KC Baker is a renowned public speaking trainer for women, known for using unorthodox methodologies.
As a young woman, KC was educated in Ivy League schools in the US, and had a successful career in investment banking. But she knew something was ‘off.’ She quit that life, went traveling and wound up in the West Bank, where a Palestinian friend spoke of her frustrated dreams to study and to travel. In that moment KC became aware of her own privilege, and of the responsibilities that come with personal freedoms. Soon afterwards, her ‘School for the Well Spoken Woman’ was born.
KC Baker believes that the key to positive transformation in the world lies in supporting women to become authentic, powerful speakers. Most recently, she was invited to be a part of Hillary Clinton’s Creative Council.
KC, a lot of people say that they’d rather die than speak in public. Why do you think public speaking is so frightening?
Getting up to share your voice means that you have an enormous amount of energy that comes through you. It’s like a high energy sport. It’s a massive high. We don’t understand that, we don’t know what to do with it, and so we fear it, as opposed to recognizing that it is just pure life-force energy. When we give that energy, there’s an enormous amount of freedom that goes with it.
So it’s about making friends with the fear?
Yes, absolutely. We actually have very genuine concerns about being rejected, because it means the risk of being cut off from the tribe. That would mean you wouldn’t have food, or you would die, so there’s something very deep and biological about it. And of course as women we are still hurt, abused, killed, for being ourselves in some parts of the world.
Do you still get nervous before speaking on stage?
Yes! I get a lot of energy before I speak on stage.
You just changed the terminology.
For me it’s just energy. I know there are different ways we can define it, but I think the definition matters. I get crazy energy in my body before I speak.
Do you think that every person has the capacity to be a charismatic speaker, regardless of how ill-equipped they feel when they start out?
Yes. I define charisma as ‘presence plus giving’. If you are just yourself, saying what it is that you know to be true, what inspires you, what you care about, that’s captivating.
What role does vulnerability play in that?
It’s huge. I think you have to be vulnerable to speak your truth.
To take that one step further – do you believe that within our greatest vulnerability lies our greatest strength?
I’ve had the consistent experience that the people who are the most afraid end up being some of the most powerful speakers. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because the intensity of what they’re feeling is their power. They’re defining it as fear, but it’s really a massive amount of life force energy that is aching to be given.
Are people more open and authentic now than they used to be, when speaking in a public arena? For example, in business or politics?
I remember the big inspirational speakers of the 80s and 90s, they were so over the top in how they spoke. It was a performance. It’s different now. People want something real, so I would say that the days of being a great performer as a speaker are done. You really just have to be very connected to the value of what you have to say. When you have that, people are going to feel it; it’s going to resonate.
You did a bold and beautiful thing in 2015: you offered public speaking advice to Hillary Clinton.
Yes. That was about 18 months ago, and then I was invited to be on her Creative Council.
How did she come across in person, as opposed to how she comes across in the media?
I was so struck by her warmth. If you see her talking to small groups of people, it’s very connected, very intimate. The challenge for her was around scripted talks, which is a challenge for a lot of speakers.
KC Baker with Hillary Clinton
Politics is, I guess, the arena where the formal delivery of speeches is still required. How can authenticity be woven into that? Obama seems to do it naturally…
This is the advice that I originally shared with Hillary: younger people are raised on social media at this point, and they have authenticity radars. They can smell inauthenticity from far away. They’re looking for real connection. That’s why so many people ‘vibed’ on Trump, because like it or not he was ‘connected’ when he was speaking. And Bernie Sanders.
Here’s the thing they do and that Obama does also – when they’re speaking, imagine there’s an invisible ‘sea of connection’ between all the people in the audience – every word lands into the sea of connection and everyone can feel it. When Hillary was doing the scripted talks, her words would skip across the surface on that ‘sea of connection’, they wouldn’t go deep in.
I think this ties into the fear of being seen. This is my interpretation of it: that for over three decades, Hillary has been under attack. Personally under attack. The types of attacks on her are not the type of attacks that men get. They’re attacks on her body, on the size of her thighs. “Let’s put her in jail, let’s execute the bitch…” That kind of stuff is so vehement, I don’t know how a healthy psyche could remain completely open and vulnerable and deal with that. You have to have some kind of protection in order to be able to keep moving forward, to stay in action. I used to have judgment around that; now I feel compassion.
KC, this month you’re going to Geneva to work with the United Nations. What’s in store for you there?
One of the big challenges the UN wants to address is that women come into meetings with men all the time, and feel completely held back. A lot of people have been in the military at the UN, so there’s that masculine energy, and then you have people from all different kinds of cultures, which has its own challenges. They have a real issue – there are hardly any women leaders in the higher ranks at the UN.
That’s the same as you see in a lot of our corporate environments, it’s the same as you see in our politics… it’s a reflection, right? So they’re bringing me in for an event to help women feel the freedom to share their voices with men, for better gender equality.
BRAVA List: KC Baker
My biggest wish for the future is… that all know their value and live and lead from that place.
Currently reading… Lolita.
What I like best about being an American is… my freedom.
A person I’d like to meet is… Elizabeth I.
My greatest extravagance is… I love getting massages as often as I can.
The woman who’s had the greatest influence on me is… my mother.