Q&A_Gail Larsen + Natasha Lakos

Q&A with Gail Larsen // on Transformational Speaking

“Transform your relationship with your voice via the deepest stirrings of your soul.”

That’s what Fast Company said about the work of my friend Gail Larsen.

Because you’re part of my world, I know you’re likely concerned about important issues. And you’ve probably heard an inner voice prompting you to speak up and say something that will make a difference.

I’d heard great things about Gail’s work, and when I learned she would be in my city offering a 2 day workshop I jumped at the chance to learn from her. (Gail’s regular gig is an immersion experience in Santa Fe that’s sold out months in advance). I thought learning to be a great public speaker was about being polished, poised and removing “like” and “um” from your vocabulary. Gail taught me that great speakers are also vulnerable, passionate, authentic, courageous, insightful, reflective, and sincere. Gail is a master at seeing what’s real.

Whether you just want to explore your truth and share it one-on-one, or are ready to make a bigger impact by speaking to audiences, I know Gail can help you courageously and effectively express what you’re called to say.

Settle in for an enlightening Q&A…and then be sure to check out Gail’s new course, Transformational Speaking Online!

Gail, your work builds on a philosophy that comes from indigenous culture, which teaches us about “original medicine”. The idea being that each of us is unique, nowhere else duplicated. As you say, it reflects our individual gifts and talents – and that these are to be revealed in our lives, our work and our speaking. You say that honoring this requires our willingness to stand out rather than fit in.

Can you give us an example – who in your opinion has embodied their “original medicine” as a great speaker?

A person doesn’t need to relate to the term Original Medicine to exemplify it.  Anytime you experience a speaker who is completely at home in themselves, without apology or self-consciousness, they are expressing their medicine. They don’t engage in comparison or competition but trust their distinctive essence rather than waiting to see what is expected. As a result, you’ll often experience the unexpected in their presence. Medicine can be soft, it can be strong, it can be subtle – or all three – but it is in absolute alignment and trust in one’s original gift. Some of the name speakers who trust their medicine, whether or not they relate to the term, or whether or not you like their style, are the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and the over-the-top Tony Robbins. I recently heard Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! speak, and she is as good as they come. I don’t know how she holds the issues she reports on daily with the light and energy she brings to her audiences. Yet her medicine is one of clarity, courage, commitment, and inspiration.

What’s YOUR original medicine? How does it relate to the gift you want to give the world?

My medicine name came to me when a client was introducing me and described me in a way that had yet to enter my awareness.  Her naming of my medicine in that moment actually caused me to fall silent because it felt really big and I also recognized it to be true when I am operating in my gift and strength. Rumi said, “We each have a king inside who recognizes what delights the soul.” That internal recognition of my gift was a sacred moment, and now I rarely tell others my medicine name except when I am teaching and students ask. You’d be surprised how seldom that happens as they are so deep into their own exploration!

Our medicine name is not something we put on a business card because often it is private and sacred and would make no sense to someone else, only to that king inside. I remind myself of my medicine to call my gift forward, especially when I question myself. That’s the beauty of it. When we’re not at our best, it is an internal call to stand in the power of the truth of who we are. Who do I think I am?  My medicine reminds me of who I am beyond any self-doubt or criticism. And reminds me that we must express our medicine or it is lost to the world for all time.

An unexpected outcome of taking your workshop was that I realized we have an opportunity to communicate in this way, not just when we’re on stage, being interviewed or “invited” to speak…but every day, in every conversation. This was a revelation for me. What’s one element of Transformational Speaking that we can bring to everyday interactions with others, not just when we’re on stage?

The most transformational practice I can recommend is to act and speak from our HomeZone™ consistently. It requires that we get out of our heads and feel our connection to the ground beneath our feet. When we truly embody what we’re saying and are present for others, people not only hear us but feel our intention and presence. (More on the Home Zone™ below…)

You have 12 principles for developing your way to becoming a great speaker. I love #1 which is “speak the one good word”. From David Whyte’s poem: “Loaves and Fishes”:

This is not

the age of information…

People are hungry,

and one good word is bread

for a thousand.

When we’re building our businesses, why must we speak that “one good word” to our clients?

In a world of information overload, that “one good word” you speak will resonate so strongly with a potential client that they will choose to work with you.

What is that one good word?  I’m reminded of Curly, the wizened cowboy in City Slickers, telling Billy Crystal there was “just one thing“ he needed to know. Crystal thought he was on to the secret of life and asked, “What is it?”  Curly says, “You have to find it.” I submit that “it” will come from living and expressing our Original Medicine.

You teach about the “comfort zone” (which will get us invited to speak) and the “home zone” (which will get us invited back). I think a lot of us are striving just to feel comfortable on stage. What’s the difference, and how do we move from the comfort zone to the home zone?

The comfort zone is eminently professional.  It is our facts and information, our credentials.  It gets us hired, but it isn’t particularly memorable. The HomeZone™ moves us from the professional to the personal. It is a way of speaking where our stories show our authenticity and vulnerability and humanity.  We need both, of course! But without the HomeZone™, a talk doesn’t stick or generate action.

You called me out on ending my sentences as questions when I speak, which I never realized I did until that instant! Is there something you see us doing, that makes you cringe when speaking (besides using um, like, etc.)?

