Eileen Smith’s instinctive insight into public speaking performance is built on over 20 years in United States diplomacy.
In addition to preparing senior leaders for key policy speeches, she has spoken to a broad range of audiences, including international organizations, advocacy groups, members of Congress, and the press. Eileen has a Master of Science in National Security Strategy from the National War College, a Master of Arts in International Politics and International Business from George Washington University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Emory University. Eileen also has a certification to skipper a 45 foot sailboat from the American Sailing Association.
Q: What is the best way to engage the audience?
It is vital to engage an audience right from the start. Forming a connection at the beginning will keep the audience interested and close the gap between the speaker and the audience. One way is to start by asking a question that can be answered through a show of hands or a round of applause. Another way is to bring up a current event or news clip that lets the speaker highlight why this issue is important to this audience at this moment. One of my favorite ways to engage an audience is to tell a story. Storytelling helps create a relationship between the speaker and the audience and gets the audience invested up front. Stories should be curated to specifically make a point and should be honed down to their essence, eliminating tangents and unnecessary parts of the story. We don’t want to send the audience checking their phones from the beginning! Stories can be the speaker’s own story, someone else’s story, even an historical or fictional story. As long as it makes the point and takes a clear path to get there.
Storytelling helps create a relationship between the speaker and the audience and gets the audience invested up front.
~ Eileen Smith
Q: How can speakers deal with being nervous?
The first step is to realize that your audience wants you to succeed. They are on your side for the simple reason that it is uncomfortable to watch someone who is visibly nervous. It is completely normal to be nervous. The key is to turn it into positive energy by giving yourself some affirmative self-talk and projecting confidence on the outside. The second step to reducing nervousness on the inside is to prepare and practice. Tailor your message to your audience. Then stand up and say it out loud. If a card or page of short notes helps build your confidence, then hold those notes with pride. I recommend that people stand up and say their piece into a mirror or videotape themselves on their phone. Even one or two rounds will take the speaker leaps and bounds toward a smoother, more effective presentation. And then project confidence like Superman, not Clark Kent. Head up, shoulders back. Strong posture. Smile. Make eye contact. Not only will your audience perceive this as confidence, but your body will send signals of confidence to your brain. As Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy says, “fake it until you become it.”
Q: Tell us about your focus on executive presence and body language?
As Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett says, executive presence is the missing link between merit and success. It is not enough to be excellent at your job and to have strong skills. If you don’t project the image that tells people to identify you as a leader - as someone with executive presence - you will have a hard time increasing the trajectory of your career. You may continue to do amazing work in obscurity, possibly with your boss or colleagues taking credit for your ideas and accomplishments. Executive presence, for the most part, is a physical thing. It is how we project our energy, engage with a room, and demonstrate outwardly that we know we have value to add, that we are confident in our abilities, and are looking forward to the next step.
If you don’t project the image that tells people to identify you as a leader - as someone with executive presence - you will have a hard time increasing the trajectory of your career.
~ Eileen Smith
Q: How did you decide to become a public speaking coach?
Last year I completed my career at the State Department, where I spoke in venues around the world. More importantly in this context, when I was Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of State, I coached her for speeches at the State Department, the United Nations, and the White House. She suggested that I could do this professionally. At the time, I didn’t give it another thought – I was fully engaged in my career pursuing United States foreign policy goals. When I paused to think about what to do next, I realized I have been coaching my whole life. I even remember coaching my college roommate for interviews. The next step was an intensive study of public speaking, executive presence, and body language that gives me a technical background to go with my natural instincts. My niche is in policy because my background gives me insight into most issues people are addressing, yet these skills reach across all sectors of business, law, and education. Public speaking skills affect the success of every organization’s mission and the trajectory of our careers.
Q: What is your typical speech coach training session like?
My group and individual public speaking coaching sessions are tailored exactly to meet my clients’ goals. I usually start with tips about public speaking, executive presence, and body language. For groups, I conduct exercises in small breakout sessions, such as an elevator speech or an impromptu speech. These small groups are big enough to give a participant a case of the butterflies, yet small enough to get personalized feedback. The feedback I get tells me how extremely helpful these exercises are for making concrete improvements in public speaking. For individuals, I make sure I understand their goals ahead of time and I review their background and videos of previous speeches whenever I can. When we meet, we have confidential conversations about their public speaking concerns and aspirations. Often my clients are able to have conversations with me that they are reluctant to have with their supervisors or in a group setting. Then we practice whatever format is most pertinent to them, often this means media interview skills, presentations, elevator speeches, and panel moderation. During the session, I give personalized, actionable feedback on what they are doing well and what they can change to better deliver their message.
The best part of this business is when clients tell me how extremely influential – even career changing - my coaching has been for them. I can give them advice about their professional images that their supervisors can't or won't. I work with them to develop skills that help them stand out and more effectively communicate their thoughts, whether they are speaking at a podium, a panel, a media interview, a presentation, their staff meeting, or even talking with someone on the sidelines of a conference. Public speaking skills are an integral part of our professional image.
The best part of this business is when clients tell me how extremely influential – even career changing - my coaching has been for them.
~ Eileen Smith