my home, she still found clever new places to capture different moods and moments. As always, I had curated music that makes me feel great, but it’s the creative collaboration with lidija — filled with lots and lots of laughter — that makes our photoshoots such a delight.

There’s something else, too. It was the first time I’ve had a friend in my home in a year. Because of our vaccination statuses and protocols, it was also the first time I’ve been able to hug a friend in 12 months. Just writing that makes me teary, in a good way.

It also gives me hope. We’re not out of the pandemic woods yet, but we’re getting there. This past year has taught me many valuable lessons about myself and life in general, and the arrival of spring makes me believe better days are ahead. You can see it in the photo I shared here, on a sunny spring day with the breeze in my hair. I have reason to smile. This past year hasn’t been easy for anyone, but in many ways it’s reminded me how lucky I really am. That, in itself, is a life milestone worth commemorating.

Get a preview of the results of our photo shoot over at the LAF Lines Photography blog.

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