I actually don’t cringe with “um” because if one is “home” it isn’t noticeable. When it is noticeable is it because a speaker is actually lost for words or unprepared and they are fumbling to find what’s next. Ending sentences is an important skill so your audience can track with you and have some space to catch up. The communications flaw that for me is the most challenging is ending a declarative statement with a lilt at the end, making it a question. (It is called Valley Girl Syndrome.)  It strips a speaker of her power and authority in an instant. And it is more common with women than with men.

As you know, I work with modern entrepreneurs, changemakers who are passionate about creating a better future. A big part of their work is speaking to audiences to get across their core message. You define a core message as expressed by the writer Rilke:

“Go into yourself.

Find the reason that commands you to write (speak!)

See whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart;

Confess to yourself whether you would have to die

If you were forbidden to write (speak) it!”

This really invites us to consider our core message. It’s asking us – does this really pull not only at our audience, but at us, in that way…does it have that level of depth/power. We’re not just talking about expertise here, but about what moves us – either inspires us or disturbs us on a personal level. I think what might set a good speaker apart from a fantastic one is this distinction – what’s your advice on “finding” your core message?

Most of us have a lifetime of material from which to draw which is often the challenge in defining our core message. The most direct route is to set aside finding it as a strategy and to ask yourself, “If I had just one minute to speak, what is the most essential message I want to leave with my audience?” It forces us to hone that vast reservoir of content into a concise statement that reflects what we most care about.

When you’re clear about your medicine and your message, it simplifies and amplifies everything you do in the world. That’s because you recognize that if you can’t express who you are and what you most care about, it is not worth committing your time and energy. You know what to say yes to and what to say no to. That’s a great gift to yourself and to the world!

I made a note from our workshop that I’m curious about…you talked about how we act is our activism, how we think is our advocacy, and that there is a field of energy above that, on our soul level – and that we need to be there as a speaker, that in some way we need to be silent so the energy can go up, and that this is the level of artistry. Can you expand on this idea?

There are four levels of engagement.

Level 1 – the literal level – is that of information. It informs the Activist, who perceives a symptom, a dis/ease in society that needs to change. The message? Wake up and change what you’re doing! When we receive a directive like that, we tend to resist and shut down.  Our own internal arguments and set of facts rise up.

Level II – the level of the mind – is where we engage others through insight. It informs the speech of the Advocate, who asks: What information can I provide to change your mind so you will grasp the importance and think differently about this issue? Sparking insight can stimulate a desire for change – but it falls short because hearing a good idea doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything with it.

Level III – the level of the soul – is that of the imagination, or the Artist. Here we experience the power of story, song, poetry, art, and ceremony, forms that bypass the rational mind and touch us emotionally. Being touched at the soul level is the level that has the best shot of moving us to act.  This is where we hear a call to align with something greater than ourselves. At that point, the information and insight we’ve gained is more likely to be implemented. Viola – change happens!

Level IV – the level of spirit – is the place of illumination and is Beyond Words. There we transcend the limits of our bodies, minds, and emotions.  We are transported into the realm of the sacred. This is not something a speaker can plan, but when we feel that rare energy with an audience, we reached a place of oneness where anything is possible. Our capacity to inhabit that place and just be silent speaks volumes.

I remember you talked about three stages of life, and that being in the third one, you have a lot of wisdom, and you basically don’t put up with s***. So give it to us – what is your biggest piece of advice when it comes to public speaking? In your opinion, what’s the one thing we all need to know or take action on when it comes to our speaking?

You’re referring to the “three faces,” a wisdom teaching I received from my teacher, cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien. It tells us that we will stay alive to our lives (and our speaking!) if we express the three faces. (Here’s a video of my talking about them.)

The first is the face of the child, the face of wonder and curiosity and awe.

The second is the face of the young lad or young maiden, seized by passion and creative fire.

The third is the face of the elder, having seen what we’ve seen and knowing what we know. It is called the face of Rude Magnificence! Don’t you love it?

So from my face of rude magnificence, the one thing I ask you to take action on is to find what is yours to do and do it. Use your voice for needed change. Don’t make excuses. Speak your truth and find your tribe. Be the Holy Fool. And join me April 1 for my Holy Fools Day Celebration and be inspired to break with convention and find your voice as a radical change artist. The world is calling for your greatness!

Thank you Gail!
It means so much to have you be a part of this series.


TSO-LargeGail offers a 4 day immersion in Santa Fe, NM, for only 6 participants to learn the “heart and art” of speaking. You get ongoing individual coaching on video throughout the class, and leave with a new presentation that expresses the power of who you are and what you love. Doesn’t that sounds fantastic?

If you prefer to work from home, or are held back from attending her live workshop by time, travel or expense…check out Transformational Speaking™ Online!

Gail Larsen is the founder of Real Speaking® (www.realspeaking.com) and the award-winning author of Transformational Speaking: If You Want to Change the World, Tell a Better Story (Random House and Brilliance Audio). Her work has been described by Fast Company as “transforming your relationship to your voice via the deepest stirrings of your soul.” Gail delights in each person finding their distinctive and influential way to speak from the truth of who they are and what they care about to open hearts, inspire change, and move people to act. An SBA award-winning entrepreneur and catalyst for life-affirming ventures, her original approach to communication draws from her own journey as a previously reluctant speaker, her respect for indigenous wisdom, twenty-five years in the world of speaking, and wide experience in business and association management. She is a former EVP of the worldwide National Speakers Association. Gail teaches annually at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, and offers her Transformational Speaking™ Immersions exclusively in Santa Fe, NM. And you can now take her celebrated course online!