#51 Practice, Passion, Poise

Today's Guest: Dr. Denny Coates

Today, I interview Dr. Denny Coates, who was a very driven child, always striving to be a high achiever and to be the best among his peers. Much later in life he became a compelling speaker, and this was only after he faced a reality that he did not know how to engage his listeners.

His years of hard work opened the door to West Point, and he found himself with a prestigious military career, where he excelled as a leader– and loved it. He loved learning from those around him and being constantly challenged to humbly improve himself.

After the conclusion of his time with the military, Denny became passionate about teaching others to become better leaders, as well as the way that children develop into adults who are on a path to success and confidence. He was able to pass on his knowledge in a clear and direct way, but says that when it came to speaking, “it’s a whole different challenge.” He felt that his message was important, and he didn’t have any struggles in delivering his thoughts, but he also felt that he was neither popular nor engaging as a speaker. He wanted to be more likable and moving.

He understood the importance of learning how people actually learn. Knowing this would help his listeners to grasp the concepts and be able to actually form new habits and change their behavior. His excitement grew when he figured out the way the brain connects to the body, with neurotransmitters remembering our movements the more we practice them, allowing us to perform in a more rhythmic, natural way.

His passion for this– and practicing it himself– gave him the confidence and enthusiasm needed to become a compelling, energetic speaker. Today, he shares his heart for development by putting the focus on children. His books and programs help to shape kids into successful individuals who have good habits, special goals, high standards, a strong mindset, and a clear path forward.


Dr. Coates is the author of several books for parents, including How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain, and Connect with Your Kid. His passion is helping parents guide their children to become happy, successful, independent adults. Ebook: Listening to Understand, https://drdennycoates.com/free/ .

Find Denny here: drdennycoates@gmail.com

https://www.prostarcoach.com/ (more online coaching systems)

Watch the episode:

Connect with Dr. Denny Coates

Transcript of Interview

Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast

Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing

Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com


Episode #51 Dr. Denny  Coates


“Practice, Passion, Poise”


(00:03) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing and I’m psychologist and host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. I get to invite guests who have a story, they sometimes felt like they didn’t have a voice growing up for different reasons and usually somewhere along the line, they get to learn a lot, a lot about what voice means to them and how to use it. Today, I get to interview Dr. Dr. Denny Coates, who is the author of several books for parents, including How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain and another book, Connect with Your Kid. His passion is helping parents guide their children to become happy, successful, independent adults. I remember hearing Denny, one thing that you did say, we are adults raising adults. So, welcome. Welcome today.


(01:35) Dr. Denny Coates 

Thank you. Glad to be with you.


(01:38) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Well, before you became an adult, you were a child. One of the things that I do here, first of all, is just to have people reflect back, because that’s usually a time when we first become aware of ourselves and start developing this sense of self around what we can and cannot say, if you could just reach back and share any kind of memories of what it was like to find your voice or finding your voice.


(02:13) Dr. Denny Coates 

Well, from the very first day that I went to school, in the first grade, I had a passion that I of course didn’t understand. It was only seven years later that I began to understand it. The passion was, I want to be recognized as the best kid in this class. That was it. At the end of my first year, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Stone, acknowledged me. So, I just continued all the way through school until I was valedictorian. But I would say, I had friends, my dad was in the army. So, we moved around a little bit. I experienced what it’s like to move away from your friends and make new friends and I would make one good friend in the first year and another couple more friends in the second year. The third year, I would be the president of the class. That’s kind of how it went, you know. But I really was an A student kind of guy, kind of an intellectual. That’s how I saw myself and that’s how people saw me and the good thing because I created this portfolio that allowed me to get an appointment to West Point, which was a game changer for me. I got a wonderful school and I got to be around all kinds of guys who were smarter than I was. Which was a humbling experience. I had my military career, mostly in leadership and survived the whole thing. I studied leadership, I didn’t just do it. I wanted to know about what people said leadership was. So, by the time I retired, I felt I was ready to help other managers, executives and so forth become better at leadership. So, I formed this consulting firm and I’m still working at it. Only I’m not consulting anymore. We created products that we sell. So, we’re a product company, online products. About 10 years ago, I decided, I’m really interested in kids. So, how do kids become really good adults, strong adults. So, helping parents do that. Now, after retirement, I became fascinated with what is learning? I mean, really, not in a philosophical sense, not basically, in any kind of biological, physical, scientific sense, what happens in the learning part of the body, which is the brain. So, I didn’t know and I just really wanted to find out. So, I read about 200 books a year, trying to figure this out and I did. I learned what the brain does to learn, and especially in skill development. Because in our business, we try to help people learn skills. So, what is that? Now my voice, I have a writing voice and it’s straightforward. It’s realistic and not flowery. It’s a kind of tell the truth, sort of style. That’s what I do. But in speaking, it’s a whole different challenge.


