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83. Don't Listen and Listen More - Jen Vellenga

In this episode, Jen V. goes solo in response to requests from listeners for communication tips and tools to speak…with presence. If you have communication topics you want to hear about, email Jen at [email protected].

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Hey, this is Jen Vellenga. I just listened back through the episode that you’re about to hear. I was editing and I realized how worked up I got. Just hot under the collar, fired up about this topic. I almost re-recorded, but I remembered a couple of things. One, you don’t have to be perfect. And two, my students always gave me the feedback that they loved it the best when I got fired up about something.  So I’ve left it. Let’s see what you think. 

Hey, it’s Jen Vellenga from the Speak with Presence podcast. I’m going solo today. My co-host JRT will join us next week when we interview Olivia Carter, who’s a standup comic. If you are new to the Speak With Presence podcast, hey, welcome. We’re glad you’re here. If you’re returning, we’re so glad to have you back and a big shout out to our clients in the Speak With Presence signature program.

I’m going solo today because you asked me, thank you for reaching out, by the way. You asked me for training tools around better communication and speaking with presence. Today is an episode on when to speak up and when to stay silent.  On the Speak with Presence podcast, we believe perfection is overrated, leaders listen, and we all speak up to influence change.

She told me she stopped speaking up. She’d silenced herself. This is a woman in a major leadership position making pretty big bucks. And she pulled me aside when she heard that I was a communication coach to tell me that she’d stopped speaking up in meetings. When I asked her why, she said, well, because of a communication coach. Which of course made my blood boil, because this person told her that her voice was irritating. 

Now this is something near and dear to my heart because I was told, and maybe even sometimes people think I have an irritating voice, and many actors that I’ve trained over the years have been told they have an irritating voice. Of course, they learn the tools of the trade so they can make adjustments to the sound and quality of their voice.

I find it very irresponsible for a communication coach to come into an organization, into a corporation, with high level executives and pull a woman aside to tell her that she has an irritating voice. And then continue to give her superficial tips around what she can do to change it.  Now I’m in the gender equity space and I think there’s a weird little oxymoron going on which is the idea that women shouldn’t be told to change themselves. The workplace has a lot of systemic bias that needs to be adjusted.

As a communication coach who works with men, women, and those who are non-binary, when women come to us, they’re telling us they want to learn new skills to communicate confidently in the workplace. So that’s what I’m here to do.

Back to my woman who was told that she had an irritating voice. Here’s what that did to her. It made her stop speaking.  The communication coach didn’t give her any tools besides telling her to lower her voice, which she didn’t really have an understanding of exactly how to make that adjustment to the quality of her voice. And P. S., it doesn’t really matter.  The way that this gets worse over time is that she now believes in her head, she is telling herself a story that she is not worthy, not enough to speak up. Still in leadership, but she’s silencing herself. She’s saying no to presentations or going on camera because she’s thinking my voice is irritating. No one will listen to me. She’s told herself a story and others now believe it because they see her opting out.

So, what can you do about this?  First of all, don’t listen to communication coaches who don’t give you any substantial tools to adjust your communications. Don’t listen when you’re told superficial advice.  You have the intelligence and the expertise to listen and decide for yourself whether the advice you’ve been given is from a place of irresponsibility. Maybe that’s not the right word. From a place of casual observation instead of expertise in the area in which they’re speaking. 

So first, don’t listen to superficial advice. And second, show up with presence.  Now, you know that I talk about presence. It’s what the name of this podcast is, is the name of our signature training. I believe in presence. I’m not saying I’m perfect at it myself. I’m saying I know it matters and I come to it from a place of actor training. Actors need to understand stage presence. But it can be translated into leadership presence, executive presence. There are many ways that presence shows up in our world.

For me, it just means being where you’re meant to be, when you’re meant to be there.  That means you’re listening, you know who you are, you know who your audience is, and you know what you believe.  And then when you have that and you can show up and just listen, then you can navigate and shift and change as needed because of your understanding of who you are, who your audience is, and what you believe.

That’s presence. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey. And when you go on a journey of gaining more presence, it’s always about listening.  Now that’s weird when you think about actors, because actors have to memorize lines so that they can speak, but they also have to listen. Listening is the absolute foundation of all performance actor training. 

How many of you have been to a meeting before, a leadership meeting, where an executive showed up and had an agenda that they wanted to push forward, and they didn’t really listen. Maybe they requested questions, and you asked a question, and they didn’t really answer. They just moved on and continued down their agenda because they had planned, we’ll even call it memorized, an agenda. What they wanted to achieve with their audience.

You were part of that audience. They want to influence you in some way, but they aren’t present enough to stop, listen, and make adjustments based on the feedback that you give them. Listen more. Listen more when it matters. And that means shutting off the brain that is ruminating about what’s happened in the past.

And the brain that is worried about the future. But be in the moment, arrive, show up prepared, and then just listen. That’s what actors do. They prepare, they practice, they memorize, and then they let that all go so that they can be in the moment and listen and respond.  Because if they don’t, the audience can tell that they’re not authentic.

They’re immediately taken out of the story, noticing that these actors are amateurs.  So if you really want to invest in being authentic, real, truthful, and present in your leadership communications, listen more, and don’t forget to listen less when you get superficial advice. 

That’s what I’ve got for today on the Speak with Presence podcast. We’ll see you back next week with an interview and my co-host, Jennifer Rettele-Thomas.  Remember, you don’t have to be perfect, and don’t forget to breathe. We’ll see you soon.

JRT will be back for episode 84 with, is that 83?  84.  Okay, you don’t get a whole bunch of times to try to redo this.


Jen V. & JRT

Jen Vellenga and Jennifer Rettele-Thomas are the co-founders of Voice First World®, a communication and executive coaching company. They train executives and leaders on the Presence Paradigm™, a communication technique created from Jen V’s decades of training actors to perform authentically, with presence, on stages, on audio, and video. If you want to learn more about how to speak and lead confidently, book a discovery call at

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Jen has been magical in helping me to identify my voice and my VOICE! The ways that she has holistically addressed my strengths and my areas of improvement have all made me feel so much more confident.

-Cate R.
Politician, Chicago, IL