How positive communication can change everything

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Looking for practical advice and training from the world’s most successful speakers? The Speaker Lab Podcast features business tactics, tips, and strategies from the world’s most successful speakers. We post transcripts of every episode as resources to help you build your speaking business.

Maryalice: Hey everyone. Maryalice Goldsmith here, Director of Student Success, and today I’m taking over the Speaker Lab Podcast. It’s a true honor to have the opportunity to introduce you to some of our amazing students, and I promise you’re going to learn so much from their experiences and be inspired by their perseverance and success. Today it’s my privilege to introduce you to Marcene Sonnek. So excited to be talking to you today — I know you’re coming in from Minnesota.

Marcene: I am. Yes. Glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

Maryalice: I’m so excited to have you and for you to share your story. I know you’re going to inspire so many people who are listening. You know, we have a wide range of listeners, people who are in The Speaker Lab like yourself, or graduated like yourself and other people who are just checking us out and want to know — does this really work?

And so we love introducing our students to our audience because it’s your stories that really prove that this works, especially when you work it. So tell us all the things. Who are you, where are you from? What do you speak about? All the good stuff.

How it All Started

Marcene: So like you said, I live in Minnesota and I started with The Speaker Lab about a year ago, and so I’m relatively new to the system and everything.

I came in as a new speaker, so I didn’t have a speaking business prior to joining The Speaker Lab. I speak to people about communicating in a more positive way, which leads to improved job satisfaction and ultimately contributes to a more engaging work environment. So I mostly speak to corporate employee groups and young professionals — those types of groups. Overall, like I said, I’m new to the process.

Maryalice: So how did you land on that problem to solve for your audience?

Marcene: So about 12 years ago I found myself learning how to co-parent for my son, who was four at the time. And through that process I learned how to communicate in a positive way, even in difficult situations. And obviously specifically in that situation, I learned how to communicate constructively and effectively with my ex-husband. And at one point it dawned on me that if I could learn to communicate in a positive way with my ex-husband, I certainly could use some of those same insights to communicate better with people at work.

And so I put positive communication into practice at work and shared some of these insights with other people at work who would come back to me and say, “Wow, this is really interesting and really helps.” And as I reflected on my career later on, that was when I had some of my most successful time – when I put those insights to work for me. And so I decided that I’m sure other people could use this and how do I want to share this? And initially I was thinking of a book — that I would write a book — and then one day I saw a Facebook ad and it was Grant Baldwin talking about how he was going to have a live event talking about The Speaker Lab. And I thought I’ll jump on and just kind of see what this is all about. And it was a switch for me, just listening to him talk about the need for speakers and that he has a process to help you get into the industry.

I knew it was the right decision for me. So I signed up and the process kind of helped me develop the idea and so now that’s what my keynote is about.

Maryalice: Yeah, I love that. So can you give us a little insight — what’s one communication trick that you learned dealing with your ex-husband, bringing it into corporate, and now you’re teaching that to other people? Give me one of those. Maybe I could use it.

Marcene: The key is to always put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand that you have the power to make all communication, positive communication. It’s about wanting to and having the desire to. And so in dealing with my ex-husband, it was really about understanding that.

Even when we were communicating about something that we didn’t agree with, I always had to remind myself not to go into it wanting to win. You know, a lot of times we go into communicating, especially in difficult situations where we think someone has to win and someone has to lose.

It changes how you deal with another person and how you communicate. And so I think that was a big key in helping me to develop, especially with this keynote, and how it can help in work situations too. Because a lot of times you’re working with people that you don’t see eye to eye with, and you get into kind of a power struggle, but if you change the dynamic, it can make all the difference.

Maryalice: Yeah, it’s really powerful. And especially in companies, communication is so critical when you have multiple departments all working towards the same mission. What’s one tip you have for the listener who wishes their boss would listen to them more?

Applying Positive Communication Practices

Marcene: So one of the things that I talk about too is that when we’re communicating something, we think that of course our idea is the greatest thing in that everybody should feel that same way. And a lot of times when things don’t go well, it’s because we have set expectations that aren’t realistic or maybe aren’t taking the other person’s perspective into consideration. So when you’re talking to your boss and you do not understand why they just got so upset about that or why they don’t see it my way. I talk about taking a step back. You know, when you feel the conversation, you can always feel when a conversation is going a little sideways. So when it is, find a way to take a break and maybe even step back from the conversation and see if you can come back later because it’ll give you an opportunity to think through it.

