Have you ever felt like you’ve really hit your stride with speaking – you’re making eye contact, feeling prepared but not rehearsed, and truly connecting with your audience? Today’s guest Alexia Vernon might tell you you’ve successfully stepped into your moxie.
You are listening to the Beyond Applause Podcast, episode number 24.
Welcome to Beyond Applause , a podcast for mission-driven leaders, coaches and creatives who are ready to share their expertise and stories through public speaking. Here’s your host, Michelle Barry Franco.
Hello my speaker friends. I have a very cool treat for you today because you get not one but two speaking coaches in this episode. Alexia Vernon and I dive into her new book, “Step Into Your Moxie,” and in usual form, take our conversation in a variety of directions, but all of them really about what it means to share your voice in a way that really serves both you and the world. Lex brings some really practical insights and strategies for removing barriers to this kind of expression onstage and really everywhere in life. This conversation is as much about leadership and overall communication as it is about public speaking, but before we dive in, heads up, we are rebranding. Beyond Applause is still at the heart of our work. Our goal is to support you in making a difference when you speak every single time. It’s about way more than being amazing onstage, getting that standing o, which always sounds a little not quite right to me anyway, or soaking up the glory in the spotlight. We’ve always been and will continue to be about serving at the highest level with your message and your story.
That’s why we are setting up to be the Speak So It Matters Podcast. Starting October 24th, you’ll hear our new intro and see our new podcast image and there will be some slight changes to our programming, mostly just adding in way more story and inspiration alongside the super practical guidance we’ve been sharing since episode one. The heart of this podcast is still deeply in service of you and your mission to make a difference in our world with your message. I’m super excited about this evolution and I hope you love it too. I am so thrilled I get to have this conversation with Alexia Vernon today. Lex and I met because we were in a group together, and I was so taken with her poise and her expertise as well as her warmth and generosity. In fact, we one day while we were at one of the live events for this group, we stole away to lunch together. Lex basically just told me as many of her business success secrets as she could fit into our lunchtime. It was so delightful and fun and it was also super useful to me. That’s how I knew that we’d get to have a really rich conversation to share with you. Lex, I’m so excited to have this conversation with you. Thank you for being here.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity, Michelle. I remember that lunch very fondly as well. I’m grinning from ear to ear remembering it.
I love it. That’s so fun. This really does feel like a special conversation because you and I have similar experiences, at least when it comes to helping people share their voice through public speaking, yet there are so many ways that you come at sharing our voices that are different than just the way I talk about it. I love that we can talk about this from your window into this world. I mean, even the title of your book, “Step Into Your Moxie,” has such a fun energy to it. Will you talk about what you mean by stepping into your moxie, and also just where that came from for you?
Yes, so I will define it first and then I will go back and briefly describe where the name came from. To me, when one steps into his or her moxie, it means that you have the ability to walk into any room or onto any stage and speak up for yourself and the ideas and issues that matter most to you and you know that when you use your voice, you move people to take action on what you have said.
I love that.
Thank you. Thank you. In terms of where it came from, around the time that I was writing my first proper book, which was on a very different subject, how to onboard millennials into the workplace. Right as things were finishing up with my agent and we were about to get ready to start pitching publishers, I had this hit for both on women and voice that I really wanted to write. There were some shifts that were starting to happen in my business and I knew that I wanted to pivot away from some of the things I was coaching on to focusing much more on communication and more specifically public speaking. At the time the book had a very different title, “Shatter your glass ceiling,” and then there was a recommendation, maybe it’s find your chutzpah. My agent said this could be a future book, but like let’s just stay the course where you are. Not too surprisingly, that book did get picked up, but it never felt like that book that I had a soul connection to, which is a horrible thing to say about one of your book babies, but it was the truth. This is a book that I really wanted to write and it’s been percolating inside for at least a decade, probably longer.
