Have you ever watched or listened to something which moved you? Did it make you laugh, cry or cheer?
Sally Koering-Zimney has dedicated herself to coach speakers so they can move others with their messages. I met Sally through her podcast, This Moved Me. A couple of my friends had been her guests. Yesterday, I had the honor of being a guest on her podcast too. You can check out our episode here, where we talk about becoming better and how we grow as speakers (and in life in general).
I thought it would be fun to turn the tables on Sally and she graciously accepted my invitation. Whether you’re a speaker or are terrified of speaking in public, I know you’ll enjoy her insights. I’m a big fan of Sally – her work moves me and I believe it will move you too!
Meet Sally Koering-Zimney!
SS: Thanks so much for joining us today, Sally. How did you get into the world of public speaking?
SKZ: Thanks so much for asking me, Scott. I’m so honored!
I’ve always been drawn to “the stage” – whether that was playing school as a kid (and my insistence on being the teacher), doing theater in high school and college, to my training and work in speech in school and the professional world. I’ve always loved being up in front of people. It’s my “happy place.” I had a lot of success in high school speech thanks to some incredible, nationally-recognized coaches – so I learned the science and skill of it from the very best. And then I like to think that I evolved and softened those skills as a performer in theater into more of a craft. After graduate school, I found myself at a nonprofit organization (Youth Frontiers), working with schools and speaking to thousands of kids each year about important ideas, and learned a ton about what it takes to create a talk that has impact. Within a year, I was coaching our speaking staff there and found that not only did I like speaking – I loved bringing other speakers’ talents alive as well. Now, I am a presentation coach, speaker and host of This Moved Me, a podcast/blog about the art of public speaking.
SS: I’d like to dig deeper into your website and podcast, This Moved Me. What’s the idea behind the site and the podcast?
SKZ: I think ‘moving’ our audience in some way is the ultimate goal – whether that’s opening their minds or hearts or getting them to open their checkbooks to give to a cause or even to consider another point of view. But it’s complicated. I did some work in graduate school about persuasion that brought me to Aristotle’s three appeals: logos (logic), ethos (ethics) and pathos (emotion). I was fascinated by the emotive appeal. Perhaps because I myself am such an emotive person – but also because as I studied it, pathos was clearly the path of persuasion. It’s essential; without it we miss the opportunity to transform our audience. But it’s also the place of manipulation and over-indulgence, if it’s out of balance with ethos and logos (take, for example, political rhetoric). And yet – without pathos, we cannot move our audience. So, I have been asking the question about how we as speakers can “move” our audience for years, and really enjoying the richness of the conversation. I truly believe that a good talk can move the world – so let’s make them good!
SS: You’ve coached a lot of speakers in the past, Sally. How have you seen fear impact them?
SKZ: Fear and speaking – they are destined to hang out together. I actually love how Elizabeth Gilbert describes the relationship of fear with creativity: fear gets to come along on the road trip, but doesn’t get to choose the route or even the music choice, and yet you can’t kick it out of the car. Fear creeps up with my speakers at every rehearsal, every conversation, every performance. A big part of my job as coach is to guide the emotional journey of speaking – the vulnerability and courage of it. I used to tell my speakers that I think this whole speaking thing is 50% mental, but over the last several years I’m convinced it’s more like 80%. That means that your mental mindset and clarity can have a profound impact on what happens on stage – way more than all those hours you spent preparing. That’s powerful and scary. (Of course all those hours preparing help your mental mindset!)
SS: What does fear most often look or sound like in your life?
SKZ: As a speaker? It’s a quiet voice that reminds me I haven’t done enough to prepare (and I probably haven’t), that the audience might not respond, that I am so silly to even attempt this… “all the what-ifs” that can make us crazy. But fear and I have come to an understanding, and I’ve learned to turn it into excitement. You have to have a strong internal voice as a speaker. You have to turn the voice of fear into a voice of excitement or you’ll miss the opportunity to really enjoy the moment.
As a human? – Well, similar. That quiet voice I have to hush away so I can show up and be who I am with the people I love. I have three incredible and busy and mind-boggling kids who can really mess with my head (parenthood!), and if I’m not careful, I can let my fear say all kinds of things about the kind of parent I am, kind of person I am, or who my kiddos are… Am I enough? Are they?
Fear. As a speaker or in my life at large, it can sit in the car but it doesn’t get to make any decisions about where we’re going or who I am along the way.
SS: What has fear kept you from doing in the past?
SKZ: Gosh, that’s a good question. I still have a small voice in my mind that pops up every once in awhile because I left a prestigious MFA acting program one semester in. At the time, it felt like courage – an early realization that the professional acting gig wasn’t for me. I still believe that’s true – and that life has brought me to where I am meant to be. But it’s an achingly human habit to wonder “what if?….” That’s fear speaking.
On a daily basis, fear can keep me from facing difficult things. I like to be happy and to make others happy. Sometimes life demands that we have hard conversations and get uncomfortable. I’m working on being courageous and vulnerable and standing in my truth– which is often easier for me to do on stage than on a personal, one-on-one level. I’m working on it.
SS: What helped you become courageous in the face of fear?
SKZ: I guess I have a belief in the ultimate goodness – of people – of circumstances – of life. We have to tap into that belief as we sit on the precipice of fear and courage. I feel it every time I publish an episode: I’ve done it, there it goes, hope people like it, on to the next thing. I used to give a talk about courage to 8th graders – about following your heart (courage) in those moments when fear is telling you all kinds of things. (What will they think of me?) We have to believe it’s worth it to risk falling on our face for the possibility of good. And then sometimes we fall on our face. Oh well, moving on to the next thing. We can’t tie ourselves to the results if we want to get back up and try it again. That, and knowing that for the most part what we’re afraid of is totally survivable, and might just make a great story. So, go for it!
SS: If we have any speakers listening, what’s one piece of advice you’d have for them?
SKZ: Oh my gosh, one? How about, that perfection kills connection. Please don’t try and do it like so-and-so, or try and be like so-and-so, or follow the same path as so-and-so or obsess over the exact right word or spend hours making your slides perfect. I just want to see you. I want to feel like I know you. Please be a human up there. We are with you.
SS: What would you say to encourage readers who are battling fear?
SKZ: Just start. That’s the hardest part. If you take a baby step into the unknown that’s half the battle. I know it’s scary, but just start. Fall on your face. Get back up and reflect with someone about the fall. Turn it into a great story. And then try it again. Believe in the ultimate goodness of what you’re up to. We’re here to cheer you on!