#25 Speaking for Herself

Today's Guest: JoAnna Brandi

Today, I interview JoAnna Brandi who was part of the “be seen and not heard” generation of children. She grew up in a household that revolved around her parents and their words.

In a strong, outspoken Italian family, she struggled to speak up in the crowd. She was also conditioned by strictly enforced rules in Catholic school.

She was terrified when she had to start public speaking. She traced it back to a situation that happened when she was 16 years old and was answering a court case for her Mom and the judge made her “approach the bench”. It terrified her!

She has learned through the years to use positivity to fuel yourself. She appreciates spreading positivity and encouragement and allowing it to benefit all areas of life.


JoAnna Brandi is a Certified Chief Happiness Officer and helps companies keep their employees and their customers happy by “hardwiring happiness” into the culture. That drives what she calls the Positive Spillover Effect!

Watch the episode:

Connect with JoAnna Brandi

Transcript of Interview

Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast 

Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing

Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com

Episode #25 “JoAnna Brandi”

“Speaking for Herself”

Dr. Doreen Downing [0:36]

Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing and I’m with the FIND YOUR VOICE, CHANGE YOUR LIFE podcast. I interview guests who have had a struggle with finding their voice, being able to speak up and express themselves authentically. I’d like to allow them to unzip a little bit, reach back into their history and the journey to find their voice.

Today I’m going to interview JoAnna Brandi. JoAnna is a certified chief happiness officer, helps companies keep their employees and their customers happy by wiring happiness into the culture that drives the positive spillover effect. So, we are going to listen to her stories about the challenges in finding a voice. Welcome, JoAnna.

JoAnna Brandi [2:12]

Thanks, Doreen for having me.

Dr. Doreen Downing [2:18]

How was your childhood life and how did you feel about not having a voice?

JoAnna Brandi [3:12]

It was a busy household. I was raised by both parents; my parents were children of immigrants. They were both lawyers. So, they worked together in practice, but they never left work. So, they would come home, my mom would cook dinner, dad would read the paper, and then we’d have dinner. The conversation over dinner was not about the children. I grew up at an age where children were pretty much seen and not heard. And so, the conversation usually has to do with their work issues, which was stimulating in many ways, because my mind formed, being able to see two sides of an argument because what they would do is very often, especially if one of them had to go to court the next day, one of them would play the prosecutor and the other one would play the defender. They were very passionate people and so very often we heard the word Shut up. And when you hear that a lot, I think it does make you say, should I speak up or am I going to get yelled at for speaking up. Then I went to Catholic school. So that was the same thing, you couldn’t speak up and I am old enough to have gone to school at the time when the nuns would walk around with a ruler and smack it on the hand or worse if you spoke out of turn things. So that early training, I think, had a lot to do with being a little bit afraid to speak my voice.

Dr. Doreen Downing [4:58]

I’ve heard but did you get the ruler on the back of your hand?

JoAnna Brandi [5:06]

Yeah, once my best friend and I were giggling and that was a moral offence. We were small enough that we both got picked up and hung up in a closet on a hook by the back of our uniform. We were dangling in the closet with our little feet. So that is one strange memory.

Dr. Doreen Downing [5:32]

There are two ways to look at that, in some movies, that would be a comedy but in others, it’s a tragedy.

JoAnna Brandi [5:43]

We couldn’t stop laughing. So that made it worse. My parents were trying to grow a business. They were trying to pay off loans, my mom sometimes was very distracted by her children’s laughter. If we were in the backseat of the car, and we all started laughing, which we did all the time. I was followed by a set of twins. So, we were all 22 months away from each other and eight, we would start giggling uncontrollably, and she hated it. So, there’s a lot of stuff that said, don’t speak up, don’t laugh and don’t appear to be having any pleasure.

Dr. Doreen Downing [6:54]

The person that you’ve turned out to be and promote in this world is happiness. It does come from the image of you having the giggle inside, it was not covered or repressive.

