Improve Your Self-Promotion Through Authentic Communication, with Sonja Stetzler

How to Promote Yourself with Authentic Communication, with Sonja Stetzler, Executive Communication Coach

Hi everyone, it’s Jenn DeWall, and on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, I sat down with Sonja Stetzler to talk about how you can promote yourself in an authentic way. Sonja Stetzler is the CEO and founder of Effective Connecting, an executive communication coaching and training consultancy that develops clients’ communication skills. She helps executives with everything from public speaking to successfully navigating a difficult conversation. Her goal is to ensure her clients find success in their professional and personal lives through how they communicate.

Sonja has several decades’ worth of experience in management, sales, education, and executive coaching, and she often uses applied improvisation techniques to deepen her client’s ability to foster and develop their communication skills. She is a certified conversational intelligence coach a member of the National Speakers Association and, the ICF, and the Applied Improvisation Network. And I hope you enjoy our conversation as Sonja and I talk about how you can promote yourself in an authentic way.

Full Transcript Below

Jenn DeWall:  Hello, hello, Leadership Habit audience! I am so happy to be here with you today, joining me on the Leadership Habit Podcast– as you heard in that bumper, Sonja Stetzler. She and I are going to be talking all about how you can promote yourself in an authentic way. Not that weird way, not that over ego. Let me tell you how great I am, but in a way that, hey, people actually might gravitate towards you. Sonja, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on the show today. It’s really great to get to know you and just, and I’m looking forward to having our conversation.

Sonja Stetzler:  Thanks, Jenn. It’s so great to be on with you today. I’m excited about our conversation.

Meet Sonja Stetzler, CEO of Effective-Connecting

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh. Well, Sonja, of course, I love a good origin story or even just how did you come to be? Or you could say anything to our audience, but we, your work is meaningful, right? Even helping people promote themselves in an authentic way, and being able to communicate themselves in the way that, you know, they want to feel seen and heard. You do really important work. But go ahead, introduce yourself to the audience. We would love to hear a little bit more about you.

Sonja Stetzler:  Sure. I am an executive communications coach. I work with mid to senior-level professionals within organizations. Mainly I work with Better Up, and I also have a private practice, and I came to this role in a very, I would call circuitous route. I have a background in healthcare. And I realized that after I graduated, it was a kind of an oops degree where I really didn’t enjoy the work. It was hospital-based, and I chose to go into management because, in that role, I was able to see advancement. I could see progression, a career progression. However, if I knew then what I know now about management, I would’ve done a lot better.

You know, it’s all about your people skills. Yeah. Being a leader and a manager. So after about six years of that, I decided that I wanted to get into sales. I equated sales with education, and I love to teach. I remember, you know, five years old, dressing up in my mom’s old dresses, and my best friend next door, we would put all our stuffed animals out, and we would teach them. And so I had this thing in my, you know, in the back of my head.

So I spent a decade in sales, and I was a top producer in my organization because I loved what I did. I loved the travel. For me, it was a dream. Somebody was paying me to travel, and I was doing what I enjoyed doing. From there, my company got bought, and I decided it was time for a change.I went into a, a training role, quality assurance, and I also had an opportunity to get my master’s and coaching certificate, executive coaching.

And the University asked me to come back. So I taught in the school of communications for a decade. My masters is in organizational communications. And after a decade of that, and it was time to launch. And instead of going back to my healthcare background, what is the underlying skill that you need in order to be successful in any type of environment? It’s communication. Yeah. And so that’s where the effective connecting, my belief is that you can’t be a really effective communicator unless you connect with your audience.

Why Should We Learn to Promote Ourselves in an Authentic Way?

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. And I love that, which segues into, you know, why do we need to, why do we even need to know how to promote ourselves? I mean it at the basic level. Why do we need to know how to do that?

Sonja Stetzler:  Well, if you want to advance, if you want to be able to communicate to people about what you can do and how you can help them, you have to let them know what you do. And I’m finding that, especially in the role where I am now, where I work with a lot of middle to senior level, especially in that middle manager leader space where they’re looking for advancement.

And particularly women, particularly those from other cultures where self-promotion is not appropriate and is frowned upon. There’s difficulty in how you do this. In fact, I had a recent client who watched all of her peers get promoted, and she wondered, you know, I’m working just as hard. Why am I not getting promoted? And when she approached her manager, the response was, Well, I didn’t know that you wanted a promotion!