In terms of where the word moxie came from, I gotten some feedback that chutzpah while a nice homage to my Jewish roots on one side of my family may not be something that spoke to as wide of a population as I had the potential to be able to speak to. When I was looking up different words, lots of words felt like they could be it, but there was something about moxie being playful that really resonated. For those who don’t know before there was just a word moxie, which meant verve and determination and nerve, there was this thing called Moxie soda that was created by this doctor, a legit doctor, Dr. Augustin Thompson back in the 1880s I think it was. He put out this claim that if you drink this stuff, it would make you feel confident. Of course, it’s like dark sugar water, but nevertheless he got a patent and it was like medically recommended so I loved this idea, even though it was super cheeky and ridiculous that there could be this answer like you could just have this anecdote that would amplify your confidence. All of that stuff in mind, step into your moxie has been the catchphrase, the brand promise for a number of years.
I love that. I did not know that little story about the elixir, but that’s super fun. Makes me want to Google it and see if we can see the-
You can still find Moxie sodas in the weirdest places. I have some of the bottles because they make a great decoration, but I’m too scared to drink it.
It seems well-advised. I don’t know, but I do, yes, this playful concept really I noticed it when I was watching your book trailer, which just was so fun. I mean, I already knew you were fun, but I was super delighted to see how playful the beginning of it was and it’s just really cool.
Thank you for that. I find, and you are very much like me in this way, that in the work when you really believe in it, it’s easy to slip into being overtly earnest about it. It becomes very serious and as a result can almost feel paralyzing for people like this has to be difficult and intense. I don’t know about you, but the more important and intense I feel like something is, the harder it is for me to go all in and do it because I just create a ton of excuses. I really believe that anything that we can bring humor and heart to, we’re going to have more success with. With the book and with any of the work that I’ve done more recently since I’ve stepped more fully into my own moxie, I’ve always wanted the work to be soul-stirring, but also as playful as it is practical.
Yeah, I think that that is so beautiful and so right in my experience too. I think there was a phase, even as a person comes into their expertise where there is … I don’t know, earnestness is natural, you know, but I think that is also a sign when you’re really easing into that place of … What is the right word? Just readiness to be big and bold with it. It is an interplay. I mean, I think that’s what you’re speaking to, right? If we can know that when we bring that playfulness, that spaciousness, that levity, we actually will feel so much more freedom to get on that stage, say that thing that we need to say.
To do it in a way that’s going to connect and be really hooky for the people who are listening.
Yeah, in fact, I love this quote from your book where you say moxie is not just what you do with your voice. It’s also what you leave behind through your influence. I did all these things in my head like, okay, I can make up what that means. I can see different windows into how that’s totally true, but just tell me more about that.
In a public speaking context, to me that means that what I’ve said doesn’t just give people aha moments as they’re listening, but when they leave, they can’t wash me out of their heads and then out of their hearts, if that makes sense.
They just keep thinking about, not even what I just said, but what it evoked in them and what they want to do or say or who they want to be that’s different. To me, that legacy that we leave behind through our influence in an everyday way is not to go morbid, but if for whatever reason we were not here tomorrow, what would the people that we spent our time with say about us. Would they talk just about what we did or rather who we helped them become through the everyday conversations we had? For those who are parents, I think about this every single day with my daughter that my legacy hopefully is her being able to navigate through her world with a little bit more ease than perhaps I did. Recognize her own moxie sooner than her mother did, but also be a part of a world that mirrors back the things that she is hopefully saying to herself. That’s to me another big piece is how do we use our voice, not only to advocate for ourselves, which is certainly important, but also for what we want to see different in the world. Whether we’re talking about our own little corner of the world. That’s okay, or we’re talking about what’s happening in our government, or what’s happening with water, around race, around immigration, or anything else that speaks to us.
Yeah. So many little rich nuggets in there. In the middle of it I saw that the ending of your book trailer where, is that your daughter who said-
Yeah, I mean, you know that part where you’re speaking about just being that for those who are watching, you said it in parenting, but when I think of your book trailer and see that there she is watching you, out there sharing your moxie. That was the first thing. Then the second thing that struck me was when you said, it’s really about back to that, it’s also what you leave behind through your influence and you said it’s not just what we said. I don’t think these were your words, but I think this was part of the gist like how we be on stage or wherever we’re sharing our message or contributing, but it’s who we help them become. It’s such a beautiful, really fascinating way to think about moxie, I have to say, because when I first hear the word moxie I think it’s about the person who’s expressing. That’s a really cool next level, next layer to the use of that word.
