Today, I interview Jonathan Bender, MS, MFA, a coach and creator of the WholeSpeak Method, an approach that transforms nerves into confidence.
Jonathan shared his story of being bullied for years growing up, as well as being raised in an abusive household. As a consequence he had no sense of self-esteem or being able to speak up at all.
Joining his high school speech team and then doing theater allowed him to first find his voice on stages. It took longer and much growth work for him to discover and develop the power that comes from his authentic voice.
He talked about the possibility of joy and speaking from a sense of presence where you are more free and confident to express yourself.
Jonathan is not exactly your run of the mill speaking coach. He has trained thousands of coaches, entrepreneurs, coaches and professionals to become confident, authentic and dynamic speakers who change lives. His integrative, holistic approach is time-tested and proven to help anyone become a dynamic, inspiring presence who moves audiences both on video and to live audiences of all sizes.
He has certified coaches in his approach and specializes in leadership presence. He has worked with executives from names you know well, including Google, HP, Kaiser, and many more.
He holds two graduate degrees, a MS in Performance Studies and Speech Communication, as well as a Master of Fine Art in Theater – he’s also a theater director, actor and creator, and is currently innovating theatrically during this time of C as well.
Watch the episode:
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Learn How to Speak Without Fear!
Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #12 Jonathan Bender
“Joy, Presence, and Authenticity in Everyday Life”
(00:02) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing and I’m here today with the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. And I get to interview people who have had somewhere in their life a struggle with speaking up, whether it was being part of a family where there were more children who took the space or whether it was a teacher. Or maybe there was an example of something about bullying. But today I get to interview Jonathan Bender, who did have some, some experiences with finding his voice. And now that he has found his voice, he is a major contributor to helping people who have public speaking anxiety. So, I’m excited to share his story with you today and have you learned from him. But first, let me read his bio so you get a sense of how accomplished he is. Jonathan is not exactly your turn of the mill speaking coach, Jonathan Bender, MS, MFA has trained thousands of coaches, entrepreneurs, coaches, and professionals who become confident, authentic, and dynamic speakers who change lives. His integrative holistic approach is time-tested and proven to transform nerves into confidence and help anyone become a dynamic, inspiring presence who moves audience both on video and to live audiences of all sizes. The creator of the Whole Speak Method, he has trained and certified coaches in this approach that blends professional speaking skills with performance techniques from acting, voice, and movement, as well as with personal and spiritual development. Jonathan also specializes in leadership presence and has worked with executives from names you know well, including Google, HP, Kaiser, and many more. He holds two graduate degrees, a Master of Science in performance studies and speech communication, as well as a Master of Fine Art in theater. And he’s also a theater director, actor, and creator and is currently innovating theatrically during this time of COVID as well. Well, Jonathan, that was fun to read. To learn more about you just here and now. And today, I’m asking for you to start with the background, the history of not having a voice, how did that happen? What was your circumstance, anything that you can reveal about that, that would be a great place to start,
(02:55) Jonathan Bender:
Of course, and thank you for having me, Doreen. So, you know, it’s not novel to say I had a difficult childhood. And I think it’s important just to emphasize that a lot of people don’t realize when they hear my background on what I do, that I did not come at this from any place of aptitude. And, as a matter of fact, I would probably say that I started working with speaking and performing because I really desperately needed it. I grew up in a difficult, kind of abusive household with parents who did their best with the tools that they had. But it was not a safe space. And I, and I think it was also part of this transition moving from New York to Arizona when I was six at that point, whatever. Like all the friends that I had were gone. And I didn’t have any self-esteem. I didn’t have really a sense of self, I was pretty dissociated, and just out of my body, not present. And it didn’t have any sense of empowerment, and I started getting bullied pretty severely as soon as I moved to Arizona, and did not have support, I had almost no friends, and that bullying continued through high school. So, it was pretty extreme. And I think the saving grace was probably at some point later in elementary school when I tested high in terms of aptitude tests and was placed in a more advanced kind of gifted program but like I was so dissociated, so checked out that my mom confided to me as an adult, that she was surprised when that happened, which, like, I didn’t even have that sense of confidence from, from her. Because I just was so kind of, not even in my body and dissociated, disconnected and, and so that gives you an idea of where I came from. And it was– I didn’t have any sense of having a voice
(05:00) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yes, truly and I could get the sense of moving from– and this is true for a lot of people who do change areas, you know, parents are in the military or something– they have to keep starting over new environment where they are a newcomer and kids have already got their cliques, are they ever got the groups and to try and fit in? What would you say that as much as you can reveal, and are comfortable with? What– what was the bullying? What were they picking on you for?