So she was kind of astounded that I had to let you know, or I had to promote myself in order to get this promotion? So we’ve worked on ways, and I work with, especially women because women tend to have a more, more of a challenge in promoting themselves because we seem to, you know, in, I can just recall my father was an immigrant, and from the culture that he came from, self-promotion was not appropriate. And I remember if I didn’t hear it once, I heard it multiple times, Sonja, don’t be bold . So what does that mean?

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh, I love that. Well, and it’s, you know, why do we need to? Well, because many of us probably aren’t aware of those rules or the advice that was given to us to be successful. I mean, don’t be bold. How did the heck did you navigate that? Because I feel like having that, I mean, I guess that means that you know, you’re not gonna like raise your hand. Like, what does that mean? How did you interpret that?

Sonja Stetzler:  Well, I interpret it as don’t raise your hand, that you’ll get recognized for the work that you do. And honestly, in corporate America or really anywhere, managers sometimes don’t have the time, especially if they have a large group or a large team, to notice everything that you’re doing. And as women, we’re socialized, we put our heads down, we work really hard, and we think that because we’re working so hard that somebody is going to notice what we’re doing. And honestly, they might notice that something is happening, but they don’t know. Sometimes the work that you’re doing is, is very much in a supportive role, and they can only see the superstar or the outcome. And it’s attributed to a lot of people. But what role did you actually play in enabling that outcome to occur?

Why do People Struggle to Promote Themselves Authentically?

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. It is just unbelievably important to like be able to see ourselves and that equation, to know that it’s okay because I know that earlier on in my career, I absolutely had that kind of illusion, right? Oh, they’re gonna notice I’m working really hard. They’ll absolutely notice, only to be met with. No, they didn’t notice. And then I feel like the bad thing that I might have done is I went from being like, Well, since you didn’t notice, now I’m gonna be probably a little bit more in your face and being like, Hey, can I get this? Which I think ended up coming off a little bit overzealous. But you know, those messages.

I’m curious from maybe how you’ve seen these, you know, whether it’s a cultural norm of what’s okay to ask for, whether it’s messages that we have seen, such as don’t be bold or children, you know, should be seen and not heard. Are there any other themes that you notice within why people have reservations or self-doubt about how they promote themselves?

Tips for More Authentic Self-Promotion

Sonja Stetzler:  Well, it seemed, it seems as it seems lazy that, you know, we don’t wanna come across as braggadocious because that, you know, honestly, if you think about it, I’m turned off by people who are, you know, me, me, me, I, I, I. So the way I work with my clients is can we turn that into a “we” instead? Especially nowadays that we’re, most of us are working in teams. We did this. And I think a subtle shift in language to position yourself as a leader is to say, I led my team to do X, whatever that X is.

And I would add to that, not just that you led your team to do X, but you need to add the “so that” so that you can communicate the impact of whatever it was that you led your team to do. How did that impact the organization, or what impact did your leadership hold or have?

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. I love that I led my team to blank so that we could do this. So many people, and I feel like I noticed this. People forget the “so that” part. They always forget it. I mean, what, why did you forget the impact or the results that we’ve achieved? Why do you think people forget that? The sleazy thing again, is that just the circle then that we’re on or a carousel?

Sonja Stetzler:  No, because I think we are so focused on leading that we don’t think about the impact. And actually, the impact is the most important thing, especially if you are communicating to senior leadership because they don’t care so much about the actual thing that you did. Honestly, they care more about the impact.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my. Yes. And it’s that idea of what’s in it for them. I mean I definitely, I think when it comes down to promoting yourself, it is easy to really let your ego, I guess, and not depending on what you’ve learned, but to feel like you have to let your ego drive the course and I have to prove it to you. I have to prove it to you.

Instead of thinking, well, what would they actually want to hear? What do they care about it? So not really tying that in. Do you notice a little bit of people just not being able to align that like they’re thinking too much of themselves, and so they’re not able to actually see, Oh, that’s right, that’s how it connects to this other side of it. And so then they’re missing that opportunity for promotion? Or what do you see?

Authentic Communication Starts with Empathy

Sonja Stetzler:  Yeah, absolutely. Communication really is not so much what you say, it’s what other people hear. And communication really starts with empathy. What is it? How are you in service of others? And how can you address the what’s in it for me, for them? And when you can align what you have to say with the what’s in it for me, for them, then you’re going to make progress. People are going to hear you.

Jenn DeWall:  I love this. Well, and it’s the way that you can make the bridge work. You’ve got goals, you’ve got dreams, you have objectives or strategies. We have to figure out how to communicate as much as the conversation that we’re talking about is how to promote yourself in an authentic way. This is communication for influence. It’s influencing people to maybe take action or to see that you’re the right fit. Let, so let’s dive into it.

