Walking through the office I felt my blood boiling, and it showed. When my coach approached me on the hallway he pulled me in the next available meeting room. He shut the door just in time. After ‘I cried my eyeballs out’ (as a friend would eloquently put it), I took a breath and all the frustration came out in one long stream. I was frustrated with myself to be precise. “I just can’t do this!”

I don’t know what it was about, but I still remember what my coach said to me: “we always focus on what we can’t do, or don’t do right, instead of what we can”.

That in itself is not so surprising. It’s how we are evolutionarily wired. Our minds naturally focus on the bad and discard the good. It was much more important for our ancestors to avoid threats than to collect rewards. Even though we are not in the savannah being chased by wild animals anymore, our brains have not yet caught up with that.

This plays out in many peculiar ways in our daily lives. Take for instance how we perceive ourselves, how we give ourselves feedback. In our modern virtual world video calling has become the norm. Before you log in to your Zoom meeting it gives you the ability to check your camera. Go back to the last time (probably today!) you did this – what is the first thing you notice? ‘Gosh I look tired!’ ‘That light really doesn’t work!’ ‘I should have…’  We are so used to look at what is not good. It’s called negative thinking, and it’s proven it has a negative impact on your health and well being. So what to do?

Acknowledging is the first step, being aware that you do it. Also notice that it is the first thought that comes up in any given situation. Try to be neutral about it. Don’t overshadow a negative thought with another negative one. ‘I’m doing it again!’ Give yourself some slack, everyone has these thoughts.

Try to take a step back, observe, and ask yourself what can I think instead? It doesn’t  mean you need to run around like Mohammed Ali I’m the greatest! (unless of course you are ;-)). Honesty and sincerity are vital. What is good about this situation? What am I going to contribute to this meeting? What is my mindset, my strength?

That’s exactly what my coach did when he made that comment. That comment shifted my mindset. I still have negative thoughts, everyone does, so what. Nowadays I’m able to take a step back, notice it and move beyond it. 

What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?  Erin Hanson

“I always know exactly what to say after an important meeting, not during a meeting!”

Does this sounds familiar?

I can not count the times clients mentioned this to me. A feeling of not really participating in a (virtual) meeting if you don’t speak. Of course it’s important that you make your voice heard, that your brilliant ideas are out there. And yet…

I always ask my clients: how many people on average are attending those meetings? Usually it’s around 8. Imagine they are all talking, all the time. What will you get done? Nothing. So what else is needed? People who listen, ask questions, pay attention to what happens in the (virtual) room. Not just sending, but receiving as well.

We all know the saying: people are listening to respond not to understand. In a world of constant rush and (learned!) need to be assertive and to speak up, to be able to truly listening to what is being said, is a rare skill indeed.

By challenging their mindset my clients are able to revalue what they are contributing to the meeting when they pay attention, and listen. This skill is called active listening.

What else can you do during the meetings you attend, when you’re listening? You can ask questions! Remember the best questions are the shorter questions. Ask your colleague to clarify points they are making, to sharpen their argument, or to make them think just a little bit different about a challenge they face. Not only will this help them (and the group) it will make them feel heard. And that will give you credibility too. So when you are ready to make your point, they are ready to listen too!

Of course now that we are all forced to slow down, what is curious is that a lot more people are catching up with the delicate skill of active listening. People start to observe more, the smaller things in life are becoming more important. I sincerely hope we can keep some of this, once lockdowns are slowly lifted. To find the right balance of being able to make your point and also to listen and be all ears.

“When you talk you are only repeating what you already know – but if you listen you may learn something new”

Dalia Lama

By Katja van Koten

“Um.. for our next um… session we ah.. are gonna look at these ah.. words, you sometimes kinda use in sentences when you speak. And ah.. these words don’t really make sense, ya know? They’re really kinda stopping the flow of what you kinda say, ya know? It’s um basically.. distracting for the ah audience, ya know.”

Who has ever been in this situation? You prepared your presentation meticulously. You know what you want to say, and then this happens? “Woah, what was I just saying there? That wasn’t what I was suppose to say? okay okay, relax, focus…” . All the while you stumble through what you were planning to say, talking an hundred miles an hour.

It’s isn’t what you are saying, it’s how you say it. You used a lot of ‘fillers’, with that I mean filler sounds, filler words and filler phrases.

All three variations of fillers are used in that one sentence above. Can you spot them? The filler sounds were the infamous ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’.  The filler words were ‘really’, ‘kinda’ and ‘basically’. And finally the filler phrase, it was just one small one; ’ya know’.

Fillers do not add anything to a presentation. They can even confuse an audience, and unsettle the speaker. So why do we do it?

As a result of our nerves we often speak too fast. That’s when we use fillers. What happens is it that our brain is trying to catch up with what we say. The time it takes us to process what we say leaves a gap, a space in our speech, and we try to fill that space. And the reason we fill the space is that we think we need to keep on talking to keep the attention of the audience.

