Today, I interview Lisa Wentz. We discuss the origins of our fears and the way our childhood experiences shape our voice and our boldness to speak. She touches on narcissistic parenting and the lack of encouragement toward children to share their views and thoughts.
Listen to Lisa’s wonderful story of resilience. She found encouragement elsewhere and respected new role models, overcoming odds to find her voice at a very young age out of pure necessity.
Lisa is a public speaking expert and author of the groundbreaking book Grace Under Pressure: A Masterclass in Public Speaking. She is known for helping her clients quickly overcome internal blocks and transform into fearless, eloquent speakers.
Considered one of the top coaches in the San Francisco Bay Area, Lisa has been featured on CNBC and in TIME Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, LA Daily Journal, Inc. among others. Lisa holds a Master’s Degree in Voice and Speech Pedagogy from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama University of London.
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #8 Lisa Wentz
“Childhood Fear of Judgment and Desire for Perfection”
Dr. Doreen Downing: 0:02
Hi, this is the Find Your Voice Change Your Life podcast. And I’m Dr. Doreen Downing host of the series. And what I do here is invite guests to speak about what might have gone on in their life that had something to do with them finding their voice, something to do with feeling like maybe they didn’t quite get enough support to feel like they could be self-confident later on in life. And then there must have been some kind of process or discovery that helped them find who they really are and connect with that. And then now it seems like the people I’ve been inviting to be guests here are people who know a lot about that and can share it. And they have a gift now because they’ve gone through a process and they understand what speaking anxiety is all about, and can help people overcome it themselves. So today, I’m really excited about having my friend, my guest Lisa Wentz. I’m going to read her bio because it’s really fabulous. Lisa is a public speaking expert and author of the groundbreaking book Grace Under Pressure, a masterclass in public speaking. Lisa is best known for helping her clients quickly overcome internal blocks, and transform into fearless eloquent speakers. Considered one of the top coaches in the San Francisco Bay Area, Lisa has been featured on CNBC, and in Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, LA daily journal being among others. Lisa holds a master’s degree in voice and speech pedagogy from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. Welcome, Lisa. Here we are again. And I’m so excited to be sharing the time with you. So where I’d like to start is just a little bit about your background… where you think that this whole idea of voice, whether it’s your own personal background, or what you’ve learned in working with people in their own speaking anxiety, what are the roots?
Lisa Wentz: 2:27
Thank you for having me. It’s good to be here. It’s such a broad topic, right? So let me hone in on my experience as a coach. And if we want to talk about my personal experience, my own journey, I’m happy to do that as well. But you know, what you said that’s triggering me here in a good way, is, you know, where does it come from? I think most people can agree that social conditioning really affects us in terms of how we communicate. And the kinds of messaging that we get either direct or indirect, from the home, the kinds of messaging that we get direct or indirect from school, and then just a society at large, right. But the areas that I tend to work with, with my clients, usually it’s about negative messaging in the home, or schools. And I can give you some examples of that if you’d like, or important to you, and to your listeners. But ultimately, I think what happens when we’re young is that we start getting messages that the way we speak and present ourselves is not okay, it’s not acceptable. And it could be something as innocent as being a very small child, and being told, use your inside voice. You know, don’t say anything to embarrass someone else, you know, teaching polite, courteous communication, which you want to teach your child, but it’s sometimes can be so overbearing, that it’s internalized as, don’t speak, or speak only when it’s perfect. You know, because if you really think about like, do children just say what they think? Typically, yes, even as an introvert I was a very introverted child. But I would say whatever was top of mind for me as a child, because that’s what children do, right? We’re seeing and we’re learning and we’re taking in information and stimulus, and then we’re commenting on it. And we’re told not to, that it’s wrong or bad. So some of that could be somewhat innocent like that our first expressions of real language and interaction. Socially, we’re told to be quiet, and self-conscious to watch what you say, right? And then as we grow older, and by the way, stop me at any time if I’m going on and on. As we get older. If we’re in a home where It’s really not acceptable to speak. And that’s either because there is a cultural issue, as in girls don’t speak. And I’ve seen that a lot, or it’s a parental issue of manipulation or abuse, I’ve seen that a lot as well. Suddenly, everything about the way you express yourself seems wrong or is going to be criticized. And that’s when we start to meet that fear of public speaking, which I’ve defined in the book, and I’ve, we’ve taught you and I’ve talked about my opinion is that it’s these two things that come together the desire for perfection and fear of judgment. And if you’ve had a lot of judgment, that fear is going to be very, very strong. So it sets us up sort of to fail, it sets us up for our internal alarm bells to go off. We’re being judged we’re being watched. And we know that there’s something wrong with the way we communicate. So where does it come from? These are kind of the places I think, to answer your question, the early childhood development piece of the puzzle.