I know that you’ve got a few different ways that you would recommend for people how they can think about authentic communication to promote themselves. I should actually ask and level set, what does it even mean to be authentic in your communication? Because I mean, authenticity is over, you know, it’s a used word. What does it even mean? What does authentic communication even look like as a baseline before we dive into it?

When You Feel Inauthentic, It’s Difficult to be Confident

Sonja Stetzler:  Yes. And I really like that question because it speaks to who you are as a person. And yes, it might take moving a little bit out of your comfort zone because this is something that you’re not accustomed to doing. However, you’re still who you are. Your authentic self comes through. And if you’re not the type of person who is, say maybe more extroverted, who loves the people aspect, you can still be who you are, even if it is the more quiet, reserved, thoughtful person and still be expressive and still be who you are.

Because when you’re inauthentic, when you’re, when you’re communicating, and it’s not really you, you don’t have the confidence. That doesn’t come through. So a couple of ways that, and we’ve just talked about one earlier, about positioning yourself by saying that I led my team to… Another way to think about this, especially for those who might be a little bit reticent about self-promotion, is to think about what you are proud of. I am most proud of the time I worked with a client for whom I wasn’t quite sure if he was going to be able to deliver this presentation to other senior leaders. However, through his own efforts and some support and work with me, he was able to outshine and get a higher speaker score than a speaker whom we paid $10,000, to address this executive audience. It was amazing.

Jenn DeWall:  That is a powerful example! I mean, also, holy cow, can I get that paycheck, please? <laugh> Oh, sorry, go ahead.

Telling Your Own Story in an Authentic Way

Sonja Stetzler:  Well, I was gonna say, you know what, that was a, that was my story. It was a moment that I was proud of. It was easy for me to talk about that. Yet I didn’t make myself the hero. The hero really was my, my client who actually did the work. I was support. I gave him the tools that he needed and he was the one that needed to execute. And honestly, a little bit more on that story, the day before when we had our rehearsal, oh, it was horrible. He couldn’t even get through his presentation and I sweated it.

I thought, Oh no, I am never gonna be hired again as a speech coach because I’m not sure he’s gonna be able to do this. But my client really realized that, oh, he needed to pull this off. This was a high moment for him, a high moment of visibility. Senior leaders were going to be there, and the next day he just knocked it out of the park. So the meeting planner— immediately after his presentation turned around, and she just gave me this huge hug. I was not expecting it.

Jenn DeWall:  What did he do? That’s a huge feat. Like, what did he do to kind of switch that around, especially with so many people who can relate to that? We’re talking about communication, and public speaking is incredibly intimidating. It can be incredibly intimidating even for those that do it all the time because heck, who wants to be judged by everyone? But I’m curious, what did he, like, what did you notice, or how did he help himself show up as his best self?

Practice Self-Promotion to Make it Feel More Natural

Sonja Stetzler:  I will tell you. It was rehearsal. It was rehearsal. And for many of my clients, that is the least liked part of the process. Yet that’s the part that has the most impact in how you deliver. Because when you are rehearsing, you’re, you’re working with your memory, you’re working with muscle memory in your mouth and in your tongue. And the words are gonna come out more like you want them to come out. If you’ve invested, and I use the word term, invested the time in rehearsal, he’ll get the greater return on the other side– if you invest time in rehearsing.

And so he spent the night prior after that, that failed dress rehearsal, he skipped the speaker’s dinner. He told me, Sonja, I’m gonna order in and I’m going to practice tonight. And I said, Great, I’ll see you tomorrow morning. And he, he really had a change. I’m not quite sure what the tick was. I think just having a failed dress rehearsal really lit the fire that he needed to turn the ship around.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh. Well, and I’m sure the amount of panic that that individual had of, Oh God, if this doesn’t go, what’s gonna happen here? But it’s, I love it. You know, there are so many basics with communication that we just don’t even pay attention to, or we just want to say, like, eh, preparation. What does that do? I mean, I love the examples that you shared about how preparation, even in terms of the muscle memory of maybe like your mouth and the word formation, how gets a little bit easier, which allows you to probably say things in a more natural or organic way. And even though preparation isn’t necessarily one of the pieces of how to promote yourself, it sounds like it actually is a piece of what we need to do. Depending on who you’re trying to influence.

I don’t know if you have any tips, cuz this is kind of off when I think about preparation, one of the pieces that I do before an event is, you know, I like to create a structure of things and like the main point. But I don’t know if you have any tips that you recommend for people for how you can actually work on your preparation. Do not skip this. Anyone that’s an expert or that you’re listening to and enjoying, probably prepared on the other side of that. They’re not just winging it. That’s what allows them to look like they were winging it.

