It was kind of awkward, at the World Conference last month of the International Association of Business Communicators.
No, I was kind of awkward.
Jeff Ansell, a veteran speaking coach I’d never heard of through no fault of his, had told me he’d liked my “Speechwriting Jam Session,” and invited me to come see his talk. So I did. And in a conversation beforehand, I heard myself telling him that the trouble with speaking coaches is that they’re all the same in a way, and with a few exceptions—and I named them—I never know which ones to recommend over which others.
I know! What kind of a jerk—
Anyway, Ansell laughed and graciously said he hoped maybe his session would help set him apart from all the others.
And it did, because Ansell is different from many of the speaking coaches I see.
He sees communication as moral: “When a word is entered into the universe,” he said, “it doesn’t go away.” He offered thte example of a man 30 years later still wounded by an overheard comment about him, “That’s Bobby—his brother’s the smart one.”
He’s not afraid of sharing his techniques in the simplest of terms. How should one retain eye contact? In a meaningful way, says Ansell: “One thought to one face at one time.”
He understands human beings at a basic level. “We’re primal creatures,” he says to emphasize the importance of body language, “and so we believe what we see … more than the words.”
(And what is it that an audience wants to see? “Someone who looks like they know what they’re talking about and sounds like they know what they’re talking about.”)
And finally, Ansell sets himself utterly apart from every speaking coach I know by sharing vulnerable stories about himself, and his own desperate struggles with stage fright and panic attacks. Instead of presenting himself as a Sultan of Smooth, he stands there as a wounded soldier who has survived the war and wants to help you avoid the trouble he’s seen.
And his advice comes from that same place, too. “Never embarrass another human being,” he told his audience. “It’s an act of theft—the theft of esteem.”
Jeff Ansell, I’m glad to know you. In a world of speaking coaches and media trainers who are a dime a dozen, you’re one in a million. —DM