Interview with Jane Atkinson: Professional speaker Coach

If you have a message you are trying to convey, wrap it in a story so that people will become more engaged and remember it’’.   

 

Jane Atkinson has been helping speakers catapult their businesses for more than 22 years.  As an agent for speakers she has represented speaking superstars Vince Poscente, Joe Calloway and Peter Legge, as well as best- selling authors and celebrities.  As a former speaker’s bureau VP, Jane has seen the industry from many angles. Jane’s book, ‘’The Wealthy Speaker 2.0:  The Proven Formula for Building Your Successful Speaking Business’’ is the perfect resource for speakers at all levels. Her latest book “The Epic Keynote: Presentation Skills and Styles of Wealthy Speakers helps speakers raise their game from the platform.

 

Research indicates that public speaking is one of the biggest fears people have. From your experience as one who teaches others to not only speak but earn from it – why is this such a phobia?

It’s the human condition to not want to look or feel stupid.  I think the average citizen is concerned about speaking in public because they’ve had a negative experience, or they might worry that they won’t know what to say when put on the spot.  A quick trick to overcome the nerves is to take 10 long deep breaths in order to oxygenate the brain.  The better fuelled the brain, the sharper and more relaxed you will be.

 

If someone wants to get over their fear of public speaking, where do they start?

Toastmasters is a terrific place to start to gain confidence and learn how to speak using some tried and true tactics.  The more you speak, the less nervous you will be and Toastmasters will give you an opportunity to speak on a regular basis.  There are Toastmasters meetings all over the world and many of my clients started there before they went professional.

 

Speeches have become a bit of a tick box exercise, something that people painfully sit through, seen more as an indulgence for the speaker- what purpose can a speech really serve?

A good speech can offer up some ideas and provoke thought.  An “epic” speech can be imprinted onto someone’s memory for years.  The first time I witnessed “epic” was when I saw Captain Gerry Coffee speak during a National Speakers Association Conference over 20 years ago.  I can still hear Captain Coffee’s voice and remember how he described being held captive in a Vietnam prison camp for 7 long years.  There are many speakers out there who can shake people out of their day to day perspective and give them a wake call – an epic speaker like Gerry Coffee will have a key message that you will remember for decades to come.

 

Speaking is the core business of leaders within organizations, an area that employees would argue can be improved on. What can leaders do to get better especially as they work with their audiences daily unlike the conference speaker?

One of the most underused tools in the business world is stories.  If you have a message you are trying to convey, wrap it in a story so that people will remember it.  Your employees are not moved by bullet points, but if you can attach a visual to it in the form of a story, they might become more engaged.  One of our platform tips is to make the audience or a member of the audience a hero in your stories.  Imagine if more corporate leaders made their employees the heroes of their stories?  That could be pretty cool (the key is to pick someone who is well liked).

 

In your book ‘’Wealthy Speaker’’, you make a distinction between a good speaker and a great speaker. Who is a great speaker and what do they do that the ‘’good’’ speaker doesn’t?

I’ll use Ryan Estis as an example of a great speaker.  When he shows up to deliver a presentation, he’s not collecting his paycheck based on that 45 minute presentation.  No. Beforehand, he and his team have done countless hours of research to understand the company, their culture and their needs.  A great speaker may receive the compliment “oh geez, I thought you worked for us” when they “talk the talk” of the company and really understand the business, the people and the environment.  That is the work of a great speaker and they make it about the audience vs. themselves.

 

How does a speaker ensure their speech is good and how can they confirm that indeed the speech has been good?

In my world, spin off is the bottom line to knowing whether or not your speech works.  If folks line up to talk to you and tell you that your speech was terrific, that’s one thing that builds confidence and says you are on the right track. But the real indicator comes when 3 or 4 people in the said line up hand you their card and say they know someone who needs to hear this same talk.  That’s when you know your speech is solid.

 

With over 20 years experience in the speaking industry what would you say has been your biggest learning that you teach others?

One of the things that I coach my clients on is pre-speech mantra, to really set your intention for the presentation.  There have been times in my career that I have been “bigger than my britches” so I’m constantly reminding myself to be humble, to be kind and to be there to serve the audience.  It’s easy when people treat you like some sort of celebrity to allow your head to swell.  But guess what?  The minute you get ahead of yourself, it will come around to bite you.  Stay humble and stay focused on them, and it will all work out much better.

 

You coach different types of clients. What part of your coaching is standard and what may need to be unique to the individual?

Pretty much everything is different.  That said, my process stays the same with each client.  It’s called Ready, Aim, Fire.  In the READY phase we get crystal clear on what we are selling and develop some marketing language we call a Promise Statement-it’s like a tag line.  Then in AIM, we make sure that the website is focused and that the buyer can see the outcomes immediately.  And moving into FIRE is where we roll it out to our target audience.  Outside of my formula, everything is different for each client – they all have questions and needs that range from soup to nuts.  Some need help picking a lane that will get them paid, some have Speakers bureaus beating their door down and need help managing their own popularity.  Every business model is very unique, every speaker is unique.

 

You make the point clearly that marketing cannot make up for a mediocre speech. What value should marketing bring to a professional speaker especially if the speech is the ‘’selling point’’ so to speak?

Some really great speakers are losing business because their website does not reflect their talent.  One of the hardest things to deliver in your marketing is a video that reflects how talented you are on stage.  Sometimes the energy from the room doesn’t translate over to video, or the shoot just doesn’t do you justice.  But also, a speaker’s website can really confuse the buyer if their messaging isn’t clear and focused on the outcomes.  A great speech may get them a referral which puts them in the running for a gig, but a lousy website can help them lose the business.

 

How do you handle what might be an expectation from some that as a coach to speakers you need to be a great speaker yourself?

Well, I although I do get paid to speak on occasion, it’s not where my bread and butter lies.  I’ve chosen to coach as my primary income stream because I don’t love to leave home. Although I’ve been married 8 years, I consider myself a newlywed and love spending time either here or at the cottage with my husband and grandkids.  And when I do speak, people can see that I practice what I preach.  I walk my talk.  I deliver solid content wrapped in stories. Because my audience is primarily professional speakers, I’m pretty transparent on the platform, so I’m teaching them how to do things while demonstrating it for them.  Fortunately most of what I talk about is on the business side of speaking, so I think that takes a lot of the pressure off.  Whew!

 

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

 

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