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You’re probably getting tired of listening to the David Foster Wallace Kenyon University graduation speech and are in dire need of some inspiring new words (just kidding, something that perfect and gorgeous never gets old). So why can’t those words come from you? That’s the idea behind Allison Shapira’s company, Global Public Speaking, which aims to get rid of—or at lease ease—the nerves that go along with speaking to large groups of people. As Allison says, DC is a town that likes to talk, and wouldn’t it be so much better if we were a town that likes to talk AND can talk well? (Speak well? Talk good?) Using her experiences as an opera singer (which is awesome) Allison helps her clients find their voice and something important to say. Not to mention an answer to the question: Is it harder to be an opera singer or a public speaker. The answer will not surprise you.

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First, explain simply, what exactly it is you do.

I am the founder and CEO of Global Public Speaking LLC, a company that helps people give powerful and authentic speeches and presentations. We offer executive coaching and group workshops for individuals and teams in private sector companies, nonprofits, international organizations, and the federal government. Through public speaking training, we help people find their voice and their courage to speak.

When was the company started? Why?

I’ve been teaching public speaking and presentation skills for over 10 years, and in December 2012 I moved to Washington, DC to launch the company full-time. I decided to dive in!

How do you want to change your industry?

I’d like the business of speaking to be more authentic and personal than it is today. With so many boring, overly formal speeches and presentations out there, I’d like to inspire people to find their voice and their courage to be themselves in front of an audience. I’d also like people to embrace public speaking for its fullest potential: to empower, inspire, and motivate audiences to take action. It’s not just about speaking; it’s about acting on our words.

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Why did you choose DC as your home base?

I like to say with a smile that Washington is a town that likes to talk, and I always knew I’d find a very receptive audience to public speaking training. I specialize in global communication, and DC is definitely a hub for international organizations, nonprofits, and companies. Plus, like my previous home of Boston, DC is a place people move to with passion and purpose. Even if we don’t agree with each other, we are all here to change the world and have an impact, and that makes for a very inspiring atmosphere.

What would force you to leave DC?

More winters like the one we just had, or the allure of living abroad.

What do you hope to provide your clients with that they probably aren’t finding anywhere else?

As a former opera singer, I have a number of different techniques to help my clients use breathing and breath support to add power and authority to their voice. Also, having studied and taught workshops at the Harvard Kennedy School, I’ve developed tools to help people speak across different sectors, industries, and countries. People aren’t just hiring a trainer: they’re hiring my expertise, experience, and passion for my work.

Why create something new?

For most of my life, I enjoyed working in large organizations. But I always felt constrained, that I could only share part of my interests and capabilities as it related to the job description. Talking about my musical career or other interests wasn’t “appropriate” in professional settings. Instead, I’ve now built a company around everything I love: my teaching, coaching, music, and foreign language interests. Everything I love to do supports my personal and professional brand.

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Why do you want to specifically target women for public speaking?

While teaching workshops at Harvard, I realized that women were struggling with additional challenges when preparing to speak in public, such as society’s views of women in leadership or their own cultural or personal perceptions. I saw that when these women learned the skills of public speaking, they also started to take ownership of their right to speak up. It became a form of leadership development and empowerment. And I realized that this kind of training was crucial for women in developing countries where the societal constraints on women were even stronger but where there were increasing leadership opportunities for women.

What speech have you heard recently that has inspired you?

I teach at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in an executive master’s program for principals of DC Public Schools. In December 2013, as we graduated the inaugural class of this incredible program, the keynote speaker was Tim King of Urban Prep Academies. His words were personal, humorous, and empowering all at the same time, while still respecting the formality of the occasion. And his nonverbal delivery techniques – his eye contact and vocal variety – were outstanding.

What is the most common problem that your clients want to overcome?

So many people feel nervous before a speech, and in my travels to East Africa and the Middle East over the past few months, I’ve seen how truly universal this nervousness is. It doesn’t matter which foreign language people are speaking or how personal or professional their speech subject – everyone gets nervous. So in addition to preparation techniques to make sure clients know their subject and their audience, we also work on physical breathing and stretching techniques so they know how to release tension and relax their body before and during a speech.

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What constitutes a “good” speech? A “great” one?

Let’s talk about a “great” speech: a truly great speech happens when the speaker absolutely knows his or her subject and is truly passionate about that subject – and then shares that passion with the audience. And for those who might not be passionate about their work – being interested in their work is good enough; they don’t have to be wildly passionate. A great speech is also one which stays within the allotted time and has a discernable structure which takes the audience on a journey and doesn’t lose them halfway through.  In fact, passionate speakers often need to reign themselves in to stay on topic and on time.

Is it easier to be an opera singer or an inspirational public speaker? Because both seem super hard.

Public speaking is a lot easier than singing opera. In opera, the audience expects you to be perfect – they don’t want any mistakes or mishaps. It’s a performance, a show. We’re watching the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics these days, and it’s the same thing: the judges deduct points for losing your way or falling or putting your hand on the ground as you land.

Public speaking is not about putting on a perfect performance; it’s about being authentic and connecting with the audience.  It’s OK to have a few um’s or ah’s or lose your place for a moment, as long as you get back on track and keep going. No one is judging you except yourself.

But what the two fields have in common is the importance of practice, feedback, and continuous improvement. Public speaking is a skill, and the more you practice, the better you will become. And both fields have the capacity to affect people on a deep and personal level. When we connect with our authentic voice and our desire to communicate a message, we become truly powerful.  Let’s use that power to achieve great things!


For more information about Global Public Speaking, head over to Alllison’s website.