(05:33) Jonathan Bender:
Anything they could. I mean, I mean just anything dumb from– looking at any sense of weakness that I, that I said, and using that against me, because I didn’t have any sense of being able to stand up for myself, or, or really speak up on behalf of myself. And so, I just pretty much took it, whatever that they did. And so it was anything that they could, I was a just an easy target.
(05:59) Dr. Doreen Downing:
I think that that’s the kind of like what that book about boys who pick on each other, you know, that there is kind of a gang mentality, I guess. And, oh, gee, that, that’s something that I think a lot of people can relate to. I know I’ve worked with several people who have had bullying in their backgrounds, and it can go on for a lifetime, you know, because it’s a deep sense of yourself out into the world. Here’s a social environment, you’re standing up, you’re being seen, you’re visible, but the response you get is something that is negative, and you’re basically rejected. So, you, you moved through that. And just one more question about the family environment, I noticed you said something about your mom being surprised what she was also somebody who was not quite as supportive? When you said, abusive, I wasn’t sure about that.
(07:05) Jonathan Bender:
The uhh– I don’t know much details I want to go into that side of it. I’ll say my mom, she was supportive. But I don’t think they– because I think I was fairly checked out, I wasn’t really showing up in a way that they could like, see who I was. I didn’t know who I was, who was finding my way in order to cope with, with so much kind of bullying and not being a safe environment home just to kind of be checked out. And my mom also was a therapist as well. And she was in training while I was in elementary school. So, I can’t remember the exact year of when she got that degree. But she had some awareness as well then went on later and taught parenting as well to new parents. So, but I don’t think I showed it in a way that had them get who I was, and didn’t have those prompts. And this is also like a while ago, and I think that parents are a little savvier now than they were like in the late 70s and early 80s around this time that I’m talking about. So they tried to be supportive, but, you know, whatever she was able to do was not able to bring me out. I’m sure she loved me and was supportive that day. It still didn’t work.
(08:22) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yeah, yeah. In developmental theory, it is– you’ve probably heard of “mirroring”. So the, you know, the parent looks at the child and looks at their bright spirit, and, you know, kind of welcomes that in and I think that partly what you’re saying your bright spirit was pretty toned down. And but it took– you found it. You found it, Jonathan, and you said something about the need to do something like, what? Be part of the debate team or theater?.
(08:57) Jonathan Bender:
So, I remember that in this, what they call then the like, gifted program that I was part of like an elementary and middle school is that the speech and debate team from the high school that I was going to be entering that year, came and visited did a presentation, and then showed the debate and I was like, “I want to do that.” And I didn’t know why. But I was like compelled. And, and then my freshman year of high school, I went and joined the team, but I didn’t really do anything the first semester for whatever reason. And so, when I went back in the beginning of the second semester, they kind of did debate I said, well, they’re like, “well, we’re already kind of doing this and we already taught everyone so why don’t you do one of these speaking events.” Okay, and so I started doing it and didn’t really have coaching for it. But there was something about it that compelled me and look at you know, I don’t think where I was at the time of why, but there was something in there that just had me want to get good at this. And, and so I just started doing these competitive events. Floundering around. And then I kind of found these events and I realized they’re actually kind of like acting and I kind of had a knack for it, I started doing okay. It was fun. And I was trying to find my voice and my expression. And I started doing theater and acting and loved doing all of this. And it was, it gave me a sense of permission to like, let everything out that I didn’t feel in life. And that I could like– I actually had attention. And was seen and spotlighted. And in the competitive environment, basically, for eight or 10 minutes, they’re forced to sit and listen to you, whether or not you’re good. And, I never did debate, it was always these kind of speaking and acting events. And that in addition to theatre then helped me begin to find a sense of self-expression and a liveliness. And I will say, though, too, it took a lot longer for me to find that level of freedom and enjoy and authenticity and presence in everyday life. Even though I actually began on a spiritual path, also at the age of 14, that it took a lot longer for me to actually find that voice, not just like, on that stage, whether it’s speaking or acting, but in any opportunity that took quite a while longer to be able to do.