Now that’s an important point, we think we need to keep on talking for the audience. While we forget that the audience also needs to process what we say. Realising that will not only help us eliminating the fillers we use. It will also add something powerful to our public speaking toolbox.

That is the power of the pause. It’s one of the most powerful tools you can use in your public speaking. It enables your audience to process what you’ve been saying, to make your point. It also makes you calmer and more confident as a speaker. I believe everyone can be a master of pause.

First we need to know where we can put a pause in a presentation. One way to practice this is to look at the plethora of speeches out there and see if you can spot the pauses. A lovely example is this speech: https://www.ted.com/talks/ric_elias

This was a very short speech given at a TED conference in 2011 by Ric Elias. He was one of the passengers of the flight 1549, who landed on the Hudson River in 2009. Here is an excerpt from that speech:

Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well, I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D. […] Two minutes later, three things happened at the same time. The pilot lines up the plane with the Hudson River. That’s usually not the route. He turns off the engines. Now, imagine being in a plane with no sound. And then he says three words. The most unemotional three words I’ve ever heard. He says, “Brace for impact.” I didn’t have to talk to the flight attendant anymore. I could see in her eyes, it was terror. Life was over. 

Can you spot the pauses?

There are quite a few pauses. In the excerpt alone we can add pauses for various reasons. We can add a pause if we want to emphasise something. Like right after “Brace for impact.” – to let the words really land (pun intended!).

We can use a pause before a punchline so that’s actually before “Brace for impact.”.

Or we can use a dramatic pause. For instance right after “I was sitting in 1D.”.

We can really play with these pauses and in the process of doing so, eliminate the fillers.

Once we know where to put our pauses we can practice it. To practice this for your own presentations you might want to consider this. When you first try using pauses, say in your head ‘period’ in the place of the pause (please only in your head). This way you get used to the pause, and even get comfortable with it, until you eventually begin to master it.

So next time your brain is trying to catch up with what you say, and you feel the fillers coming up fast, remember to pause. Not just for you, but certainly also for your audience.

For more info about my public speaking coaching services please click here

Send me an email to book your first FREE coaching session: katja@sparklingspeech.com

This 20-minutes session is a non-obligation, complimentary session that gives us an opportunity to get to know each other, build rapport, set expectations for working together and decide on next steps.

I look forward to hear from you!

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Interview Life Coach Directory 

Last month I was asked for an interview for the Life Coach Directory, one of the biggest online directories listing qualified or registered life coaches in the UK and Northern Ireland. In this interview I spoke about how to communicate confidently as an introvert and/or HSP (Highly Sensitive Persons). You can find the interview HERE.


Workshop “How to Speak Confidently and Authentically, as a Highly Sensitive Person”

When: 7th November 2017, 7pm.

Where: The Square Pig 30-32 Procter Street, Holborn, London, WC1V 6NX, London

Tickets and info: Workshop – How to Speak Confidently and Authentically, as a Highly Sensitive Person

I’m excited to announce my workshop for HSPs about how to speak confidently and uuthentically.

Many of us may think that being an HSP is a hinderance when you’re presenting. The intention of this workshop, is to show that being an HSP will actually help us and our audience. Whether you present in front of a group of people, or during a meeting at work, or even at a social event. Dr Elaine Aron mentions in her book that Public Speaking […] “is a natural for HSPs, yes it is.”

In this interactive workshop we focus on what in fact does make us natural speakers. How we pick up on the subtleties in a room. How we prepare our presentations meticulously. And how we want to add value.

Come and join me for this workshop, which is the first of its kind!

By Katja van Koten

At university I used to give around three or four presentations a year. I always wanted to give my presentations at the start of the semester, before everyone else. Not because I was so brave – I was just trying to outsmart my fellow students. You see I thought if I speak first than they can’t compare me yet with the other speakers. I don’t have to feel unsure about them being better. And, because I’m first, they might think I’m brave to do so and they won’t be that critical. Clever, isn’t it?

Well not really, for a start it’s negative approach. I’m not good enough. Sometimes I wish that I had filmed these presentations, because I’m sure now that it wasn’t so bad then. It took me nearly ten years before I had the courage to ask someone to film me during a presentation. I must admit I could only watch the video after two weeks or so, with the sound off! I couldn’t stand my own voice!

So why did I do it? I did it because I wanted to improve. And I wanted a different perspective. I highly value the feedback I get from my audience, and I wanted more. I wanted to see what the audience was seeing and hearing. I wanted to understand why certain things I said appealed to the audience – and other things didn’t.

One of the beautiful aspects of modern technology is that nearly everyone carries a camera these days. It’s so easy to ask someone to film you when you’re presenting. And once you’re over your first initial resistance and see more of your presentations you will note the differences, the changes, and your progress as speaker.

