Meet my greatest public speaking coach

Ingrid and Tetukas

My love for my father is deeper than the ocean.  I remember when he decided to retire as a VP of an international insurance company where he was responsible for handling the major claims which ended up in lavishly expensive court trials. He had made insurance law his specialty.

He called me from Philadelphia to say they’d asked him to give some talks to attorneys in major cities around the country before he retired.  He was coming to San Francisco and wanted to have dinner with me.

I was delighted and asked if I could come to his talk.  He told me I wouldn’t find it interesting, but I was very welcome.  I asked where it was and he casually said the Mark Hopkins Hotel and I said, “Dad! The Mark is a super fancy luxury hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco!”

That’s the first glimpse I had that his talk was important. The second was when I arrived and the hotel receptionist directed me to the ballroom.

He had already started when I walked in. I don’t know how many hundreds of attorneys were in the audience, but they filled the immense room.  It was a way larger crowd than I was expecting.

I took a seat in the back with no idea what was in store.

I was floored listening to him. At home he had never really talked much about his work. He had come here as an immigrant escaping the suppressive Soviet occupation of Lithuania and, although he spoke three languages, English wasn’t one of them. He taught himself English and created a successful career. We could see this somewhat at home, but he never really talked about it.

Watching him, I was staggered by his ability to communicate, his ability to captivate an impressive group of attorneys. He was effortlessly charismatic. Eloquence seemed to just flow from him. He wasn’t dramatic, but he had a powerful presence and dignity that filled the room.  His words, his ideas, were clear, compelling.  His pace, his pauses, his timing, his delivery were impeccable.  He was in complete control.  He infused the room with a quiet but rich enjoyment.

Even in that large ballroom, listening to the melody of his voice, you felt he was talking directly and intimately to you, as if you were in the comfort of his living room, sitting by a fire, slowly sipping a snifter of brandy (something I had the good fortune to experience many times).

The audience was utterly enthralled and so was I.  We all hated when it was over. The Q and A went on forever.  I didn’t think they would ever let him go.

The moment he was done, he was mobbed as a very long line formed to talk to him. He saw me standing off to the side and told everyone in line, “I’m so sorry! I wish I could talk to you but I want to see my daughter.” He took my arm and we left.

I had no idea my father had this amazing ability for public speaking. Without any bias, to this day he is one of the top three best speakers I have ever heard in my life.

We had a wonderful dinner and I asked him if he would coach me on my public speaking. I already had a career giving presentations, and even teaching presentation skills workshops, but it was evident he was much better than I was and could teach me a lot.

He said, “Oh, Ingrid! That would ruin our relationship!” I laughed and told him I really wanted his honest feedback and coaching.

I videoed a couple of my talks and when I went home to visit, we watched them together. He didn’t need to see much, I immediately could tell from his face he didn’t like them.  He was very reluctant to tell me what he thought, but I persuaded him.

He looked at me sadly and made a simple statement:  “Too much effort.”

I asked him what he meant and he said, “You’re using too much effort. You’re trying too hard.”

That was it.  He was done. That was all the coaching he was going to give me.

I realized he was right. I was trying too hard to be compelling.

I worked on that for months, created a new video and brought it home. He looked at it and said, “Better.  Still too much effort.”

This went on several more times.

It took me about a year to get all the effort out until I was communicating effectively, yet effortlessly.  By then I had learned about intention and I experienced an energy and a flow, a power – one I had never felt before.  I had a dignity I never thought was possible.

I took my latest video home, he looked at it and said, “Yes.”

Since then I’ve had many people say to me, “You’re a natural.”  I answer them by saying, “Not at all.  I made myself a natural.”

I’ve had many coaches throughout my career, many very good ones, but this was the most valuable coaching I ever received.

Simple.  Direct.  Focused.  Accurate.

The difference it made in my presentations was profound. He nailed the one thing that, once resolved, changed a million other, lesser important things and brought out my full talent.

In his late 60’s my father went on to become a trial attorney and successfully argued cases in court until he was 80, including winning a case judged by the resplendent Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  When he was 77 I asked him what had been the high point of his career and, after giving it some careful thought, he answered, “I actually think it’s ahead of me.”

There’s no way I can capture all the richness my father gave me in one blog.  Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually.

I just know he was the greatest presentation skills coach I ever had and I have dedicated my life to being that for others. To finding what it is that unlocks and releases their special powers to the world, just like my father did for me.  And to be able to do that in 2 days so it doesn’t take a year.

We spoke Lithuanian at home and I called him, “Tetukas”, the Lithuanian word for father.

As we head into Father’s Day, whether you have a father or you are a father, or both, or perhaps you are in my shoes and you had a father you will never forget who lives in your heart, I wish you a very loving and special celebration of this very extraordinary day.




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