Dr. Doreen Downing 6:15
Yes, that is very true. In your book, you mentioned that it doesn’t have to be, but usually it is, and it’s best to start looking back because people think that something’s wrong with them. And if they just go back and understand that perhaps they came from a family where they really weren’t welcomed into this world, and their voice was not celebrated. That could be a problem. And the other thing you said in your book, too, is about, we aren’t taught in schools, how to manage anxiety about speaking. We’re supposed to know how to stand up in front of a group, give a presentation and do our daily report, or, what we did this weekend when we’re little kids. And that is, also some of where these roots are. I know that you mentioned also that you had some brothers and you mentioned about early experience. I know my early experience was somewhat difficult. There wasn’t really, I wasn’t surrounded by that kind of welcoming spirit. And I won’t go into the details, because I’ve done that other places. But anything you could say about your own, like earlier childhood, where you felt like you weren’t quite sure of yourself in terms of your voice.
Lisa Wentz: 7:41
The thing about coming from a very large family, youngest of 10. The mention of my brothers in the book was that they’re extremely extroverted, extremely likeable. People always had tons of friends. I was the one introvert in the family, I was reclusive, I was quiet. And I don’t blame them for this. And I don’t think this is a huge trigger for me either. But I do remember. And if they were able to watch this, they’d probably laugh, then say, What’s wrong with her? Why doesn’t she speak to anybody? What is going on. And I remember when I was 12, one or two of my brothers tried to push me into making more friends and into conversations. And I was the kid that just wanted to paint, I wanted to draw, I wanted to write little books, I wanted to take walks by myself. I liked having one or two friends. But I was not the social butterfly person. I was not an extrovert in any way. And so that could be messaging that there was something wrong with me, I didn’t take their difference that seriously, it wasn’t that crushing. However, and I didn’t go into the book on this too much because this book is not about me. I just wanted to give a little sliver about my background. More important was the relationship with two narcissistic parents, one pretty much absent and the other one my mother, stuck around. That was much more debilitating for me. Because if you have a parent that is a pathological narcissist, you are ignored pretty much 100% unless they want something from you. And so my speaking, having any kind of a voice was not encouraged. It was that it wasn’t acceptable. I wouldn’t be punished for speaking. But it was very clear from a very young age, I would say the age of four that my opinions, thoughts, views of the world were completely and utterly unimportant and silenced.
Dr. Doreen Downing: 10:06
Yes, I understand what you’re saying. I think it is so good today to have people who are more quiet and feel like they have a beautiful creative spirit. But in an environment where it’s not seen and heard and, and encouraged, it’s damaging. And so I know that somewhere along the line, though, look at somewhere along the line you manage to thrive. And I think it comes down to that resilience that we’ve got in our spirits. And thank goodness, thank goodness, it feels like we have somehow tapped into that. And I know that you and I both are in the field of helping people find their voice. So a little bit about how you came to find yours, Lisa?