JoAnna Brandi [7:20]

It was and sometimes we couldn’t stop laughing and the angrier she got, the more we laughed. I was pretty verbal, growing up in a legal family we used to watch Perry Mason together. I remember from the time I was very little, seven years old when I thought the lawyer should object, I would fly out of my chair with my arm. Objection. I spoke up to a certain extent but when I was working for my parents as a part-time job. My mother sent me to court. She said you’ll do fine and you say these words. So, I practice and this is one of those benches that you see in the movies, because the Supreme Court that I walked into, was one of the courts that is featured in many movies, because it’s got a big impressive bench and the judge sits way up on top of the bench. So, I’m there, five foot two and a half of me, shaking because now I’m in space, which I don’t think I can do the job, I walk up and I use exactly the words she told me to say. And this man lifted himself, looked down at me and said a young lady approached by the bench and my knees were shaking. It shut me off for a long time. And he went on to say to me, I know your mother. She doesn’t need to adjourn. She’s off playing golf somewhere. You go and find her and tell her I will call her in contempt of court unless I hear back within a couple of hours. It was probably one of the worst traumatic experiences in life that shut me up for a long time.


Dr. Doreen Downing [10:14]

I’m really glad to hear the way you described your past experiences.

JoAnna Brandi [11:23]

It’s funny how you can laugh about those things but it was bad. It was a terrifying experience but that was part of it. So, the first time my boss walked into my office and said to me, I can’t do the speaking engagement I’m supposed to do on Thursday night, I’d like you to take it for me. I just outright lied. I said, Thursday night. Oh, I’m so sorry, I have a previous appointment. I thought it would go away. But she caught on and she would come back in regularly. One day she called me down to her office and sat me down. And she said, perhaps she doesn’t understand that speaking in public on behalf of my company is part of your job. I thought I would swallow my tongue. And then she said, it’s very easy all you have to do is look out on the audience and pretend they’re all girl scouts.

I couldn’t do it. If I would push myself to do it, I would get physically sick every time I had to speak. And that extended beyond my corporate career till I had started my own company because that was the only way that I was going to get business. I just figured that for the rest of my life. I would be in the bathroom for quite a while before getting out onto the platform where they weren’t big stages back then. But it would start days before. I would start with the anxiety about speaking days and days before. Once I was on a plane. I was going to Hawaii to a conference with a former client who was now a friend. And somebody had told me to read the book, ‘visual visualization’, reading the book, and the flight attendant comes over and she looks at the books and she looks at me, she said that book is going to change your life. And maybe it was the way she said it or the way she looked at me. But that book changed my life. Because what I realized was that I had been visualizing all along but I visualized tripping, fumbling, doing everything wrong saying something stupid. I visualized the office and the audience hated me.  I was living in New York at the time. And when I came back, I went to a friend of mine, who was a yoga teacher and a meditation teacher. I discussed it with her and we created a visualization meditation. Where I would imagine that before I got there, the beautiful red carpet was rolled out. And with the red carpet, the room began to fill up with love. And that every time I walked into a room to speak, I was walking into a room of people who loved me. It took a little while but it worked. And once it worked, it completely shifted me.

Dr. Doreen Downing [15:01]

The breakthrough moment is somebody saying this will change your life. What was your transformational process?

JoAnna Brandi [16:27]

I was miserable every time I had to go do this, and I knew this would become my career. I didn’t want to be miserable. So, I needed a transformation. I developed other techniques on my own by reading. One night, the night before I was going to speak in an enormous room which had lots of tables at a conference. I went in there and there were a couple of men setting things up. I felt a little awkward. Because I would bring a bottle of cleaning spray with me. I started doing little rituals. And so, they looked at me and I looked at them. He was just wonderful. He said to me, look, I know you speakers need your time alone in the room. So why don’t we go take a break, and we’ll come back in 10 minutes or so that he knew exactly that I needed space with the space. I communicated with the space and drew a line around the ceiling of my own little space that belongs to me, and this is a space of love and everything that will happen here will enrich people’s lives. That intention kept the jitters at bay. And it became something I love to do.

Dr. Doreen Downing [18:02]

The jitters at bay area when you increase the talking about the positive experience as opposed to the negative outcome.

JoAnna Brandi [18:33]

I wish I was good at it in every area of my life because that is not always a transferable skill.