Yes, They’ll Know if You’re Reading Your Notes

Sonja Stetzler:  Absolutely. What I’ve learned is that the more you practice, the more you rehearse, the more authentic you can be. Because you know your material, you’re not having to read it. And despite what people think, yes, people can see, or even in a virtual environment where people think, Oh, nobody can see that I’m reading. Yes, we can tell you’re reading because you have a cadence in your voice that allows us to know you are reading.

So yes, rehearsal and the other benefit of rehearsal, once you know your content so well, the lights could go out, and the technology could blow up. Yet the show must go on, and you can just pick right up. You know where you are. You’re, you can be more improvisational if you’ve spent the time in rehearsal. You won’t sound scripted like you’re reading. And I am in no way suggesting that you memorize word for word, you’re script. Yeah. Because then you are gonna sound scripted. But when you know your material, and it’s coming from a place of knowing versus I’ve got to look at my notes. Then absolutely you’re coming from a place of higher confidence and you’re allowed to be more, you’re allowing yourself to be more authentic as you deliver.

Jenn DeWall:  Which I feel builds that likeability. They can see who you are, your message seems stronger or clearer or easier to connect with. And I feel like the other piece that I always notice from watching people transitions, like there is nothing more, oh my gosh, when you don’t know the bridges that are happening. Or when they’re maybe reading everything and it doesn’t even feel like a natural transition from one talking point to another. I wanna know how it all flows together. And so that piece for me as a, as a listener, as an audience member, is incredibly important to just feel like I get it.

And I say that with not with criticism because I think that’s one of the things that I’ve able to work really hard on, is constantly working on transitions. Because that’s how I look at it. As weaving the fabric of the event, of the presentation, of getting them along on the story. But before I started practicing, I didn’t even realize transitions were a thing. I just did a period and then went to the next slide instead of thinking about how they actually connect. God, I’ve probably done a lot of bad presentations back in the day.

Learn to Use Transitions in Your Speaking

Sonja Stetzler:  Well Jenn, you bring up a really important point about transitions because this is where if someone has a problem with filler words, you know, the a the like, you know, this is where they’ll, they’ll come out when you are bridging from one point to the next. And if you don’t have a transition in place, then you’re gonna hear the filler words.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah, my gosh. Okay, I love that. So that’s, transitions can help with filler words. I did not know that. Of even just thinking go from one point to the next and I mean, I’m guessing that likely helps you slow down your rate of speech then. Because you’re anchoring, maybe grabbing onto that transition and then turning the corner. So preparation, rehearsal, I love it because we’re all just rehearsing to be able to promote ourselves or at least influence a desirable outcome.

A Message from Crestcom

Crestcom is a global organization dedicated to developing effective leaders. Companies all over the world have seen their managers transformed into leaders through our award-winning and accredited leadership development programs. Our signature BPM program provides interactive management training with a results-oriented curriculum and prime networking opportunities. If you’re interested in learning more about our flagship program and developing your managers into leaders, please visit our website to find a leadership trainer near you.

Or maybe you yourself have always wanted to train and develop others. Crestcom is a global franchise with ownership opportunities available throughout the world. If you have ever thought about being your own boss, owning your own business and leveraging your leadership experience to impact businesses and leaders in your community, Crestcom may be the right fit for you. We’re looking for professional executives who are looking for a change and want to make a difference in people’s lives. Learn more about our franchise opportunity on the Own A Franchise page of our website at

Get Comfortable Speaking About Your Own Achievements

Jenn DeWall:  So, so far we’ve talked about promoting ourselves by taking stock of your achievements and that shifting from we to, you know, I led. So that, and then talking about what we’re proud of. I mean, I actually have to ask this because I think that there are so many people that hate that question, , Oh Jenn, tell me what you’re proud of. And I’d be like, I don’t know, did I wake up today? Like, I don’t even know if I did something to be proud of. But what do you notice when people struggle with that? Is it more just because we hate self-promoting, we just don’t like doing it, or we’re just not used to looking and being like, Oh, you actually do, do things that matter,

Sonja Stetzler:  ? Well, I find that when people are asked, What are you most proud of? It’s much easier for them to talk about achievement. It’s the way that that question is framed that I think most people feel more natural in asking about what they’re most proud of versus, you know, what is your greatest accomplishment. So I think the language can be very empowering to ask, what are you most proud of? And I think, that enables people to think about a time when they shined, and it doesn’t feel braggadocious. A story. You know, a story will evolve when somebody is asked, well, what are you most proud of? And they talk about, they, they tell the story. And I think that’s the key is to draw out the story of their most proud moments.