Lisa Wentz: 10:59
Yeah, I think a couple things. One, I would say just another piece of the puzzle for childhood is that I had really encouraging teachers, not every teacher, but a lot of teachers. And so it’s probably why I ended up becoming a teacher. I have these people I looked up to that were good influences in my life. And I was a bright kid, not the brightest kid in the school, but I was pretty darn bright. And so I got some self esteem, you know, from teachers, who would encourage me scholastically and tell me, you’re a very bright child, you know, that messaging was always there. And so I knew that my thoughts weren’t stupid, I knew that I was a smart kid and all that. And then I think, at the age coming close to the age of 13, something strange happened. I wasn’t going to school very often, just a few days a week, and the school board decided that they needed to have a meeting with me and my mother. So they did and the whole board was there. And they wanted to send me to a special school for gifted children in Sacramento. there was only five students in school. Of course, my narcissistic mother did not like that and she threw a temper tantrum, and she started yelling and telling them that they were liars. And that her daughter’s not smart and all this stuff, right. And what happened was that experience was both horrific for me to experience on that level. But it was also incredibly validating. And to hear that from the board, the school board. So what happened, I don’t know, maybe six months later, is when I made the decision to leave. So I made the decision to leave home at 13. And it took a long time to figure out how to do this, but I petitioned the state of California to take me into protective custody, take guardianship away from my parents and put me in a foster home. And in that process, at the age of 13, if you cannot speak to people, and you need to have a home, some food and some clothes, and other things. And I did have a sister who helped me some. Absolutely. But I still had to make all this happen. So it was born of necessity. You know, it wasn’t I want to do theater, I did want to do theater, but it wasn’t I want to do theater, I have to learn how to act, right? I need a home, I need to talk to people I have to get them to hear me and understand that this is real. And so the different places I went to for help. I had to be you know the adult for myself and speaking so that’s where the find my voice came through. So I became a very direct communicator, which I probably would have been anyway, just given my personality style, very direct, very to the point not afraid of confrontation. I wasn’t confrontational, but I wasn’t gonna back down from it either. And clear, about what my needs were and what I wanted and I’m what I was not willing to settle for. And so eventually I did get the foster home and moved on. But I think that was probably the biggest pivot right, the biggest turning point in terms of the finding my voice part. It was born of necessity.
Dr. Doreen Downing: 14:31
That was a great phrase… born of necessity that led to finding your voice and to hear somebody denying you yet also being validated by another group. At that moment you knew truth. And you said I know my truth and this is my truth, and then acted on that and changed your life. Find your voice change your life. That’s the tagline of my programs. And then you went into acting early on.
Lisa Wentz: 15:12
I did. And there’s some interesting things there too, in terms of stage fright. And I mean, a lot of people experienced this, right. So you start to study, the very first time I was in front of an audience was actually in college. I was 16. And I was taking a psychology course. And you had to do like one of those collage exercises where you talk about your life, and you put pictures and stuff like that. So I had to go in front of the class. And I think the class was psychology of women, which was funny, because I wasn’t even 16. I guess I was a woman, I don’t know. And I still got up in front of the class. And I remember looking out at the audience and starting to talk about these pictures, it was a fun exercise. The class was so supportive, the people in the class were so supportive of each other, it was a wonderful class, the person who ran it was wonderful, you know, the teacher. And I remember looking out and feeling totally 100%, comfortable, 100% comfortable, I wasn’t nervous, I was enjoying it. It was a great conversation. You know, if I had to give a talk about something I didn’t know very well. And it wasn’t a very friendly audience, then I might have been nervous. But that was just wasn’t the case, the circumstances were sort of perfect for me to be relaxed. And I remember walking away from that thinking I could do that again. I like this, I like speaking to crowds, or like, at least, you know, I like speaking to classrooms, at least. And so that was a good experience. Then when I started studying acting, I went into a school that honestly was not that encouraging. They were very old school theater people very hard, very technical, and had a very strong system that they used. But you know, some of the teachers in there often felt much more like you’re being criticized than then you were being encouraged to grow. And that actually started my own fear of stage fright. And even though I consider myself successful as an actor, because I did great, I had some great roles. And I had great experiences in those roles. But many of them I would be completely nervous before curtain. I had one play I did by the skin of our teeth. I was on stage almost for the entire two and a half hour play. And I remember before we closed, the woman sitting next to me, said, You know, I don’t know what I’m gonna do now. But the plays over what am I going to do at five minutes to eight, if you’re not telling me how nervous you are. And I thought I’ve been doing it every night. So yeah, you’ve done that every night for six weeks. And it is funny. So I’m kind of babbling at this point, stop me if you want to. But what I’m trying to make a connection here with is why was I so nervous as an actress, but I was not nervous as a public speaker. I wasn’t at all. And I think that it has to do with that criticizing thing, the pressure that I was being told, it seemed like I could never get to the place the director wanted me to be at. There’ll be glimpses of it, but it was always never enough. nothing was ever enough. And that’s a really hard place to be in if it’s more than you can be. Because it’s not, I’m somebody who’s a team person, right? So if I’m being told that I’m not good enough that I’m not just letting down myself and letting down the rest of the cast, I’m letting down the director and I’m letting down the audience. So pretty quickly into my career there. I became very good at comedy, frankly, because of natural talent part. And part of it is that I really wanted the audience to enjoy themselves. And it’s much easier to do that with comedy and make people laugh. And that’s measurable. It isn’t drama right, so that’s how my acting career went. But I don’t think I ever shook it as an actor. I was always very nervous. I always felt extra watched, eyes on me and criticized.