(06:42) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Well, I would say that all of what you’ve just said so far, and what I’ve heard you on other people’s podcasts that you do have straightforward, clear, reflective, thoughtful. That’s my sense of you already is your voice. If you’re going to say something else about your speaking voice and talk about that.


(07:08) Dr. Denny Coates 

Well, I had opportunities to speak early on in my civilian business. But I wasn’t that concerned about it, even though I didn’t think of myself as a popular or engaging speaker, I just had some things to say. But if you asked me, did people love me? I’d say I don’t think so. I think I was a little boring, I was just up there saying what I know. I didn’t really have a good speaking voice. But when I began to understand what’s involved in learning skills, I mean, really, so that you actually do it. Then I understood that organizations, executives and leaders, and even in those human resources they don’t get it, either. They don’t know. They’re putting all these programs that are related to skill building, but they have no clue as to what skill building really is, and how it works. So, wow, I need to tell them. So, I became passionately interested in sharing this neurocognitive understanding of how you structure learning programs so that people actually learn because a whole lot of money is wasted on excellent presentations that don’t result in change. Because they can’t, that what has happened is entertaining and high quality, but it’s often not what a person needs to change their behavior.




(09:10) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Yes, I understand what you’re saying there that somebody can– it’s almost like watching a performance and yet if the purpose is to help people learn and change, there’s a whole another dynamic that needs to go on.


(09:25) Dr. Denny Coates 

Yeah, that’s right. I’ll tell you what it is. I’ve shared this so many times that I think I can boil it down to maybe 30 seconds. When you learn to– do play golf or tennis or anything like that.


(09:45) Dr. Doreen Downing 

I don’t play golf as such, although I have golf clubs and I’ve gotten to the driving range and a couple of times I have played golf and actually, truthfully, my husband’s mother was a national champion. So, he is and I, the first time we went to a golf course, he tried to teach me and I just said, oh, please just let me hit it I’ve played miniature golf before. So, for me, what I needed to do first was just to feel the club kind of get a sense of what a swing felt like, before somebody started to teach me I had to kind of, okay, this is a golf course. So, anyway, tell me more about learning a skill.


(10:30) Dr. Denny Coates 

Oh, that’s great. Because you know that in golf, you have to hit it off the tee. So, you drive it off the tee, you have to be able to hit it out of tall grass, you have to aim it at the green. When it gets on the green, you have to be a good putter or might go into sand trap and there’s all kinds of challenges in sand. So, turns out that golf has many sub skills. When I was a kid, I loved playing golf, I was the captain of my golf team. I would play golf, every single day, I lived across the fence from a golf course. Sometimes I play two rounds in a day. In the winter if it’s snow, then I wouldn’t play. I mean, you could, you could get red golf balls or whatever. But I never did that. I read every book ever written about golf. But as I look back on it, that didn’t help me learn golf. What helped me was actually playing. The more I played, the better I got at it. Here’s why. It’s because in the human brain as you know, there are many different components of a brain, and they do different things for you. They talk to each other through neurons, brain cells. In a given action, you’ll have this happen, this happen, this happen and this happen and then you execute. It all happens within a microsecond. Now, if you’ve never done it before, then you have to kind of force it to happen, you have to force this, force this and force this. That slows it down and it makes it awkward if you can’t repeat it. So, what happens is, the more you do it, the brain cells– the fibers on the brain cells grow to each other, to form a circuit, a real circuit. So, the electrochemical impulses that go through the brain, go through the circuit and these connections, insulate. Man, you have a super-fast way of executing that circuit.


(13:05) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Super conductivity.


