Bess Gallanis is the founder of Speaking with Power and Persuasion, an executive communications consulting firm based in Chicago. She is a communication coach, speaker, journalist, a student of yoga and insight meditation and the author of Yoga Chick (Warner Books, 2006). For more than 25 years, public and private company CEOs, senior executives, portfolio managers, and financial advisors have sought out Bess to help them develop their leadership voice and to make an impact through skillful communications. She prepares clients for high stakes presentations, media interviews, and sensitive conversations. Bess draws from the universal wisdom of yoga and insight meditation as a model for Presentation Yoga, which emphasizes leadership from within, personal authenticity, and storytelling.
In this conversation, Bess discusses The Firestarter Experience (link no longer exists), her new workshop on communication and presentation skills.
Geetesh: What is the Firestarter Experience workshop, and who is the typical participant who can benefit from this program?
Bess: The Firestarter Experience is a fast and focused two-day professional development program in leadership communication and advanced presentation skills. It is for people who want to make a bigger impact, whether it is around a conference room table or from a conference stage.
There has never been a more exciting time in the history of communication technology. Around the world, more people own a cell phone than a toothbrush. However, human nature has not changed and it would be a mistake to think that all this connection results in effective communication. This is the challenge that The Firestarter Experience was created to address. It changes attitudes and behavior about communication as a relationship skill.
Firestarter is designed around three interconnected sets of attitudes and actions: presence, presentation, and performance. Over the course of two days, Firestarters develop their unique leadership voice and presence, create a compelling business story, and learn a few simple and powerful delivery skills that will enhance their impact. The program empowers participants with the tools and support to manage what they say and how they are heard. This is what creates a competitive communication advantage.
The format is really innovative. The workshop revolves around creating and delivering a three-minute business story. Most communication programs include video feedback. We raise the stakes by creating The Firestarter Experience, a presentation event that is modeled on the TED and Ignite conferences. We create an informal stage, outfitted with lights and mikes, where each participant presents their story in front of a live audience and a professional videographer. Today, every business communicator needs to know how to project a professional image on video and other technology platforms.
The Firestarter Experience is appropriate for high-potential employees who are effective in the technical part of their jobs and could make a bigger impact with improved communication and presentation skills.
It also is appropriate for anyone who is in the business of pitching ideas: entrepreneurs, innovators and consultants. These are the people who need to be weaned off technical language so the rest of the world can understand their brilliant ideas!
Geetesh: When you say “your communication performance can be a game changer – or a deal breaker”, what do you mean? Can you tell us more?
Bess: Communication ability is the most critical skill needed to stay competitive in your career. This is the conclusion reached in the most recent 2010/2011 survey results from the American Management Association, which surveys trends in the broad workforce, and the International Recruiter Survey, which surveys a global audience that hires MBAs.
What does this mean? Today more than ever before, your career success depends on the cooperation of other people. Value in the workplace is created through strategic thinking and problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, and creativity and innovation. Work itself is unstructured across organizational, global, and cultural borders.
An important moment in your professional development is when you realize that to get the results you want, your communication must be strategic and intentional. Effective communicators are in command of a tightly interconnected set of skills: self-awareness, emotional management, situational awareness, intention, flexibility, an understanding of human nature, knowledge about how people process ideas and information, persuasion, storytelling skills, and a little bit of dramatic flair.
Add to the list above a few new skills. Today, every business communicator must master a range of media, tools and formats to connect, engage and communicate with people. Sensitivity and specific training may be required to effectively interact with a globally diverse audience. Add in the pressure to demonstrate and articulate that your results meet your department’s immediate goals and your company’s broader business strategy.