(11:24) Dr. Doreen Downing:
I like what you just said about joy. That that’s one of the messages I think that you give in your coaching is that speaking, when you find your voice, and you have a presence, that it can be joyful, and so that that initial kind of “Ooh,” this, this is something that you’re drawn to, I think is really important message too, for people who hold themselves back is like, look around and see what fascinates you, or what wakes you up, and what you at least want to step towards. Because it sounds like you know, something like being on a debate team. Sometimes it can be overwhelming or scary for people. But what you did was opposite for you. You went you went for a yes. And in that, yes, you discovered more about what’s possible for yourself?
(12:17) Jonathan Bender:
Well, it’s true. And a couple of things that comes to mind is that like, first of all, I didn’t have an easy time with it. Like I was still having typical nervous system responses, like dry mouth was really present in high school a lot whenever I would go to compete or perform, and I would have my box of Ludens cough drops at the ready so that when I was like, could barely speak so that I could get some saliva to speak. But the other thing too is that– so I have incorporated, I dealt with all of the different nervous system aspects over the years… shaking to whatever you name, I’ve gone through it, which are, you know, as I know, you know, part of the nervous system, the fight flight, freeze response and safety. And so, we want to create more safety over time. But the other thing I just want to say about joy, it’s my belief in terms of my spiritual work, joy is actually our innate nature. And that when we are kind of looking at how to navigate the world through everything we’ve been conditioned in, and especially when we have that fight-flight-freeze response and trauma, that joy gets covered up. And for me a big part of training people on how to find their voice– well, yes, we’re working with professional speaking skills, but there’s also just a letting go of that shell that we’ve used to navigate the world to let your essence and your light shine forth. And when you really do that, that can’t help but to have a degree of joy. And I think this is kind of a foreign concept for people who just have a lot of nerves. Because like, I’m just supposed to get through it, have to get through it… but no, you can actually step into more of who you are.
(14:07) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yes. And watching you describe it, I see the light in your eyes. And I think we as coaches when we see people tapping into their own light, it amazes us and that’s part of why we do what we do is the transformation we get to witness. So, in terms of transformation, tell us a little bit more about your coaching because it does sound like it is I mean business is whole speak so it’s not just about getting to be a better performer. It’s the human being that you are helping to find and develop from deeper inside.
(14:48) Jonathan Bender:
Of course, and my tagline I sometimes use is: “Express your whole self,” meaning we want to bring all of ourselves, but also it’s a path to wholeness, and like the way that I view the work that I do can be looked through different lenses. There’s a somatic lens, an embodied approach of like, fully bringing ourselves into our bodies. Speaking is an embodied act. And a lot of people don’t think of it that way. It’s like I need to speak clearly, which is very head up. But full expression involves from head to toe, I mean, very much from the lungs and our breathing, which has to do with our vocal resonance. And bringing all of ourselves out. I also look at speaking through an energetic approach is that we kind of get shut down. And when we bring all of ourselves it enhances our whole energy, which has a lot to do with presence. So, we can grow our presence. A lot of people think that presence is something that you have or you don’t. That’s not true. There’s a clear kind of path of steps, it’s the act of being present, physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, is also part of it. I also can break down– my approach, the way I look at it with three categories, or as I say, in brief, which is that it’s, it’s what I call “organic speaking techniques.” And so that means, how do we just show up in life, when we are relaxed and open and present and alive? And meaning there– sometimes I see something like a technique for like gestures being taught, that looks kind of weird. And so, it has to be based on what do we actually do, when we’re relaxed and open and present and alive. There’s also performance techniques, not to make people performers, but because performers are not inherently confident, and the same things that I would use to train actors from how to find presence and self-expression, confidence, we can transfer those to everyday life, both for speaking, as well as just how do we show up in our lives with that level of connection, presence, aliveliness, and confidence? And confidence not as invulnerability, but really that willingness to be seen, which includes vulnerability. And then the third aspect is the growth side, which I know that you specialize in, Doreen, is that we have to do the inner work as well, to address the parts of ourselves that might be a little bit like outdated, those outdated fears, things that used to protect us, coping mechanisms, to be able to step more into our essence into who we truly are. And to bravely let that be seen.