(13:07) Dr. Denny Coates 

Yeah, it’s really fast. So, when it’s fast, it’s reliable. It’s comfortable. When you get that level of comfort, you have mastered the skill, or you have achieved some mastery, but not until then and it takes a lot of reps. So, no matter whether you’re an artist, or you’re doing sports, or any kind of skill of even thinking skills, you just sit there and do thinking, like problem solving or something. You are exercising a skill and you do it enough, you get good at it. But you got to do it enough. So, being introduced to it in a classroom, I don’t care how good the trainer is, I don’t care how slick the visuals are, or whatever. That’s just the first step. You learn, wow this way of listening could be good. I liked that. I liked what he said. But you can’t do it. Because when it comes time to listen, you don’t even realize it’s time. When it comes down to listen, you’re not in a good frame of mind to listen that way and you don’t have skill. So, you have to make yourself do it over and over, over and over, and eventually the new way of listening will wire itself and it becomes comfortable and automatic. That’s when you’ve got it that’s when you become a really good listener because you’ve worked at it. Now, this is doing the work. This is ingraining a skill and so I love to talk about it and that’s where I found my voice. I get excited talking– you probably tell I get excited talking about this. People A) they don’t get it and B) it’s really important. So, there I go, I found my voice and got passionate about sharing this information and it was really become– I get excited about that, is what allowed me to be exciting in front of people?


(15:18) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Oh, I get it, I get exactly what you’re talking about now around when you first were speaking it there was information you had to deliver but it wasn’t until you found the passion and the excitement and just really, I felt that even in your speaking and in your face and in your joy that came through, it seems like it makes so much a difference when you’re lined up with what really matters and what you know. What you’re saying to us also is about the repetition. I wanted to say something about what you picked as a skill was listening, because I’m a psychologist, and my listening skills go way back and every single day of my life I was sitting– and not in my life. But once I got my degree, there I am in my office listening, listening, listening and listening has like you say you just were saying about the different– like golf has different skills. It’s not just, hit it. It’s not just I sit in my chair, and I listen. It’s like where I’m listening from is important, how I silence my body in such a way that I’m more open and there is a way in which paying attention to the other person and not thinking about what I’m going to say. So, there’s so much. I bet you and I because one of your books is about listening, it seems like that’s one of the skills, right? You and I could go on and on about the skill of listening.


(16:57) Dr. Denny Coates 

Listening skills. Yeah. So, I got it, I got passionate and when I got passionate about something that mattered to me, then I became a much better speaker. That’s how I found my voice is to learn something that I cared about that much.


(17:20) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Oh, well, there is some kind of through thread that I have noticed with you. That’s when you started today, you mentioned that. Jay, from your earliest memory you have this sense of wanting to be the best you could be at something and you entered grade school and found the arenas where you could practice that. Hello, you’ve been practicing, practicing, practicing that one desire to be really good at something. So, here you are, after retirement really finding a new something that you want to be really good at. Is that true?


(18:09) Dr. Denny Coates 

I think I found it.


(18:11) Dr. Doreen Downing 



(18:13) Dr. Denny Coates 

I care very much about this. I’m keenly aware that no matter how long I’ve been writing about this and talking about this, almost nobody gets it. You’ll get it because you are a girl, but they don’t. I’ve never met a parent who didn’t love their kids. Never. I mean really love them. But I also never met a parent who was a good listen. I’ve never done that. There are other skills that really matter in parenting besides that. I mean there’s just so many, like, for example, when a kid doesn’t want to talk, what do you do? Or if the kid disagrees with you, or the kid wants something that you don’t want them to have? Or they go emotional on you. Maybe they attack you. Not physically, but I hate you. You know that stuff? What do you do? Well, it’d be helpful if you had a few skills, interpersonal skills, and recognize now’s the time for me to go into conflict resolution, or now’s the time for me to really encourage her, et cetera.


(19:42) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Before you can do this skill, though, I see what you’re saying is that you first need to have awareness. I think that has to do with some self-awareness that you’re ready to react. You’re ready to choke the child or run out the door. That’s what my mother would do when my sister and I fought, she’d run out the door, get in the car and drive away. So, I learned early on. I have another story. My nephew was eight years old he asked me what I did and I said, well, I’m a psychologist, and I sit in my chair and somebody comes in, and they don’t want to talk, they have a problem, and they’re struggling, but they don’t want to talk about it. I just calmly listen quietly and give them a little bit of information or questioning and pretty soon, what do you know, they’re talking about the problem. He said, aunt Doreen, do they know you trick them?