I find myself, I don’t know about you, Michelle, thinking often about evolutions in my business or how I have grown in terms of my capacity to handle difficult stuff. I will often track back to something someone said, oftentimes it’s a speech or a book and that to me is a reminder of how important it is, not that I have to like reach billions of people with my ideas. Not that that wouldn’t be lovely, but that if we know that our ideas can positively perhaps even radically improve people’s lives, the responsibility we have to claim this ability so that we can serve in that way.
Yeah, perfect, beautifully said. Restate, bold, tweeted out. Yeah. It’s just gorgeous. I would love to get even more practical and to some of the nitty-gritty, especially around how do women do this or how do people do this? It’s one thing to know, yes, we are on this earth to do something meaningful, to feel that and I think that’s how your clients and the people you’ve worked with I’m imagining feel, that’s the case for mine too. They’re like, I know I’m supposed to go say this, but dang, there’s all these things that get in the way. I guess I really have two questions. One is in your experience, what is it that’s getting in the way? Then how do they get it out of the way so they can go step into their moxie?
In any given moment we have one of four voices in our head, and it’s usually one of the first three. As I know you know through this work, until we learn how to navigate our self-talk in a way that’s going to serve our moxie, we are not going to be able to communicate with more power when we have an audience. Whether that’s an audience of one, 10, 100, 1000 or larger. One of the things I love to talk about in the book or in any of my trainings with people is identifying those voices. Most of us are pretty familiar with the voice of the critic and the critic will say things like, I’m not smart enough, I’m not funny enough, I’m not experienced enough. My list isn’t big enough. I don’t have enough clients. Always something I’m not enough. That’s one, but there’s so many others that we need to call out if we want to be able to address them rather than pretend that they’re not there. Another voice I see particularly for women that’s problematic is the voice of the cop. The cop as cops like to do polices everything and likes to make moral categories. It’s one or the other. For example, there is the right topic for a presentation and then that means everything else is the wrong topic for a presentation.
There is one way to you speaking, let’s say to grow my business and everything else is going to misfire. When we do that, when it’s an either or, we often paralyze ourselves because we’re so terrified we won’t get the right answer we must get the wrong answer that we don’t start. Then the second thing is oftentimes we miss out on the gray underutilized space that happens in life between black and white. The third voice equally troubling is the voice of the cheerleader and she’s kind of like a frenemy and that she seems like a friend at first because she’s so positive, but then you realize that dripping underneath is something that’s not so nice. Meaning when we have that voice of the cheerleader in our heads, we might say things like, it’s totally fine that I’m in the middle of the VIP day right now and I just got a call and my kid has the stomach flu, like I’ll figure it out. Happened two weeks ago. You know the voice that says it’s all right that I had stopped exercising, I’m eating lots of sugar and dairy and I’m not making time to take a shower. I’m barely sleeping. I will retire one day and then I can catch up.
The reason that’s bad in terms of communication is, well sometimes we need a little bit of that to get through like a sprint of something. If that becomes the default voice in our head, usually we’re not showing up and operating from our full potential. We get tired, we get sick, we burn out, we quit. The thing that I’ve learned for myself and through doing the work with others is that we all need to introduce the voice of the coach stat. It doesn’t work to try to silence our self-talk. What we want to be doing is talking back to it and the voice of the coach is all about asking questions. If we’ve got that inner critic to be able to say, where is an area where you shine that you could just take a moment and remember right now is the voice of the cop. The coach might ask, what does a third or fourth or even a fifth option look like before you make any decision? Or if it’s the cheerleader, what can you say no to or who can you ask for help? When we on a moment to moment basis default to always bringing in a coach like question to disrupt all the negative chatter, it really changes our worldview and brings us back to a place of possibility where we see opportunities, cosmic winks, if you will, rather than constraints.
