What is a Communication Coach anyway?

Leah Bonvissuto  Founder + Communication Coach   PresentVoices

Leah Bonvissuto

Founder + Communication Coach


Do you know what I do? 

It's occurred to me only recently that many people close to me don’t really know what I do. Some of my closest friends (even some of my clients!) think I spend most of my time coaching formal public speaking (like, at a podium). I’m a Communication Coach and I’m not doing a great job of clearly articulating what I do. Ouch. 

Recently, a prospective client asked for videos showcasing my clients in formal public speaking situations. I had very few to share, and not just because of client anonymity. It’s because that's not what I spend most of my time helping people do. 

When I first started doing this work, I thought it would be a lot of formal public speaking training, like helping people prepare for TED talks. And with my background as a theater director, that felt safe. There’s an audience, lights, a script and a stage. I grew up in the theater—that made sense to me—but it was when I left the theater and had to pitch myself and my ideas that things got confusing. I felt much more comfortable being told what to say. Stage relationships come with a rulebook, but I had real-world fright. 

Reframing and reclaiming public speaking. 

It turns out that I spend most of my time helping people speak in spontaneous, every day, sometimes mundane situations at work. Most of us can avoid formal public speaking at a podium, unless we're giving a toast at a wedding. But at work, we speak in public constantly, and it's rarely at a podium. It's in a boardroom, an office, the hallway or an elevator. It's on video conference and on client calls. It's speaking up at meetings and asking for a raise. That's public speaking today. Sure, I help people practice for investor pitches and presentations, but even those have an element of conversation and spontaneous speaking to them. Even a keynote has a Q+A, and panels are a whole different ballgame. 

74% of us are terrified of public speaking and most of us fear it more than death.

[National Institute of Mental Health]

In my work coaching hundreds of professionals in dozens of industries, I’ve found this number to be closer to 90%. 

We’re not communicating well. 

We’ve convinced ourselves we can avoid public speaking at all costs and yet we do it all day every day. Communication is the single most important thing we do and we believe we can’t change the way we do it. We all feel this way—I know because I speak to so many of you about the potential for connection and impact you could have if you could only communicate the way you want to.

You’re telling me you feel this way but rarely telling each other. I truly believe that most of the impact of my work is telling each of you that others feel the same way. Because the collective power of communication is the power of the world. Speaking is self-care. And listening is love. 

But we don’t talk about it. 

When we feel unprepared for a challenging conversation at work, we convince ourselves that it comes naturally to everyone else so there must be something wrong with us. We get nervous and the nerves build on themselves. We feel isolated and ashamed. We don’t prepare (because we don’t know how to) or we over-prepare (because it’s all we know). I hear you and I see you. 

People want to feel confident.

I can’t teach confidence. Confidence is a by-product of a behavioral shift. The way the world treats you gives you confidence.

I once coached a 15-year-old girl. Her parents wanted her to say “Like” less. I sat her down in our first session and said, “I don’t care what your parents want. What do you want?” She said she says “Like” because it makes her sound less confident in front of her friends and she didn’t want to do that anymore. She wanted to speak with confidence so they would too. 

When I meet with someone, I don’t care what anyone else wants for that person, but only because it’s ineffective if you don’t want it for yourself. But even in my group trainings, where people are not self-selecting to participate in that workshop, most people I’ve met find resonance with these themes and with this work.

What I do as a Communication Coach. 

I’m more of an outside eye and sounding board than a coach. I help people have more intention and awareness around their innate communication style and creative process. I help them deal with the voice in their head that plays a repetitive soundtrack of negativity. I help people discern between constructive feedback and biased, unhelpful, even gendered or racist feedback. I help people connect with the type of person they feel the least connected to. I help people tap into a collective consciousness of confidence. It’s not mastery. It is practice. 

In the years I’ve been doing this work and the hundreds of people I’ve coached, I’ve come to find universal themes which manifest across gender spectrums, sexual orientation, cultural backgrounds, race, geographical location and religious affiliation. I feel honored to be in the rooms where these things are spoken, but I know they are mostly unspoken outside of those conference rooms and offices. I’m in the business of helping people shift lifelong behaviors that are deeply ingrained in their very identity. It’s powerful stuff. Here are a few of those recurring themes and things I help people work on in critical communication moments:

  • Align your rate of speech with your thought process

  • Slow your rate of speech

  • Make unconscious behaviors conscious (fillers, qualifiers, apologies)

  • Change the way you talk about yourself

  • UNapologize

  • Think on your feet

  • Articulate your ideas

  • Speak up for yourself

  • Handle interruptions

  • Show up in any situation

  • Take up space

  • Take up time

  • Reframe and reclaim public speaking

  • Advocate for yourself and others

  • Communicate with clarity, confidence and cohesion

  • Improve presence

  • Be proactive vs. reactive

  • Prepare for spontaneous speaking

  • Have challenging conversations 

  • Ask for a raise

  • Deal with speaking nerves and anxiety

What I don’t do as a Communication Coach. 

Change who you are at your core. I always relate this work less to transformation and more to a blooming onion. The work has always been about peeling back the layers of unhelpful feedback received as the result of other people’s preconceived notions of us so that people can speak truthfully and authentically.

That’s what I do. Because communication is everything and public speaking is everywhere. Connection is the power of the world.