(20:45) Dr. Denny Coates 

That’s a good way of putting it.


(20:48) Dr. Doreen Downing 

His eight-year-old brain looked at what I was saying and said, I trick people into talking.


(20:54) Dr. Denny Coates 

How old is he now?


(20:56) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Oh, he’s a lawyer. He’s a lawyer in Wilmington, North Carolina and he’s got two wonderful children of his own in his 40s.


(21:06) Dr. Denny Coates 

My two sons are in their 50s and we have a great relationship. When I was raising them, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. We didn’t call it parenting in the 70s. It was raising kids.



(21:27) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Raising, yeah. That’s why I like what you said about adults raising adults, it puts a different frame on what the heck we’re doing when we’re raising children, when we’re growing children where we are being there and what we’re calling parenting. But we’re teaching we’re guiding. Well, there is so much, yeah, go on.


(21:53) Dr. Denny Coates 

That’s right. I sometimes tell people be the person you want your kids to be.


(22:00) Dr. Doreen Downing 



(22:03) Dr. Denny Coates 

As they’re watching you.


(22:04) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Oh, yes.


(22:07) Dr. Denny Coates 

Where else are they going to learn this stuff? So, another is I did not know what I was doing when I was a dad, when I was raising my two sons. But my instinct was just be me and treat them like adults, talk to them the way I would talk to an adult, I don’t know why I decided to do that. But that’s how I did it. It’s probably the best thing I ever did. Following up on that instinct. What happened was they became their own little intellectuals and they became fascinated with computers. That’s when the first PCs came out. So, I got lucky again, it was Christmas. I thought, I don’t know what to give these boys for Christmas. So, I thought, well, I’ll just give them this Commodore 64, I’ll give each kid a Commodore 64 PC is the very first PC that came out. Well, it was a life changing decision to do that. Because what they traded, the little software discs with their friends until they had seen every game that ever was there. I don’t know if they were pirating them or what you know. But anyway, they got to a point where they’ve done it all very quickly. So, they started getting curious about how you make your own programs. So, as teens, they began to self-teach, how to program. They got this book about C++ or whatever. They read it, learned it, did it. Made programs. In fact, the first program that I ever used in my business, it was an assessment program where people answer questions and you get feedback from that and my 17-year-old programmed that for me.


(24:25) Dr. Doreen Downing 



(24:26) Dr. Denny Coates 

Yeah. Now they’re in their 50s and wildly successful at what they do. They’re creating. My oldest boy has a PhD and he’s creating new businesses for business. But new services, web based. I don’t even know what it is and how it works. It’s so complicated. But they’re great, and we have a good relationship, through Zoom and other media.


(25:02) Dr. Doreen Downing 

Yeah, especially now. But what you’re saying is that, yeah, you started out, you had children and you didn’t know what you were doing. Here, they pop out and we’ve got this job to do for the rest of your life, basically. But however, and this is partly what I’m feeding back to you as one of my guests with such a heartful kind of approach to life and just a respectfulness. I think that you naturally brought respect to your children where they felt it. You gave them– I love that phrase, be the kind of person you want your children to be. It sounds like, hey, they are.


(25:54) Dr. Denny Coates 

In many ways, they’re smarter than me. I just love that. Some ways they are not. But many ways they are.


(26:03) Dr. Doreen Downing 

That’s what giving them shoulder to stand on is all about. Well, I’m coming to the end of our time together, and I thoroughly enjoyed and I really loved when you got to the point where you said, Gee, it was all about finding your passion where you truly felt the sense of having your real voice because you obviously it sounds like you had room to speak up and be a leader along. Or long earlier in your life. It wasn’t anything like that held you back and you had to overcome. It was just when you stepped into the more that was like the opportunity that was waiting for you and you stood right in the middle of it and did your thing. Let me get the best to be the best at this.


(26:52) Dr. Denny Coates 

Yeah. I have something to say.


(26:55) Dr. Doreen Downing 

You do. You certainly have something to say and thank you for offering what you have to say to my listeners today.


(27:06) Dr. Denny Coates 

Thanks for having me on your podcast Doreen, it’s been a real pleasure.

Also listen on…

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.