That’s really cool. If I understand correctly, there are these four voices and at any given point you can maybe once you get real familiar with the way those voices sound in your own head, you can say, oh, this is my critic who’s talking right now. How can I bring in the coach to ask some questions?
I find that when somebody decides I’m going to create a presentation because it’s time for me to speak up for my business and really the same thing applies, I’m going to get on Facebook live or putting myself out there for podcasts to be able to spotlight my business a little bit. The first thing that kicks in is usually this, I have so much to say, where do I start? Then almost simultaneously, and who am I to think that I could be a messenger for this idea? Everybody else is already talking about it. That just starts this tailspin of inactivity. Then we flip flop between, let me plan out everything and over prepare and feel like we have to memorize. Then we go out and were not present at all because we’re just trying to basically perform the thing that we wrote like an essay or a blog post or a newsletter than something that’s happening in real time in front of a live audience. On the flip side, I’m sure you have clients like this too where without us they would just go out there and they would wing it and they might be fun, but at the end are like, wait, what was I supposed to take away from this? What was the big idea at the center?
Yeah, I just did it. In fact, the most recent podcast that I recorded, just a solo podcast was exactly about why pretty much no one can wing it ever. It’s not working. Anyway, yeah, exactly but that’s a really interesting sort of like these are the two scenarios, over preparing and not really paralysis, just this hyper focus on perfection so that you end up delivering in a way that just doesn’t engage and really doesn’t also help you feel as self-expressed. Like you really got to say what you wanted to say and be the speaker you know you can be.
That used to be me totally. I was a horrible improviser, so I never winged anything unless I absolutely had to when I was caught off guard but I would write out every single word. I would memorize it, I would stand up, I would practice it and sometimes my delivery would be great. Rarely was it flawless, but sometimes it would be, but then afterwards people would come up to me and I would have no memory that they were in the audience. That’s when I knew I was in my head the whole flipping time, like I was performing eye contact but I was not seeing people. Even if they said that thing you said was impactful, my speaking in the early days, nobody ever asked if they could work with me after because they might not have been able to articulate that they didn’t really feel seen and held. Clearly, that was the energy that I was bringing in.
Yes. That’s so beautiful. I’m really glad you said that because I know that people that are listening to this are struggling with that. That is often, it’s like I don’t get it. I feel like I’m doing all the things right. Right. I’ve read the book on how to craft a great talk or I took the local course on better presentation skills and I know I’m doing them right. Why isn’t it working?
The reason I love being able to bridge from public speaking to talking about let’s say during conversation you might have to have with a client or with a significant other to talking about negotiation or even a sales conversation is that the strategies that work in one context work in all of the contexts. So often approach our communication with less thought than we put into what we’re going to wear on a given day or what accessories we’re going to add to our outfit. Yet there’s nothing that is going to have a greater impact on us achieving the results we want for ourselves and for others than the words we use to communicate with ourselves and other people. At a minimum, asking ourselves what’s the outcome I want by the end of this speech, negotiation, sales call, whatever it is like what’s the call to action? Can I get super clear on how I’m going to ask for what I want my audience?
Again, you’re respective of their size to do and then depending on the level of preparation that’s possible for something. Working backwards from that end goal to make sure that everything we say, every story we tell, every piece of evidence we introduce, every question we ask is moving people towards that final destination. Anything else we just strip away because it might be interesting, but it’s just going to be confusing to whomever listening to us.
Yeah, yeah. I love that and it’s true. We do have varying degrees of ability to prepare for that conversation or that presentation or whatever it is. Sometimes you can prepare more than others, but yes, the call to action and it strikes me and I think this is consistent with what you’ve been saying and that connection. Being present, genuinely present in that moment is tenfold more valuable for the communication exchange for your goals and theirs than saying it all perfectly, right?