You know, maybe it was that you brought it up at a time that’s not what your boss planned to talk about. Or, you know, maybe your boss was having a bad day. There’s a lot of things that can go into it. So I think from the perspective of just always taking time to step back and think about it from the other person’s perspective and what might be going on that’s impacting the conversation, that you may not have thought of initially.

Maryalice: Yeah. I find listening is probably one of the biggest issues, right? We’re always thinking what our next thought or what our next comment is going to be, and so we’re actually not listening to what the person’s saying. One of the techniques I use, especially when I’m coaching — because it’s really important to listen when you’re coaching — I will have a notepad and a pen and paper in front of me, and I’ll make sure that I’m writing down what they’re saying. It might not be the whole sentence, but it’ll be the key critical things so that I could process, I try to then ask a better question and hold the space, and then really, really listen. Because if I’m just responding, then I’m actually not listening. I’m just responding.

So for you to take all of this from a situation that was probably a little stressful at the time and see that there was something here — I think that’s really powerful and for those who are listening that say, I love to speak, I just don’t know what I would speak about, it’s possibly right in front of you. You just have to take that step back like Marcene has and say, you know, this could really impact this population of people or corporations or what have you.

So I love that. So now that you’re out there and you’re speaking, you’re getting in front of corporations, you’re talking about the power of communication. What kind of impact do you feel like you’re having? What are you seeing?

Marcene: Well, I think an experience that I actually just had a few months ago that really kind of put it into perspective for me and made me realize that I’m doing the right thing, was that I had someone contact me because they were having a teacher appreciation event. And this was obviously, you know, what we call post pandemic, which a lot of teachers are still dealing with. But she had contacted me because she said her teachers really needed an energy boost and they were just exhausted. And she said that she had seen something on my website that really resonated with what she felt the teachers needed.

And she said, “I saw the phrase, “learn to make lemonade from life’s lemons.” And in my keynote I talk about how we have a lot more control over our communication than we realize and we have the power to make interactions with other people positive. And so I use an analogy of having a lemon in your hand, and when you’re interacting with someone and you kind of feel the conversation going sideways or the interaction, you have a choice to make that you can either leave it a lemon and it’ll probably leave the sour taste in your mouth. Or you can do some of the things I talk about and choose to make lemonade out of that lemon.

With this group of teachers, I talked about how important it is for them because they have little ones listening to them and they really feed off of their energy. And if they demonstrate that positivity and choose to make lemonade, they’re going to create an atmosphere for everyone and it becomes a positive environment for everyone.

And then about a week after the event, the organizer sent me a thank you note and she was telling me how often she hears the teachers that when something happens that is maybe negative or someone is having a bad day, that another teacher will say, “Now, are you going to choose to make lemonade?” And that just warmed my heart, right?

That’s when you know that you’re not only communicating something that resonates, but they’re able to take it back and use it in their day to day life to make the day a little better, hopefully. So that was one point when I got that feedback that I thought, I’m doing the right thing. I’m making a difference.

Maryalice: That’s so awesome. I really love that because we take a risk — we build these businesses and you don’t know if people are going to be picking up what you’re putting down with all of this and sort of get that feedback. It’s motivation to keep working at the business and get in front of people.

So now that you went through the program, you went through our lead booked and paid to speak program, you got all the resources, you have this speaking business. What do you do daily to work the speaking business and nurture it?

The Day to Day of Building a Speaking Business 

Marcene: Yeah. So, you know, I think the biggest part of this is I really leaned into when Grant talks about — The Speaker Lab is easy in terms that it takes you through the steps. That part is easy, but you still have to do the work. And so what I committed to from the beginning is that going through the program, I’ve gone through that. And so now what I do on a daily basis is each evening, depending on the day, you know what’s going on in my life, I commit one to two hours to the process.

And so most nights it means that I am filling my pipeline, looking for new leads, reaching out to people that I have maybe communicated with before, but need to follow up. So definitely on a daily basis working on the pipeline, that’s key. The second part is that I try to develop content. And I did develop a content calendar at the beginning of the year just to kind of help me stay on task. So just developing content that I can use on my Twitter feed and on my website.

