Learn public speaking that’s based in authenticity (and I just took this workshop myself)

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I just spent two days at TAI Resources getting speaking coaching. I was pissy about it the whole week before. I decided I didn’t have time to go. I mean, two full days away from the kids costs about ten thousand dollars when you add up the babysitter and the Happy Meals and the ten trips to Target for toys.

I told myself that I should be doing book events, not going to coaching sessions. I told myself that there is no way I could learn enough to justify two days of not answering the onslaught of email I get from my blog.

But every day I would see the “cancel TAI” on my to do list, and I didn’t cancel. You can learn a lot about yourself by looking at the stuff you don’t do on your to do list. Deep down I know that if I want to have a life where my job is to connect with people then I have to devote time to learning to be a good at genuinely connecting with people. I need to make room in my schedule for my big-picture goals. And TAI teaches people to connect. So I went.

When I got there at 8:30 am the first day, I had residual pissiness. And I stayed at my mom’s apartment in New York City the night before. I used to be the type of person who could not get along with my mom long enough to spend the night at her apartment. But I decided I was too old for that, and now we get along. The price I pay is that I didn’t tell her no when she made us a big breakfast even though I said I didn’t have time.

So I was late for day one of my training. There were eight of us. We sat in a front row of chairs. Behind us was the professional peanut gallery of people who critique speeches.

Gifford, the facilitator, told us to write for ten minutes describing our best speaking experience. “If you finish early, just keep writing,” he said. “Just write anything.”

I was relieved. Great. I wrote for about six seconds about my best speaking experience and then I wrote stream of consciousness. A writer’s dream.

I don’t know how I could be so dense, but I didn’t realize that we’d have to use what we wrote as a speech. At first I thought I could quickly rewrite something before it was my turn to speak. But I was totally captivated by Gifford helping the speakers before me.

Each person who spoke was a little bit terrible, to be honest. I mean, we are talking about stuff that is not that interesting, and we don’t really even know who each other is. But Gifford found a way to make a small change in each person that totally transformed them into an engaging speaker. So it was fascinating to watch this happen.

He changed one person’s tone of voice by having him do ape calls to the audience. He changed someone’s body language by having him hold his hands behind his back. He changed someone’s eye contact by having him play catch with the audience while he spoke. You’d think each of these things would make a person look insane, but Gifford knew the perfect thing for someone to do to learn a new skill about connecting.

When it was my turn, I had nothing to do but read what I wrote. I described my favorite speaking experience: My stepmother’s funeral. (I know, funeral. I know. But let me tell you something, I really captivated the mourners.)

Then I stopped.

Gifford said, “Did you write any more?”

He has me read it, of course. So I stood there in front of the room reading my stream-of-consciousness stuff about how I don’t want to be in the room and I hate group activities and I wish I were blogging.

And this is what Gifford did. In a matter of minutes he showed me how to take my speech about how I don’t want to be learning to give a speech, and make it engaging. He showed me how if I admit to my feelings and say them honestly, and with integrity, people will actually like hearing the speech.

All this in the first hour of a two-day training course.

We spent a lot of those two days “learning to land”. Everyone in the room knew that we were supposed to look at the audience when we talk. But there are so many different ways to look at an audience. Most people look without connecting. They don’t actually talk with a person because landing your eyes on someone and really talking to them is really, really hard.

And the amazing thing is that you’d think that if you are talking with just one person then the rest of the audience feels left out. But in fact, the audience feels more connected to you if you are connecting with someone – anyone – in the audience. One of the most valuable things about this coaching is that you understand what people do as an audience member so that you are better able to read an audience.

My favorite part of the class is that the room was full of people who are high up in their organizations and respected by their peers, yet here they are doing things that are very difficult – like, giving a speech about an essentially boring topic and trying to make it meaningful by connecting with people. Everyone looks awkward learning something new. I liked that part about all of us becoming vulnerable together.

I am a much better speaker from this course. And, because the course focuses on authentic communication, I am better at talking with people one on one, too; I notice more often the times that I am talking with someone but not totally engaged.

But there’s one more thing I learned from this experience. We need to make time in our life for coaching. Mentoring is one of the big differentiators between the people who get what they want and the people who don’t. And coaching is mentoring on steroids – very specialized and very effective. This is why I have the Coachology feature on my blog, because coaching has made such a huge impact on my life, and I want to share it with you. It makes a huge difference. And even yours truly, Coachology girl, almost didn’t make time for the coaching. So focus on the big picture goals in your life, and get coaching to meet them faster and better than you could do on your own.


14 replies
  1. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    Best nugget from here: your un-done “to-dos” are a window into your personality.

    Sometimes I think checking off everything on my list would be an act of faith…Has anyone else ever felt like that?

  2. Mike S
    Mike S says:

    I’m with Jenflex. That sentence about undone todos just jumped off the page (well, screen) when I read it. I just hope that I don’t have to cringe too much that when I see those three or four items that seems to never quite make it to the top of the list :)

    Great stuff Penelope, appreciate your insight.

  3. Mikeachim
    Mikeachim says:

    Terrific post.
    Public speaking techniques – something I’ve always been fascinated with, especially after working my way through the part of Steven Covey’s material that talks about the importance of listening and validation of someone else’s point of view.
    Public speaking as effective communication (speaking *and* listening)….yes, one day I’d like to go on such a course.
    You wrote this entry very nicely, by the way. Very engaging.
    I’ve heard (it may be a myth) that a good technique for checking the direction of someone’s attention is looking at their feet, where they are pointing. I always check people’s feet when talking to them, but I still can’t make my mind up if it’s a true indicator or not….anyone else know better?

  4. Kim G.
    Kim G. says:

    Just found your blog and found this information very helpful. I do some speaking in my job and ministry work at church and I’m always looking for ways to get better at it. I appreciated your comments on coaching as well. I’ve been trying for about a year now to get going with my writing and I think the one thing that is stalling me the most is a lack of accountability. There is always something else more “urgent” needing to get done but it allows me to hide behind the schedule and not do what I know NEEDS to be done.

    Thanks for the great information and encouragement to do what needs to be done(even when it’s not what we want to do).

  5. Barbara
    Barbara says:


    As usual, you seem to know just what I’m thinking about at various points in time…even what I need to do. (I agree with you and the previous responder about what one DOESn’t do on a To Do List.)

    I went right to the website of TAI and found it is also “The Actors Institute.” As a college professor trying to rivet restless undergrads to my lectures and engage them in class discussions,
    I would certainly benefit from TAI speaker coaching.

    Also, my son is an aspiring actor in New York City. I will definitely send this info on to him.

    I’ve already got my daughter hooked on your column. I’m sure this info will convince my son to subscribe.


  6. @MattWilsontv
    @MattWilsontv says:

    Hi Penelope, I was really fascinated by this blog post, not really sure why. You wrote a good story here and you were very open and sincere about the whole thing. Good stuff.

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