Yes. If we could only remember that as much as it’s great to weed out the vocalized thinking, the ums and the you knows, the sos, the likes, a little bit of it it’s okay because what people want more than anything is your presence. Yes, a huge piece of presence is learning how to stop and be still and hold silence on stage or in everyday communication. In the moments where our brains and our mouths get out of lock step to be able to create a moment for silence and to just be with another person, so much more powerful than having the perfectly polished phrase or story or the most sobering statistic.
Yes. Preach sister. I love it. Exactly.
We both live and breathe this stuff.
Yeah, so good. This seems like a really good time to ask you to tell us. What does it look and feel like when you’re in your moxie? How will I know that I’ve stepped into it?
That’s a great question. It will often feel like there is a colony of butterflies that have migrated into your chest or your tummy and are flapping their wings very quickly. I say that in that way because it would be very easy to identify what we’re feeling in those moments as fear or anxiety. I really don’t want anyone to do that because like to be clear, if you’re about to get hit by a car when you’re driving or you’re about to step on a scorpion, which can happen to those of us who live in Las Vegas. That’s okay to label that fear, but when we’re on the cusp of doing something big or more specifically saying something big, it can feel on the surface if we’re not self-aware very much the same and drive us to go into a story of, “Oh, I can’t do this. People may not like me.” Then we self-censor or we get it out but we play small it’s like a half truth, but the difference, and this is where discernment is really key is when it is moxie, we usually feel our chest opening even if we’re jiggling inside from all of the sensation we’re feeling versus when it’s fear. Usually you’ll feel your body constrict, your shoulders are in, your muscles are tight. You want to disappear and close off.
Wow. I love that distinction. I love that you’re giving such practical, you know, we can actually check in with our bodies and you know, it feel like my chest is opening even though I’m having all these crossover feelings that sure feel a lot like fear. Maybe this is my moxie showing up.
Emotion is another really great indicator. I don’t think most of us, this isn’t certainly not just for women, it’s for men as well. Know how to pick up clues from our emotions. There’s so much talk about can we show them, do we not show them? To me that’s only a piece of the conversation. The more interesting part is how can we really bring back that coach voice and ask, what is this emotion popping up here to teach me right now? I had a moment. I have many moments with my daughter that feel like they’re my greatest teachers at this stage of life. This morning I was dropping her off at school and I’m sure every parent can relate to this in one way or another. She is much like her mother was for a lot of years. She’s an introvert. She does very well with a couple of people at a time. It takes her a while to feel comfortable to put her voice into a room with her peers or even with adults and the way that the school works. It’s gorgeous school, but the kids from lots of different classes land on the playground in the morning and a piece of that is so they have to learn how to navigate and find somebody to play with.
She went while I was still holding her hand, she hadn’t let go yet to like three different little groups of young people in her class asking, “Can I do that with you?” In every single case she was told no. That moment when she looked up at me and she said, I’m all alone, what do I do? I felt the emotion come up. She was fine. Well I don’t want to say it was like rainbows and cupcakes. I mean she was frustrated to be sure, but she wasn’t going to cry, but I almost did. It was that moment of asking really fast, like rather than trying to shove down the emotion and be like, don’t cry, don’t cry which of course is like saying then just go ahead and cry. I was like, why is this coming up for me right now? I couldn’t answer it in the moment, but I just stuck with the questions. As soon as I got in the car, after she did finally find some folks to play with, it occurred to me how often I used to feel like that as a kid, but how then I recreated that in my business for a lot of years.
Never asking for help, taking so long to develop a team, that sense of I have to do it on my own and be that lone ranger and that was huge, but so is the reminder that emotion never just happens. It’s always there. Ask the question and if it ever shows up on stage, know that it’s probably there for your audience. It’s okay and let them see you be comfortable with your emotion as well rather than wiping your eyes very quickly or making excuses or apologizing for being human.
Yeah, that is a thing that people worry about of course. That’s often a question. I’m sure you must get this question too, what if I break down? I’m about to tell, you know, like you I think I helped people tell some pretty personal stories at times. One of the things that we’re really afraid of is losing it on stage and not being able to get their composure. The way I like to think of it is we’re a steward for the audience’s experience, we want to be at a certain place in our own emotion around a story. Being human, isn’t that what we all want so much in so many of our exchanges?
