Five Details Dynamic Speakers Should Never Miss

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

– John Wooden

When I first started teaching, I would try to get my students’ attention by yelling, “listen up” or “alright everybody” and repeatedly be frustrated when they wouldn’t stop everything immediately.

Someone gave me a chime to ring and shared some nonverbal ways of getting students’ attention without having to bust my vocal chords. Interestingly, the dynamic of the class improved immediately.

Even years later, though I am no longer teaching, I think back to my first years teaching a lot. In some ways, we adults aren’t all that much different than children when it comes to our learning and engagement needs. If we’re working in groups and are asked to do an exercise that requires communicating, most of us follow the prompts and engage. Like students, we struggle to give our undivided attention when the facilitator/speaker tries to regain the groups focus to move on.

I believe that we’re all doing our best with the skills and tools that we have, and sometimes the little details (that we don’t know about) make the world of a difference.

I’ve been to several events in the past few months and noticed five patterns that have led to missed opportunities, so I’m offering some food for thought for your consideration…

A. Ambiance matters.

    1. Think about the tone you want to set.
    2. What’s the first thing you want people to see/feel/experience when they enter your space?
    3. Play music that matches the vibe you intend to foster, and think about the colors/images support that.
    4. Make space for different body-types to feel comfortable if possible. (ie. have different sized chairs, pillows on the ground, and even invite people to stand if they’d like) That creates more of a liberatory environment.

B. Think beyond rows.

This allows for us to think more creatively, feel less constrained, and connect with each other differently. Here are some ways to mix up room set-up:

    1. Circles
    2. Semi-circles
    3. Diagonal / angle

C. Framing & closing matters.

How we set up the experience impacts everything. As an event leader, it is important to frame the event. At the beginning, share why you’re putting on this event and the expected/desired outcomes. To close the event, remind participants of the outcomes and allow space for participants to both reflect and connect to one another.

During the opening, it helps to tell people how you intend to get their attention after exercises and breaks so they know what to expect and why. (For example: We’ll be engaging and connecting a lot today, and since we have limited time, when you hear/see this…that’s our signal to bring our attention back to the center of the room)

I highly encourage the leaders I work with to use feedback forms to understand how participants experienced the event. This can be as fancy as a pre-filled out form with intentional questions or as simple as handing folks an index card or blank piece of paper with one question/prompt: How did you experience today’s event?

D. Think beyond your voice. 

Instead of saying “hey” 10 times really loud to get our attention, (which, interestingly I hear/see a LOT) try one of these:

  • Raise your hand and invite them to do the same when they see yours go up (it’s a nonverbal cue)
  • Ring a chime or bell
  • Put a timer on the wall so they know how much time is left (or if you absolutely have to, let them know you’ll count-down from 10 to 0 so they know when to to center their attention back on the community)
  • Take a cue from YMCA camps, “If you can hear me clap once” (clap) “If you can hear me, clap twice.” (clap twice).

E. 20 minute rule.

Science suggests that 18 minutes is really our maximum for maintaining undivided attention, so I aspire to use the 20 minute rule in all that I do.

Minimize talking to 20 minutes or less. Set a timer and after 20 minutes, invite people to say something out-loud to their neighbor. This can be just 30-60 seconds, yet it energizes the room, connects participants, and allows for increased cognitive understanding.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there for now, as I believe strengthening those five areas will lead to subtle but powerful game-changers for your next event.

Would love to keep this conversation going…

What does this spark for YOU? In the comments below, share a recent experience (positive or negative) of how a dynamic speaker impacted your experience an event.


Rachel Rosen is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. She helps courageous leaders uncover their blindspots and take their diverse team to the next level with intentionality and integrity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practiceCheck out your SPARK score here.