(17:31) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Oh, you are certainly speaking my language. The brave, the brave, you know– what it takes to be your brave, beautiful, brilliant self, and to have coach like you who says yes to that bravery, and helps guide people out into the world from their—you know, you talk about my own point of view, which is about the darker, deeper recesses where people hide themselves, but being able to say “hello in there, come on out, let’s play.” And that’s partly what I see. The kind of coach you are is somebody who likes to play.
(18:14) Jonathan Bender:
That is something that I talk with everyone who works with me a lot, is when we start to move into playfulness, and taking things a little less seriously. Because we’re so worried about how we show up and it gets very serious, and yet our aliveness and joy, and even confidence we start to play, then that really changes the entire conversation. It’s quite a shift for a lot of people at first to realize that, “oh, I can, I can play around and I can let go of this need to like get it right, or perfectionism,” and even if there are things to learn, we want to do that as a child would with a sense of playfulness, and exploration. And that style of learning is often more effective and more enjoyable as well.
(19:00) Dr. Doreen Downing:
I like listening to you, Jonathan. And we are almost out of time. So, I wanted to make sure that people could hear about what your– you’ve got something coming up next “Claim Your Voice”, a program that’s, what,10 weeks, 12 weeks long? So, I’d like you to explain that and how people can find you.
(19:19) Jonathan Bender:
Sure. So, I’ve had a program called Claim Your Voice, Speak With Power and Presence for quite a number of years now. I keep improving it and it’s a 10-week training. So, it’s set up so that you can go through it self-guided. I do have right now a 10-week intensive that includes that 10-week live component as well. It is available for anyone to do at other times as well. They can still get office hours with me but right now I happened to be doing a 10-week intensive. So there’s– right now I also have a good discount available as well. People can help name their own price. Typically how it is normally long term is it’s a particular price that’s set. So, there’s a lot of details to it, it really covers what I find to be the foundations, I’ve had many hundreds of people gone through it over the years. And what they say to me over and over, is that “Jonathan, you said it was going to be transformational. And I didn’t realize how transformational it was going to be.” So, in terms of looking at confidence, body language, vocal power, deep connection skills, of course, crafting talks, which is a whole thing I haven’t even mentioned, presence, and a lot more. So, the website for that is CLAIMYOURVOICENOW.com and I encourage you to go ahead, like whenever you’re kind of getting this message, because I know some people may hear the podcast quite a while down the road, is to take a look at that. It’s something that has like really comes out of 25 years of experience, but also from a lifetime of having done this level of transformation myself and supported many, many people through this. I’ll also say too, if someone just wants to kind of, like get a taste of how I work and know me more, then I have something that is called Your True Voice. They can go to this at YOURTRUEVOICE.ORG and this is a short free course with a few videos that kind of gives an intro about authenticity talks a lot more about confidence. And, and on those sites too, I really welcome people to reach out if they need support too.
(21:39) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Great. And I have enjoyed listening to you. And I’m sure that people are really being inspired because of it not just being about being a public speaker. You keep coming back to it’s about being who you really are your whole self-discovering. And we have so much potential. So it’s just about finding it. And then we are way more powerful beings in this world.
(22:02) Jonathan Bender:
Yeah, absolutely. And I just want to add too, is that, of course, I like people when– I like it when my clients get amazing public speaking results from confidence, to they’re getting a promotion, or if they have their own business of growing their sales, and all these things really happen. But what I also say is that my not-so-secret agenda is to find their voice and their life. And that the same skills apply for your whole life. Public Speaking as a peak experience, that’s a great excuse. But ultimately, we all want more presence, more connection, aliveness. And how we kind of walk through the world and experience ourselves how we’re experienced, and I love it when people realize that and get that as well.
(22:50) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yeah, it’s like when we’re born. Life is our stage. Wonderful. Thank you very much, Jonathan.
(22:57) Jonathan Bender:
My pleasure. Thank you, Doreen.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.