Dr. Doreen Downing [18:48]

I had a moment similar to yours when one of the teachers early on when I was trying to overcome my fear of speaking said the quote about Michelangelo seeing the angel in the marble, and that was I would say that was the same kind of moment you had it. How are you using your voice to help other people?

JoAnna Brandi [19:46]

I use my voice to get the people in charge of the organizations to realize that when you create positive energy at work, people bring that positive energy home. My work experience wasn’t always that glowing. I work very hard and didn’t always get the recognition I needed. And that recognition is like fuel. When somebody says, you’ve done a great job, thank you so much. We couldn’t be a great company without you, when you get that positive and encouraging feedback at work, it changes everything in your life. I’m a consultant, I speak to get consulting business generally. I train on the internet, as you’ve seen, but I’ve been in hundreds and hundreds of companies and asking the question, what do you like about working here? What don’t you like about working here? How is it that this culture works? I just asked a lot of questions. I noticed after a number of years, that the same phrase kept coming up. The phrase was, how come, they never noticed when I’m doing something. But when I’m doing something wrong, they’re all over me. That’s when somebody put a key in me and turn the key that it was my job to help create these internal environments, where leaders begin noticing when we do things and they begin helping to edge us out of our comfort zones, into our strange zones, without taking us into the panic zone, which was my work experience with the old-fashioned way. Oh, she seems like a smart kid, growing in the pool, let’s see if she can swim, no support, no encouragement, that kind of stuff. I’m not saying that it was never there. But it wasn’t enough. And that made all the difference in the world. So now I want to help people encourage their employees to have a better experience by giving them all the tools they need. And by giving them all the encouragement they need to take care of those customers because without the customers, you don’t even have a business.

Dr. Doreen Downing [22:27]

You were helping and promoting them and also training as well. That is commendable.

JoAnna Brandi [22:44]

Positive leadership training, that’s training because most people were not trained. But where do we get treated to leadership? If we don’t go to a leadership school, we get trained in leadership by the leaders that we’ve had. So, we either want to emulate someone who did it right, or we want to do the opposite of those who did it wrong. We all come into leadership, with lots of ideas about what it’s about. I provide a framework for understanding that there are systematic things that you can do, and where you can put your attention, and how you can use your voice to help people feel appreciated and valued. At the time we’re in need more than we’ve ever needed before because people are really hurting.

Dr. Doreen Downing [23:33]

Do you work individually or with companies?

JoAnna Brandi [23:38]

I work mostly with companies and with teams.

Dr. Doreen Downing [23:43]

How can people find you for help?

JoAnna Brandi [23:58]

I’m on LinkedIn as JoAnna Brandi and my website is www.returnonhappiness.com.You can go to my website and get 12 ways of happiness and a positive environment report to make your place a happy place.

Dr. Doreen Downing [24:23]

Can you share one of the 12 ways of happiness and a positive environment?

JoAnna Brandi [24:32]

It is all about leadership. There can be little pockets of happiness here and there. But it really is a leadership responsibility to make sure that people are feeling good and that usually means a little bit more attention. I’m finding as I’m talking to people now, one of the good things about working remotely at this point is that people are doing more one-on-one because they’re not able to walk through the place, they’re actually doing more one-on-one interactions. And I think that’s a really good thing.

Dr. Doreen Downing [25:08]

It’s the quality of the attention that you pay to that person.

JoAnna Brandi [25:45]

It’s an emotional intelligence skill, being able to understand that what matters, whether it’s customers or employees, and they’re both your customers, is how they feel when I walk away from an interaction with you. How do I feel? And that’s a key thing. I think that’s been the challenging thing about what I do because it feels like it’s soft, and it’s not soft at all. It has tremendous, measurable, hard results. Happiness is actually a KPI. You can measure it the same way you measure any other KPI and its directly connected to profitability, productivity, wellbeing, lower health care costs and dozens of other benefits as well.

Dr. Doreen Downing [26:30]

Thank you, JoAnna, for being here.

JoAnna Brandi [27:13]

Thank you for being open to listening to the story. Thank you for the invitation. I’m happy to be here.

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.