Put Out The Fire

3 Steps To Intentional, Effective Communication


The community meeting was getting heated. Tempers were rising, accusations were cast, insults issued, and disruptions were spiraling the meeting into chaos. The leader, trying to take control of the situation, demanded everyone to take their seat and listen (or not only would the meeting would end immediately, there would be no further meetings). Silence returned, but defenses were raised and communication had broken down. Those in attendance did not feel heard or respected and progress was detoured.


Sound familiar?


While this is a generalized version of a community meeting that happened recently, it could have happened anywhere. You may even have your own version of it. Perhaps it’s even happened on a smaller scale within teams you’ve worked with.


Well my brilliant partner, Lia Joy Shepherd, shared with me the other day a strategy she uses in her work with youth, and I instantly recognized the brilliance of it. Thankfully, she’s given me permission to share it with you.



Stop, think, and respond.


“That’s what I’ve been doing and telling the kids to do before reacting/interrupting. It really works. Especially when I’m triggered. Rather than react and say ‘sit down,’ ‘listen up,’ or ‘stop doing___,’ I just stop, think about what is really going on, and respond–rather than defend or react right away”


The fire department used to (and may still) teach the saying, “Stop, drop, and roll” in case you found yourself on fire. In the heat of a moment, tempers and words can often feel like flames, right?


Stop, think, and respond helps to de-escalate the emotions.  


As I thought even more about this simple, three step process, its brilliance began to shine.


This tool is useful for leaders, certainly, but this is a game changer for anyone willing to employ it. Here’s why:


  1. Stop. This first step illuminates the power of the PAUSE. We’re all moving so fast, absorbing so much information, and hearing so many messages, it’s imperative that we pause and breathe. Pause and check in with ourselves. Pause and pay attention to the nonverbal cues. The pause also shifts our brain from the limbic to the frontal cortex so we can process more effectively. It takes us out of the immediate action of fight, flight, freeze, or submit mode.


  1. Think. It is easy to bypass this step. I know I have. Often we don’t feel we have time to think. There are always a million things to do at any given moment, so to pause and THINK? That felt like a luxury. Yet, we need to digest what really happening before we can mindfully and intentionally take action. You know what it feels like when you’re out of the heat of the moment and all the “shoulda, coulda and if only” thoughts start spinning through the highlight reels in our mind.


It’s amazing what happens when we take the pause, and choose not to jump in, make assumptions, or be defensive.


If we all asked ourselves these two questions, I think our relationships would change in transformative ways:

  • What are my intentions in this moment?
  • How do I want the person in front of me to experience me, given what we both need?


And, as synchronicity would have it, I love that I found this post on LinkedIn right as I started writing this blog too! Good reminders, and I love acronyms. Thank you Some’ McCowan. 

  1.   Respond. The difference between reacting and responding is a subtle but major deal. If I’m listening to the other person to truly understand where they’re coming from and then I respond with my thoughts/questions, that’s very different than reacting to the emotional affect or tenor of the conversation.


Here are a few sentence starters that I always have in my back pocket:

  • What I heard you say was… (when I want to clarify to makes sure I’m understanding correctly)
  • Thank you for sharing. That makes me think of… (when I want to make a connection)
  • I hear you. Are you open to hearing another perspective? (when I want to offer some feedback)
  • Say more… (always a go-to. If I’m triggered this allows me to calm down. If I’m genuinely curious and want to hear more. If I’m confused and trying to make sense of what I’m hearing, this always helps.


Will you give this a try? First, take immediate action. Somewhere you can see it throughout the day, write “Stop, think, respond.”


If a situation occurs today, try this method. If you don’t get to try it, write it again each day until you do.


Then leave a comment about your experience. Tell a friend about it and ask them to take the challenge with you. I can’t wait to hear all about it.


Also, our upcoming 10 Week Online Leadership Program goes in-depth around communicating with cultural consciousness and emotional intelligence. If it’s something you’re interested in, check it out here.


Until next time,


Rachel Rosen, the founder of S.P.A.R.K. Community and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice–all in service of making the world a better place. With love. For justice. 


