Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Presentation Matters: Q&A with Catherine Johns

Catherine Johns
No matter what line of work you are in, no matter what your ambitions are, being influential at work or in your community is important to your success on the job and in the rest of your life. Looking for a job? The first impression you make on your potential boss and colleagues might make the difference between get the job or not--and if you get the job, considering the nature of our economy, it could mean the difference between being laid off or not. Are you a parent? The impression you make on your kids their doctors, teachers and coaches can make a difference in their welfare and relationships.

Fine tuning your personal presentation -- from your handshake to your poise in front of a crowd -- can be useful even for the most experienced person.

For those whose work depending on strong relationships and building trust with potential clients, colleagues or community members, Chicago has communications coach Catherine Johns.

A former radio news anchor, talk show host and morning show side-chick, Catherine now coaches professionals on how to be a stronger communicator and convey the messages that will attract business.

I've known Catherine for a few years, but thought it time to hear more about what she does and share it.

LFS: You offer a workshop, Seven Steps to Your Magnetic Presence -- one is coming up on September 12 -- for professionals whose success depends on connecting effectively with people in person. What do participants do during this full-day workshop?
Catherine: We zero in on the things people see when they look at you and the things people hear when you speak – I call them the seven dimensions of presence. These are the non-verbal cues we all use to make quick decisions about the people we meet. You know, that experience when you meet someone new and you just know that you want to know them better –- or not?
This workshop is very practical and experiential. It’s definitely not for someone who wants to sit at the back of a room and pretend to listen while secretly checking her Blackberry.

Imagine being able to understand how people are perceiving you, and why.  And then making some changes because you’d like to be seen differently. The workshop is about making that happen.
LFS: Given that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, how do you pinpoint what participants need to work on?
Catherine: Pre-work before the session gives me a head start. Then it’s a matter of observing and assessing once we begin. Knowing how a person believes she’s perceived in business and how she wants to be perceived, we focus on physical and vocal behaviors that will get her there.

It’s common for women to want to come across with more confidence, so common that I sometimes think this workshop should be called the Confidence Class.  So we adjust posture, movement, eye contact, voice … all in ways that convey self-assurance. On the other hand, I worked with someone recently who felt she needed to soften a bit. And she was right. As one of her colleagues put it, “I always felt she was talking down to me.”  She DID seem supercilious, and it had to do with the way she held her head.  Changing that habitual posture changed everything about how others saw her.

Private coaching can be valuable too; the advantage of the small group setting is being able to get instant feedback from others who can see and hear the changes a person is making. And with only a dozen people or less in the group, it’s intimate enough to be supportive rather than daunting.
LFS: What industries or professions do your workshop participants tend to come from?
Catherine: They’re women who grow their businesses through face-to-face interaction … and their businesses run the gamut from sales to physical fitness to financial services. Some are in direct marketing, some are franchisees.  A magnetic presence is an asset in just about any business you can think of.  In the corporate world I’ve worked extensively with advertising agencies, banks and professional services firms.
LFS: What do you say to people whose work depends on relationship building, who say they speak comfortably and confidently and make a good first impression, but are not happy with the amount or kinds of clients they've been attracting?

Catherine: Let’s say confidence is necessary, but not sufficient to attract clients.  I’ve worked with people who are quite confident and equally clueless about how people are really perceiving them.  Candid feedback can help in those cases – my job is to gently burst their bubble, give them an honest assessment of how they come across, and help them make some specific changes.
Focus on the Other is key. Presenters, networkers, sellers – we all need to get out of our own heads and tune into the people listening to us. As we connect with a particular audience, sometimes a subtle shift in our look or our language will make a difference in terms of who’s drawn to us and who’s not.
LFS: What other kinds of coaching do you offer?
Catherine: Some clients prefer private coaching to develop confidence and charisma, and sometimes that individual coaching is a follow-up to a workshop where they’ve laid the groundwork and now want to go deeper.
I do a program called “Getting Over Getting Fired” (because I have so very much experience in that area!) and growing out of that, I occasionally offer small-group coaching sessions for people in transition.  Possibly my all-time favorite feedback came from someone in one of those programs who said, “Catherine pushed us … but not over the ledge.”

With all the focus on non-verbal communication, it’s still true that your words count.  I help clients develop their introductions or elevator speeches using language that helps them connect with an audience and set the stage for a deeper relationship.

And I coach clients preparing for a specific presentation, up-leveling their physical delivery skills, structure, and content.
LFS: What inspired you to become a business communication coach?
Catherine: I hid behind a microphone for years, terrified about being seen. I know what it’s like to have that knot in your stomach, the tightness in your chest, the flushed face, all the signs of anxiety about being in front of an audience. There’s such a freedom in being able to stand in front of actual live human beings sharing your message and your mission … and delighting in it. I’m thrilled to help other business people create that comfort, confidence and connection in the service of growing their business.
LFS: So many of your clients have been women...
Catherine: Many entrepreneurs are reluctant to invest in their professional development –- in my experience, this is especially true of women.

I work with all kinds of people, of course, but this Magnetic Presence Workshop was created for women. I think it’s easier for us to work on some very specific habits in an all-women environment. And yet, every time I speak about it, the first people to ask about attending are…men.  Isn’t that interesting? At some point, I’ll probably do a session that’s not gender-specific. But for this September 12 workshop, I am looking for women who are ready to do the work so they can show up in the world in a new way and attract more business.
LFS: I think you're finding a lot of joy in your work.
Catherine: The transformations in my clients THRILL me. It's fascinating to see and hear someone make the shift to confidently talking about herself and her business, standing in her own power and letting her light shine.  And of course it's always great to hear, later, about the results people are getting because of the changes they've made.

Note: Some feedback from Catherine's coaching can be found on her website.
Fellow Skokie Chamber member Sally Chapralis talked to Catherine too recently.