Dr. Doreen Downing: 19:22
Yes, you just pointed to exactly what people who are afraid of public speaking feel. You know the all the eyes on them. What you said about the difference between somebody judging watching criticizing you as opposed to encouraging you, encouraging the you within. Oh my goodness, it’s so clear what creates then perpetuates fright for people who are in public. You pointed to it specifically about criticism being judged and not being able to be quite good enough. Never.
Lisa Wentz: 20:00
Nothing’s ever good enough. And I hear those kinds of comments from some of my clients, I had one recently that I had to call him out on. After I gave him an evaluation of his public speaking skills, and some of it was great. He repeated back to me only the negative. And I honestly think he only took in the negative. But so I stopped him. And I said, Hey, wait a minute, you cannot do that, you have to balance out all the positive. Otherwise, you’re not getting the full experience here. And you don’t have a way of measuring, you know, what is working, what’s not working, if you can’t also say what’s really working what’s good. But luckily, I also record all my sessions, so he could watch that back.
Dr. Doreen Downing: 20:49
So you’re starting to speak about what you offer. So let’s move into that. Because what a journey you’ve been on. This whole training as an actor, and that’s where stage fright popped up. So tell us more about what you do now.
Lisa Wentz: 21:13
What I do now? Yeah, so typically speaking, I see one on one clients, I do workshops, if it’s a company that’s hiring me for workshop, and then maybe some one on one sessions. You know, we all know conferences have been sparse, because of COVID. And that kind of thing. But there are still some companies out there that are hiring for workshops, and they have their online conferences and whatnot. But typically, a client comes to me for one of two major reasons. One, they’ve got something coming up with a speech that they want to do or talk that they’re going to do, they want to polish it, they want to make sure that they’re hitting it out of the park and that kind of thing, typical reason to seek out a coach. Another reason is there somebody might be, you know, recently promoted or wanting to start their own company. So they’re putting themselves out or they’re being put into a situation where they’ll be much more front facing, and they want to work on those skills. So it’s across different industries, I probably like you, I would assume you get people from the tech industry, science, medicine, even the entertainment industry, I get some clients from there, a very rare occasion law. And yeah, I think that most of the clients that come to see me will end up doing a dense course I tend to teach dense courses. And that’s not just because I’m an introvert. I keep saying I’m an introvert. It’s not that I don’t like to have long relationships with people. Some I do. The founders, and founders I could see for a year or I could see them for 10 or more sessions, because they have their staff to talk to or their teams, the Board of Directors, the media, their investors, right. So there’s lots of different areas that we want to polish and really get better at. So those clients will have longer relationships with me. But typically, a relationship with me is about six sessions, for polishing speech, like a TED talk, that’s two sessions. That’s it. But six sessions, if somebody says, okay, I’ve just gotten into the VP role, I want to polish up my skills, I have a few things that I need to work out. And it’s really, I really want to say this, because I don’t think enough people really know that even really advanced speakers or people who are high up in their companies, they still have stuff from the past that triggers them or situations that trigger them. Sometimes I think people just starting to work on their public speaking skills will say, Oh, I want to speak like my boss, or Oh, I really want to speak like that person or this person. And they seem to think that they are alone in their anxiety. And you’re not alone in your anxiety, the person that you’re looking at, or looking up to probably had anxiety at one point, and maybe still does. And it’s normal. But what’s most important is that we figure out where your anxiety stems from. And we peel back the layers of the onion quickly. I have the right solutions for it and move through it. And in my bio, the reason that I put I’m known for helping people quickly get over internal blocks, is because it’s true that one or two sessions and things that will have plagued people for years will be gone. Or they’ll be minimized from 90% anxiety to 10% anxiety. And it’s a really important part of my work. Not everybody has anxiety, right? Like I said somebody could come and want to polish this TED talk and we work much more direct orally we cut and paste and we work on content, we work on the acting skills, what is your objective in this particular section or beat? What is your overall goal? What is the tone and tempo rhythm that it’s going to take? What are the storytelling techniques that are going to work really well for you to keep the audience engaged. So there’s all these technical skills.
