Updated: Jan 3, 2019
Business folk trust May to make them make sense
She's got more - a lot more - than just the gift of gab.
Barbara May, of Barbara May Productions of St. Albert, has developed a way of teaching even the shyest of speakers to talk in public with entertaining confidence and effortless style.
And she honed that skill while raising two young daughters on her own - Amanda, 8 and Deanna, 5 - and performing an amateur stand-up comedy routine Thursdays at Yuk Yuks.
"One of the main reasons I went into business for myself was to have time for my daughters," she said of her company that she has been slowly developing over the last 2 1/2 years. "I think that's why a lot of women are starting up their own businesses. I can design my schedule around my daughters."
May, 32, says she uses a combination of 15 years of gymnastics coaching experience, a natural ability to connect with people and an imaginary "Rolodex" of funny stories and jokes to mould business personnel, politicians, coaches and even teachers into stutterless speakers.
No nudes, please
And the lessons don't involve imaginary naked audiences, she joked. "Politicians have a problem. It's hard for them to let their true personalities come through when they're speaking," she said. "Except for (Premier Ralph Klein). He's all natural and some people won't like him for that, but most will," said May, who has not had the pleasure of coaching the premier.
"With business groups, quite often the issues are more complex and involved. I try to work with the meeting planners in those situations to customize my presentation to their needs."
Her clients include the Royal Bank, West Edmonton Business Association, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Edmonton Sun, to name a few. She has also coached a number of high-profile politicians but she wouldn't say who.
May can be hired by almost anyone or any company for motivational workshops, one-on-one training sessions and, her personal favorite, keynote speeches. She says she uses bold body language, creative theories and entertaining anecdotes to pass on the arts of communicating and problem solving.
Handshake tips handed out
May can even teach the secrets of a good handshake. But how the sessions and presentations are designed depends on how May feels her pupils learn best. For example, she says her coaching experience taught her how to distinguish between those who learn from sight, sound or touch.
That skill is what sets this one-woman-show apart from the rest, she says. "Most of it's trial and error. I offer as much feedback as possible and if I feel, in a workshop, that someone needs more work, I'll make them stand up and do it over." But her skill and talent don't come cheap. "I usually won't leave the house for less than $300.00," she said, adding that her company doesn't make her "gobs" of money, "just a living."
Those who want to learn how to chat up a storm without shelling out a fortune may want to check out May's video entitled May We Talk? available at Audrey's Books for $19.99. It contains several short, but hilarious, clips on public speaking which are also aired every day on Access television. May is currently creating a CD-ROM of her lessons which will be available early next year.
Scott Clements, president and CEO of the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority, knows the importance of being a good public speaker. The retired air force lieutenant-general knows what it's like to gets butterflies in his stomach and knots in his tongue before addressing an audience - something he's done hundreds of times in his years with the military. "It's not guaranteed that you will have a stellar performance and that can lead to some nervousness," he said. "But if you know your subject well and you introduce as much of your own personality as you can, the audience will sense that."
Although he isn't familiar with May's course, Clements recommends taking some kind of instruction before addressing an audience because winging in can lead to embarrassing slip-ups.
Grant MacEwan Community College offers a one-day course on presentations and public speaking. For $129, students can learn how to prepare for, organize and present ideas in front of large groups without fear of failure. The next course runs Oct. 21. May's next public workshops run Oct. 27 and Nov. 24 for $89 plus GST per person.
By Kim Bradley
The Edmonton Sun, Monday, September 22, 1997