 Transforming Feedback

with intentional leadership 

When I stepped into a leadership role seven years ago, I strived to be a “great” leader. I understood that relationships were at the core of a well working organization.  I had read and studied leadership and organizational development from the greats such as Jim Collins, Steven Covey, and  Steve Zuieback (to name a few).

Though I continually worked on being the best coach and manager I could be, I found myself struggling with the “feedback conversation”. My personal experiences with receiving feedback lacked integrity and thus, did not lead to good models for me to follow.

When I first began, I wanted to be everyone’s friend and make their life easier, since I thought I knew what it was like to be in their shoes. I wanted be a leader they liked and respected. Feedback is ultimately about the person giving it. In my case, I now see it was more about wanting to valuable and helpful than driving the objectives of our mission.

To make the feedback process more complex and nuanced, when a person who is of a different race/gender/generation/sexuality receives feedback, their brain is triggered into high alert (fight/flight). The latest research by Inge, Cheesebrough, West and Rock demonstrates this.

Truly transformative, confident leaders understand that feedback is a small part of a communication and requires several steps before it can effectively happen. Leaders operating with the following five steps to craft effective feedback:

  1. Data: What was observed (seen, heard) about the experience?
  2. Feelings: How did the experience feel?
  3. Interpretations: What assertions have been made? What beliefs are being operated upon? What interpretations are influencing the situation (both yours and the other persons)?
  4. Desires: As a leader, what do you want for yourself, the situation, and the other(s) involved?
  5. Willingness: This is a request for the desired behaviors and changes.

Utilizing these steps maintains our quest for learning and growing, bringing humility (and hopefully empathy) to our leadership. It allows us to model for our community. It shows a genuine desire to support our team members to learn, grow, and develop so they can be their best, most productive self with maximal impact.

My application of those five steps looks like this:

  • Ask for permission to share your observations before sharing. Before beginning communication, ask the person if you can share your observations. This assumes some ego-distance.
  • Be human. Show up as your authentic self so they feel at ease.
  • Affirm what they are doing well. For example, “First I want to start by appreciating…”
  • Share some specific observations. For example, “I noticed a pattern…”
  • Get personal. Share your experience with vulnerability. For example, “I’ve experienced this myself. Would you be interested in hearing what worked for me (and what didn’t)?”
  • Offer the feedback with integrity and compassion.  For example, “For you, I’d offer that____is the most important next step. If you do nothing else, shifting this one small thing to start (something to experience a win)”
  • Pause for reactions/reflections/thoughts
  • Loop back. Set a time/date when you’ll revisit

Bottom line: it’s imperative that we’re intentional as leaders in HOW we ask for and offer feedback.

To really make your communication a home-run, remember these additional skills:

  • Be specific. Use direct language and get to the point.
  • Be a leader. Even if you are friendly with them or their friend, it’s helpful to say “I’m going to put my manager hat on now so we can have a transparent, productive conversation”
  • Be succinct and speak in a calm pace. Create space for processing  
  • Be focused. Remember, about 93% of what we communicate is nonverbal


If you’re interested in learning more about our approach, and the promising practices, stances, and adaptive leadership habits that we work on intentionally to communicate and lead with integrity, check out our upcoming 10 week leadership program!


Application doors are open, and the program starts on January 22nd.

If you would like to apply and/or schedule a 20 minute Strategy Conversation to see if you’d be a good fit, click here.



Now, it’s your turn to share.

Comment below and let me know your answer to any of these questions:

  • What do you think about feedback?
  • When does it get challenging to “hold up the mirror” for you?
  • Have other resources to share?

I’d love to hear from you!

Rachel Rosen is a seasoned Facilitator, Executive Coach, Consultant, Racial Justice and LGBTQ activist, and the Founder of S.P.A.R.K. Leadership and S.P.A.R.K. Community. Rachel is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust–all in service of building a better tomorrow.