Or techniques that we can use to really make their authentic voice come out and their charisma come out and really engage the audience. But these two areas are where I tend to work most. And then there’s the third area, which is the physical training, because my background is as an actress, and I have an Alexander Technique, certification, three years of education in that, and the voice and speech pedagogy training from the Central School, you know, learning how to breathe to support your voice and reduce your anxiety and adrenaline rush, learning really great articulation skills that will slow down your speech and make you more precise, really developing a voice on a physical level that is resonant, that clears out any blocks on a physical level. Because most of us, as you said, we’re not trained in school to give great speeches, were just told to get up and do it. That’s right. We’re not, we don’t train our voices, unless we’re singers. And even that training isn’t exactly the same, right? So there is training that will make your voice your real, authentic, resonant sound come out.
Dr. Doreen Downing: 26:26
About your book, you did mention that something happens when we have anxiety, and we contract. So actually, around the neck, I think you said, and the head goes up, and so you’re automatically inhibiting the voice just physically.
Lisa Wentz: 26:45
Yeah, and I think there’s probably many listeners who can relate to that on some level, because we the human experience is very much the same in this area, right? When we get nervous, the neck tightens, whether we know that or not, that’s what’s happening. So the occipital joint here will tighten, your head will go back slightly, which already strains the layering, so you’re restricting your voice there and you don’t take in as much breath. So you’re going into fight or flight is what’s happening with nervousness, energy, stage fright. And so if you can recognize that’s what you’re doing and have a system for undoing that, replacing it with breathing exercises, focusing exercises, connecting the mind and body together, instead of allowing your adrenaline rush or your fight or flight to hijack you. And where you can’t control it. You’re way better off, right. So as a coach, if that’s part of the coaching, I will work that into almost every session so that people get a really good warm up that they can do to set them into a great, focused, wonderful resonant voice place to start, whatever it is that they’re about to say.
Dr. Doreen Downing 27:54
I love that. Yes, I love the way you just did that. You did great. And you were focused. And then present. Both words coming through in your gesture there.
Lisa Wentz: 28:07
You know, that’s funny. Can I tell you something funny, my best friend snuck into a speech I gave a couple weeks ago. I didn’t know she was going to go into it. It was a women’s group I didn’t know she belonged to. And so she snuck into watch me, snuck into the zoom. And then afterwards, she said, I’m watching you were great. And you’re really talking with your hands a lot. So I apparently I do.
Dr. Doreen Downing 28:32
Yeah. Full Body speaking, full gestured, and it’s just energy. And what you’re doing is freeing energy up like overcoming the obstacles so that we can be more free to be who we are. And so I would definitely like to point people to how to find you.