So I talk in my keynote about four key insights, and so there’s maybe something that I come across that I think would actually fit nicely to add to that insight. So I’ll maybe develop a blog post for that and then also go take a look at my keynote to see if it is something that I want to work into. So I’m always kind of honing and working on content in general. And that way when I get a new contact or someone wants me to speak and they maybe have their audience who is a little different than who I’ve spoken to before, I need to do some adjusting. So I’ve got lots of content that I can review and use to really tailor to that audience. So those are the things that I am doing on a daily basis just to keep working the business side of it. I also try to regularly touch base with people I know and kind of remind them what I’m doing too.

Maryalice: Yeah, it’s so important — you’re a star student, well done — but it is so important to remember that there’s multiple aspects of a speaking business, right? You have the art of speaking, you have the entrepreneurship of owning a speaking business and the things that you need to do, the systems and processes that you need to do to nurture that business. But one of the things that is often overlooked is the last point that you mentioned — connecting with people that you know and are in your network.

The neighbor that you’ve lived next door to for 15 years that can get you in front of your first audience and will happily get you in front of your first audience — especially if you let them know what you’re doing.  Just reaching out to people and saying, “Hey, just want to update you. I went through this professional speaking program. I know what I’m doing now, and I honed in on my message. Do you or anyone you know need someone to come and speak about this topic? And here’s some of the transformations this talk can offer. And so many people are so glad you reached out.

Marcene: And I think to that point, the other thing that I do on a weekly basis is continue to keep in touch with some of the groups through The Speaker Lab. There’s the weekly group meetings and things like that because that also really helps with that little doubt that can sneak in. And when you’re talking to people who are kind of going through the same thing on a regular basis, it kind of keeps that at bay. And that’s a huge part of it too is really staying in the right mindset and staying positive.

Maryalice: So I know you went through the program, your speaking business is growing, but there’s also other things that are developing from this. So talk a little bit about that.

Marcene: Well, like I said my initial idea was a book. And as I was working on that, I was struggling. Because that feels like a huge thing — like how do you even do that? And that is something that was covered in, you know, in the coursework too. So that is something that I did finish. I have a book now that I can use when I’m doing training and also when I do keynotes — to sell or sometimes do giveaways and things like that.

Another aspect is that I started off with doing a keynote, and as I developed the keynote around my four insights, I developed some training sessions with those four key insights. So I can offer that if someone says, “Well, we already have our keynotes booked” — then I’ll typically follow up and say, “Do you have all of your breakout sessions booked as well?” These are two areas that I never even thought about before going through The Speaker Lab.

Maryalice: It’s finding different ways to get your message out there — and it helps build credibility too, you know? And that’s really important of course as you’re building a speaking business.

Uh, we have a lot of students that come in and they’ll say, “What do you mean I need more than one talk? And so it could feel really overwhelming, right? So you have these four insights. What are the four insights?

Marcene: So the four insights are: understanding the resources you have available and how to use them, understanding that sometimes you may be able to do it, but you need to ask yourself, should you be doing. The third is understanding how grace and gratefulness plays into communicating in a positive way, and the final one is understanding how being present in the moment kind of plays into communicating in a positive way. So those are the four key insights that are kind of the basis of my keynote.

Sometimes I have to adjust my keynote to my audience. But overall it’s really about having a foundation and then being open to evolving it when you need to because not everybody is going to want the exact keynote and, you know, depending on what their theme is, there might be aspects of your keynote that really resonate.

Maryalice: Yes, and that’s part of the art of speaking and it’s something we go into often because there’s no guarantee of how long a keynote is going to be. And so knowing your content is really important. The other thing that you were mentioning way earlier when we were talking about having content and tweaking things is that it’s kind of like clay, right?

You’re constantly molding it and shifting it and changing it and gathering more content.

Marcene: And to your point, I have that in my arsenal now. So if someone needs some interaction or anything like that, I’ve got some tools to use for that as well. So it’s just always thinking about different ways that you might be presenting your information and what would make it better and what might make it more interactive and resonate with people.

Maryalice: Yeah, I could definitely see you doing some role playing for the communication type of things that could be really powerful. Love that for you. So here you are and we have to hone in on your book that you wrote overnight, right? Let’s talk about it.