Totally. I love that you talked about choosing stories that allow us … I’m going to butcher what you just said, so I’m going to put it in Lex speak.
Using stories that allow you to stay audience-centered and if you know that telling a story that there’s a piece of that for your own healing then it’s not the right story to choose at that time. Not to say it never will be the right story, but it isn’t right now. However, there are stories and this happened to me on a podcast this morning. I mean, it’s a story I’ve told I don’t know, dozens upon dozens of times in interviews and even onstage about my experience with postpartum depression and I felt myself like my voice quavered and some tears started to come out. I just paused for a moment and took a breath and was with it because it was an honest moment and that I might get some pushback on this, but even in a very corporate setting, if emotion comes up like not every single day where then you have to take a step back and ask like what’s going on here?
That’s not being addressed that I need to work on but like if it sparingly comes up when we’re really passionate or really present to something, how can I simply be with it and be unapologetic as importantly about it and have that moment? If some tears move through our eye, it’s no different than if we laugh out loud because something tickled our hearts. Anyone who we really want to connect with is going to get it and if they’re judging us poorly, well they probably weren’t going to connect with us in the way that we wanted in the first place because there’s so much judgment that’s there. You might get a heightened response because they’re uncomfortable with your emotion, but it’s about them and it’s not about you.
Yeah. I like to think of it like, and I just say, you know, as long as we’re okay, they’re okay. That even isn’t an emotional moment. There’s a way to have an honest moment. I love the way you describe that. To have an honest moment and also, stay in your place of because it is a bit of a dance, right? You’re in a place of leadership as a speaker in that moment. Having the honest moment, especially in somewhere like a corporate environment where they are starved for emotion, the allowance of an emotional experience I think it’s perfect if it happens. I don’t think we create it, but if it happens.
Exactly, and that’s the worse. We’ve all seen speakers where it feels manipulative. They practiced to get this emotion to come out.
We can just feel that. I want to make sure that we get to know where we can get your book, the best way to learn more about your book. I just want to also before you tell us that, pay special regard and celebration to the chapter titles of your book like go for the holy. I mean, they were just so fun. Again, I just know it’s going to be such a delightful read from everything that I’ve seen about it that those listening will be delighted reading it. Tell us how to get it.
Yes, thank you for that. I worked really, I wanted to say hard, but that’s not the right word, intuitively, let’s say. To find the chapter name that embrace to the spirit of each chapter. There are some that are definitely very playful. For anyone who wants to learn more, you can find, “Step Into Your Moxie,” certainly on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target online, wherever books are sold. If you go somewhere and by chance they don’t have it, please tell your bookstore employee to order it.
Yeah. Awesome. Well, Lex, I could actually keep talking. I would love to, but I know you have somewhere to go so we’ll have to close it here, but this has been so much fun for me and I know that it will be so much fun for those who get to listen. Thank you for spending your time with us.
Absolutely. Thank you for making time and space for this conversation.
What a delight that was. I knew Lex would be both fun to talk to and generous with her practical guidance and she was. I really think you’ll love her book. Get out there, go get your copy right away. Pay special attention to those chapter titles. I mean, those alone are going to make you smile. I’m here to bring you the best in support, inspiration and guidance for sharing your voice. I hope this conversation felt as useful to you as it did to me. You want more useful support? Go to speaksoitmatters.com/yes to get the Speak with Power and Grace Guide. This is where you’ll find the only presentation outline you’ll ever need, as well as so many other practical tools that are going to help you get out there and share your message far and wide. I am so grateful for you being here. I get to do this beautiful work because of you. Thank you. I hope you know that I am always cheering you and your moxie on all the way. Until next week. Remember, you were made for this. I know, because you know.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Beyond Applause . If you liked what was offered in today’s show and want more, head on over to michellebarryfranco.com/start to get your free complete guide to stepping into leadership speaking right away.