RapidChat: Zoe Carmichael on leading conversations with confidence

What goes into a good speech or presentation? Step back and let Zoe Carmichael, seven year owner and speaker coach at Zoe Carmichael Consulting, advise you. While finding common ground with your listeners is key, Zoe emphasizes the importance of seizing any opportunity to speak in front of others. While most of us find ourselves cringing at the proposition of this, "confidence, like any skill, requires practice."
What goes into a good speech? Step back and let Zoe Carmichael, seven-year owner and speaker coach at Zoe Carmichael Consulting, advise you.
Rapid Growth: What brought you down your path as a speaker coach?

Zoe Carmichael: My husband Grant was on the original planning team for the first TEDx Grand Rapids in 2011. They needed some help with a few of the speakers. As the members talked about who they could find who would be willing to volunteer a few hours of their time, Grant spoke up and said, “I think I know someone.” Me! I had been teaching communication courses at Aquinas College and had two small children at home, so my first reaction was no. But, I eventually gave in and decided to help. Turns out I really enjoyed learning about the talks and the speakers loved having a personal coach on their side. After a few more stints in volunteer speech coaching, one day someone pulled me aside and told me, “You know, you should really charge people for your services.” Thus, a business was born!

RG: Not-so- surprisingly, a large percentage of adults fear public speaking. Where does your confidence come from?

ZC: I’ve always enjoyed leading a conversation. I offer a deep level of empathy that translates into my classroom and throughout my consulting. I grew up in a home with two educators so being in front a room and learning how to create a positive experience for others seemed natural to me. I am an extravert. I enjoy being around other people. My confidence comes from the laughter and energy of those around me.

RG: Is there any element to speaking that that you personally struggle with?

ZC: I am confident, but I get nervous! I tend to worry that I am talking too fast or my listeners will not find value in my work. I am always glad when I’m finished! Having some nerves before giving a public talk is normal.

RG: What are some of the most common areas you find teachers, speakers, businesses, and students needing (speech) consulting on?

ZC: The people who hire me seem to struggle the most with organization. They are (normally) excited to share their material because they have something to say, but they do not know how to relate their experience to the audience. Narrowing their message into the allotted time frame seems to be a challenge. In my coaching, I try to remind the speaker (students or professionals) that their listeners are not mind readers. If you fail to present your message in a concise and compelling way, your moment is gone.

RG: Is there anything professionals can work on in their daily lives that could help build confidence within this arena?

ZC: Yes! Think “empathy” and “common ground.” Everyone should ask themselves, “What do I have in common with my listeners?” Build on similar goals and experiences and interests whether it is in a business meeting, a best man’s toast or a TED talk. I recommend seizing any opportunity to speak in front of others. Do not avoid public speaking at work or at school. Confidence, like any skill, requires practice.

RG: Growing up in a digital era, what are some of the issues you see the millennial generation facing when it comes to presenting and communicating effectively?

ZC: Issues: Effective presentations require time and preparation. Often times I see people try to rush the development process, give their talk and then wonder what happened. Face to face communication will always win over the digital. Introverts and extraverts alike will someday need to move away from their phones and laptops and look people in the eye.

RG: What is your professional advice to them?

ZC: Phrases like, “I’m just going to wing it,” are like nails on a chalkboard for me. My advice: Research, prepare and practice with a live audience. I do not recommend practicing in front of a mirror –trust me the mirror lies! Also, get as much feedback as possible before any major meeting or presentation.

RG: How do you define a successful presentation?

ZC: A successful presentation is one that the speaker is excited to deliver and one in which the learning objectives are well laid out and achieved. A successful presentation is one where the audience leaves feeling educated and informed, challenged and motivated, pleased and excited!

RG: What was the most impactful presentation you’ve ever seen?

ZC: I regularly show Simon Sinek’s TED talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I dare anyone to look away!

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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