Dr. Doreen Downing 28:58
Yeah, lisawentz.com. That’s my coaching website. I have a podcast as well. Lisawentzshow.com. But and the two are connected. But yeah, if you want to know more about coaching, certainly visit my website. And I am here for advice. You don’t have to visit my website and schedule a call. I do a free 20 minute consultation call. And I’m here for advice. So if somebody wants to just ask me about resources or things they can do, that’s fine. You’re not signing up for a program. We’re just having a conversation. And anything I can do in terms of advice I’m happy to give you so I want your listeners to hear that. The other thing I want your listeners to hear, if you don’t mind is you’ll be surprised just how fast the work works. Really. And I assume during your work that you get similar response where people say to you Wow, I didn’t realize that this would move. I would move so fast and to shoot through this work and get results. So quickly, you know.
Dr. Doreen Downing 30:01
I think what they get most surprised about is that there’s a root and they didn’t believe it, they didn’t know it. They say, oh, that is what happened. That was my past. And, you know, that’s it. I’ve moved on since then. And once we start combing a little more deeply it, it’s like, oh, you know, that kind of Aha. It then requires a different kind of treatment, not just making a better speech, and crafting a speech, it’s really about tapping into the potential that was perhaps lost or abandoned, or so it’s reclaiming who we really are. And today, in listening to you, I think the whole journey that you went through, of course, that you’ve shared with us today, but then how you bring that understanding and that knowing into your sessions with people, and that how quickly it feels like that. That seems to be a big takeaway for me today, for listeners is how you devise some kind of process that has something to do with, hey, let’s get to the root. And let’s get to figuring this thing out physically. And it’s, a you said dense, I would say intense, did you say intense or dense,
Lisa Wentz: 31:25
I said dense courses. Because the reason I say that is because I know a lot of my colleagues will say things like, I won’t work with somebody in less than a three month commitment, I won’t work with somebody, let’s say they sign into minimum 10 sessions and things like that. I don’t see it that way. I’m not saying they’re wrong, because what’s right for them is doesn’t have to be right for me. But the way I see it is every individual has individual needs, and somebody could move through what’s plaguing them within a few sessions. It might not take 10 sessions, somebody else it might take longer. So it really depends on the individual. And just to go off of something you said a minute ago, if you don’t mind, you know, the body stores a lot. The body stores a lot it stores in the recesses of our mind. And, the body stores our trauma or anxiety from the past. And there’s a good reason people compartmentalize and don’t want to look at it, because they may not have the resources to deal with it yet. So for somebody like you, when you say, you know, you, we get to the root cause of things, right, because they need that support to do it. Otherwise, some of it can be very frightening. You know, and it’s, and also, you know, when it comes to trauma it’s very frightening. Also, it could simply just be frightening to have something come up, or to be given feedback on how you are as a speaker, or how you’re coming across as a speaker, and not have a system in place to then make it better. You know, what I mean? The best coaches will have a system in place for you specifically, not a cookie cutter system, but for you specifically to be able to hone in on what it is that your needs are, and get you from point A to point B and the time that you need to be or want to be. The reason I say that is because you know, there’s a lot of coaches out there and some of them are kind of new, and then they might be able to critique something, but then they don’t know how to give the resources and that can be really jarring for people. It’s like Oh, now I know I’ve got these little bit of flaws or things I got to deal with. Well, how do I deal with them? You know, it can increase anxiety right? So hope you don’t mind that little tangent but it is just my goal here to give your audience your listeners reassurance. That’s where that’s coming from.
Dr. Doreen Downing 33:41
Yes, you have and I think that what I add to that is that it came from most of my own personal journey around being trained as a traditional psychologist and looking for the pain and you know, having people go back and re-experience pain, but eventually with a whole other kind of training I’ve done is around finding the beauty the potential, the Essence and that’s why I call it Essential Speaking. The essence of this, of this individual is a human being. Now when I work with people that’s what I see. I can see they are trapped in their patterns, but to be able to view somebody and just see the magnificent. And so that’s what I feel like we as coaches are there is to witness and mirror back the way that we weren’t mirrored back when we were earlier when we were younger. Yes. Hello in there. Come on out. It’s safe. Lisa, thank you for sharing personal details as well as the how you work and I really appreciate you sharing so much today. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate that.
Also listen on…
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.