Nowadays, I’m not bothered at all when my presentations are filmed. It has learnt me so much about how I’m perceived when I present. No need for clever tricks anymore.

So are you ready? Lights, camera, action!

For more info about my public speaking coaching services please click here

Send me an email to book your first FREE coaching session: katja@sparklingspeech.com

This 20-minutes session is a non-obligation, complimentary session that gives us an opportunity to get to know each other, build rapport, set expectations for working together and decide on next steps.

I look forward to hear from you!

By Katja van Koten

“Never apologize for talent!” Madame Morrible exclaims to Elphaba in Wicked.

Wicked is a musical and prequel to the Wizard of Oz. It is about the profound friendship between Glinda (later known as ‘The Good Witch’) and Elphaba (later known as ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’). They met at Shiz University. There, in front of the headmistress Madame Morrible, Ephaba’s frustration about not being with her sister, manifests itself physically in an explosion. Elphaba apologises, but Madame Morrible wants to hear nothing of it (‘Never apologize…!’). She decides to teach Elphaba sorcery, and so the story began.

Never apologise for talent. It reminds me of one of the best advices I ever received about giving presentations and about being confident ‘on stage’. Don’t apologise when you’re presenting. Period. Why? Because you command the stage. I mean that not in an arrogant way, but in a confident manner. Note the subtle but distinct difference.

I can’t recall how often I hear presenters apologise when they are on stage, and this includes myself. Saying sorry after you stumble over your words. Or what about “just bear with me whilst I’m ….”? Even a sentence that starts with “Let’s hope… (my laptop will work etc.)” sounds apologetic. And the absolute killer “I’m not really prepared”. To all this I simply say: ‘Don’t do it!’

You learn three things when you don’t apologise. First it’s a practice in how to continue calmly and with confidence after a ‘mistake’. Secondly you learn how to keep the momentum. Apologising is always disrupting the story you’re telling. It undermines the authority you have on stage. And last but not least you will realise when you carry on like nothing happened – that the audience usually don’t even notice that you made a ‘mistake’! So why even worry?

I must admit it took me a while before I learnt not to apologise when presenting. And so to remind myself after I saw the wonderful musical Wicked in the West End I bought a t-shirt. The shirt has the memorable words of Madame Morrible on it. “Never apologise for talent! Talent is a gift! And that is my special talent, encouraging talent!”

Let me encourage you not to say sorry, but to be bold, confident and sparkling when you’re presenting!

For more info about my public speaking coaching services please click here

Send me an email to book your first FREE coaching session: katja@sparklingspeech.com

This 20-minutes session is a non-obligation, complimentary session that gives us an opportunity to get to know each other, build rapport, set expectations for working together and decide on next steps.

I look forward to hear from you!

By Katja van Koten

Recently I read an inspiring book about Eleanor Roosevelt. She is best known as the First Lady of the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. She was also a human rights activist who played an important role in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But that wasn’t all – the list is almost endless. She wrote columns. She was a teacher at a school for girls. She chaired many committees on women’s rights. And she was a much respected public speaker.

By her own admission public speaking was a skill she had to learn. Particularly after her husband, Franklin D Roosevelt, contracted polio and was paralysed from his waist. As a result she often had to make public appearances on his behalf. Unfortunately few of her public appearances and speeches were filmed. You can only find little bits and pieces on YouTube, like an interview with Frank Sinatra. What struck me when I was watching those clips was her warm and endearing smile. How was this important for her public appearances and speeches? And what can we learn from this when we present?

It’s often said that the eyes are the mirror to the soul. But I believe a smile plays an equally important part, a genuine smile that is. By smiling, you seem relaxed and confident. It shows your listeners that you are pleased to have the opportunity to share your ideas with them. And that you are interested in them.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s genuine smile made her such an endearing speaker. It gave a personal touch to the many valuable lessons she shared with us.

Of course it’s that genuine bit that is the crucial part. And that also applies to us as speakers. Apart from a clear message and a killer structure another crucial part of Public Speaking is the appearance. It’s the body language, facial expressions, gestures. Contrary  to what most people think it’s not about getting it right. Instead it’s about getting it right for you. It has to be a natural by-product of the unique thoughts and feelings you’re expressing. For instance I’m very energetic on stage, particularly with my arms. Rather than curtailing it – I use this purposefully as an asset for my presentations.

Don’t try to hide your personal touch, or even worse, apologise for it. Instead, as Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us:

“Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual – you have an obligation to be one. You cannot make any useful contribution in life unless you do.”

Eleanor did this with her smile, but what makes you unique? And how can you use your personal touch as an asset during your presentations?

For more info about my public speaking coaching services please click here

Send me an email to book your first FREE coaching session: katja@sparklingspeech.com

This 20-minutes session is a non-obligation, complimentary session that gives us an opportunity to get to know each other, build rapport, set expectations for working together and decide on next steps.

I look forward to hear from you!

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