Writing a Book…and Other Resources!

Marcene: Honestly, you know, I kind of had an outline written before and I’d written a few chapters, but I just didn’t know how to organize it. And one of the things that’s talked about at The Speaker Lab is a tool called Scribner, and it’s basically like Microsoft Word except that it’s specifically designed to write a book. And so it helps you organize the chapters and as I started, I really used my keynote as an outline and made each section a chapter and then added to it. And that tool kind of helped me organize it so that it just flowed out of me a lot.

I’d been thinking about it for probably three years. Once I found that tool and worked on it, I got it done within probably four months.

I self-published it, so I do have it, it’s on my website. And then in the fall, I plan to add to it. I’m finding some new ideas and things, and then I think at that point I’ll probably publish it more broadly.

Maryalice: That’s really such an accomplishment. I’m sure like so many people listening it kind of goes hand in hand. A lot of people are not building their speaking businesses because they think they need to have a book. And you prove the point that no, you could, you could go for it and the book will come or not. Maybe you’ll decide not to write a book. A lot of people have done that.

Marcene: As you go through the process, you’ll figure out if you need a book or if you need a blog or those kinds of things. And what I found is that part of it is kind of going through the process that helped me to let go of what I thought I needed to do. I let the process work and it kind of flowed, you know? I don’t know how else to explain it, but it just was something that felt so good to know. If I put the work in, it’s going to happen and then I’ll know what to do when those decisions need to be made, whether they’re the right thing at the right time.

It’s a process. It’s so much more than I ever could have imagined. But you have to take the risk. You have to go for it. I think that’s the hardest thing sometimes, our fear of doing the right thing? Should I be doing this now? What are the pros and cons? And sometimes you just gotta let go, you know?

The Speaker Lab Difference

Maryalice: But when you really truly believe in yourself and you know that you’re meant for it, you’re not going to let anything hold you back. And so you know, you have to find out what you don’t know so that you can start implementing the right steps to condense time so you can get on those stages and write the books and fulfill your dreams of having your own business.

Kudos to you for not only just saying yes. But really being open and available to all of the resources and for lack of a better word, really being a sponge and taking everything in and executing step by step and not these huge leaps and bounds. But really honoring the process and taking it step by step because that’s what breeds success.

Marcene: Yes, and what I found is that once I got over that initial excitement and kind of, you know, calm myself down a little bit, if you will, I really enjoyed the process.

Maryalice: Right. Definitely. Well, I think too, for you, because you went through the process in the manner that you’re saying, you trusted the process, you went through it as it’s designed, you know, our number one goal is to get you focused on the problem that you’re solving, right? And when you have that clarity, I was talking to somebody today about that — it’s amazing when a student has the clarity and they could see where this can possibly go, they become unstoppable. But when a student skips and tries to hop and just wants leads and just wants this, they’re the ones who get frustrated.  It’s frustrating because you’re not doing the process as it was designed. And when we get them to follow suit, it’s amazing how they have that clarity and they have that confidence.

Marcene: But the first part of the process is — what are you going to talk about and why should they care? And where my message was when I started is much different than it is today. You know, like I talked about earlier, my story kind of starts with learning how to co-parent. So I was going through a difficult time, going through a divorce and all of that, and I had a lot of that in my keynote in the beginning. And as I went through the process it really helped me hone down  — okay, it’s not about the divorce, it’s not about co-parenting, it’s about those insights I learned and how they applied beyond. And so that was a big “aha” for me as well.

Maryalice: Yeah, that’s huge. And that’s where the coaching and being available for the coaching really makes a difference.

Marcene: Definitely. And there were parts of it at times when I would get feedback and think I’m not sure why the audience would care about this. And because it was personal to me, I would have to process through that. But when I did let go and find out what the real message was that that did resonate, it felt a lot better. But sometimes you do have to let go.

Maryalice: I know you’re going to inspire so many people, especially people who are on the fence of taking that leap into building a speaking business. Hopefully you got some people off the fence. But we really appreciate you. We’re celebrating you and so glad you could join us.

Marcene: I’m very excited. And you know, I thank you so much too for the process and all of the encouragement and everything. This has just been a great experience and if you’re thinking about it, just do it. Take a leap of faith.

Maryalice: There you go. Thanks everyone. Hope you have a great day.

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