Jenn DeWall:  And so, the recommendation in terms of showing up authentically. Obviously, we have to know what we’re proud of or what like what those accomplishments are our skill sets, the value that we bring, being able to talk about it in a positive way, hopefully without that self-judgment. But then also another piece of promoting yourself in an authentic way you talk about is through story. How would you recommend people to use story? Are there any, you know, tips that you have on stories to avoid or when to be sensitive or even appropriate times to use story? But let’s, let’s talk dive in a little bit more about understanding the power of story as it relates to how we can promote ourselves.

Using Authentic Communication to Craft Your Personal Story

Sonja Stetzler:  Stories can be really powerful, Jenn, because it’s a way we connect emotionally with our audience. Now, some audiences, for instance, your executive audience, is going to prefer data over story. When we think of story, we’re thinking the TED talk, right? However, the way we tell the story is through data with that particular audience and what your interpretation of that data means.

Now when it comes to self-promoting, if I tell a story for instance, that I did of a former client, that was a way to link because most people have been there. It’s something that we can relate to. It makes you relatable. And the story is relatable because most people have been in a situation where they have under-practiced and, ooh, the results weren’t as good as they had anticipated. So that story bridges the concept, and it relates, it’s, it’s relatable. So how do you tell a story? Probably the best way to start is just in the middle of the story. I find that when you start in the middle of a story, and you’re setting the scene, your audience can paint a picture. They can see the situation in their mind’s eye.

Jenn DeWall: Can you gimme an example of what starting in the middle sounds like versus starting at the beginning?

Sonja Stetzler:  So when I told that story, we were at the dress rehearsal. Did you get the sense— could you see this individual at a dress rehearsal on stage?

Jenn DeWall: Yes!

Sonja Stetzler:  Yes. I didn’t have to give you a lot of exposition about what conference this was or where we were. I started you in the middle, we were at the dress rehearsal, and I had a client that was doing his rehearsal, and it was a major fail. He couldn’t finish his presentation because he forgot everything. And so that immediately puts you right there in the scene

Jenn DeWall:  Versus starting with:  he had been assigned this speech. There was this executive that was assigned this presentation or a speaker that was assigned this presentation, and this is what happened. I love that. And it skips over probably a lot of the filler words or the struggles that we have thinking. I’m not a storyteller. How do I even begin this? Do you start with once upon a time? I don’t get it. And so I feel like that starting with the middle makes it just easier to be like, you don’t have to explain the whole thing, don’t tell them everything because we want to get to that main point, which I think is always the struggle with stories.

I don’t know if everyone has a family member or a friend. I have two uncles that are the biggest storytellers, and I love them. I wouldn’t say all of their stories have the same amount to a point. I think that some of them might be a little long-winded, and maybe they could actually improve by starting from the middle instead of the beginning.

I like, I laugh at that because it’s, but I think for people that are nervous, we’re addressing how to promote yourself in a meaningful way. Obviously, communication is super intimidating. It can check our confidence, and there are a lot of insecurities that can bubble up. And so I hope that they’re hearing this in terms of stories. Like, If you want to use a story, start from the middle of the story. You don’t have to craft out this huge ornate story, just set the stage. What’s happening right now? What would you see if you were looking around the room?

If You Are Shy About Self-Promotion, Ask for Help!

Sonja Stetzler:  Exactly. Start in the middle. There’s an action. There’s a conflict. So the conflict was, you saw this individual failing at the dress rehearsal, the conflict there, was he going to be able to perform the next day? So that’s what keeps people interested. It’s the conflict. And then you’ve got a resolution at the end. And that aha moment, the aha moment was practice the rehearsal. The investment in rehearsal gets you a return, your greatest return on the other side. That’s, that’s the point I was trying to make with that. So I think this also brings us to another key in self-promoting. And what I have found to be also quite valuable is to have my wingman or wing person. So what do I mean by that?

How the support person, because oftentimes it’s easier for us to promote others than to promote ourselves. So, for instance, this particular client that I have had a hard time speaking up in meetings. She was doing great work, but she had a hard time promoting the work that she was doing that was leading to really great success and impact.

And she decided to have a conversation with her manager. And her manager said, Well when I’m in these meetings with you, she asked for his support. And he did. In the meetings when there was an opportunity for her, for him to promote her, he would segue, well, he would start the self-promotion, you know, Mary did X and Mary, why don’t you tell the group about what you did and what the impact was. So he kind of greased the skids and helped her to be able to speak about herself.

Get a Networking Buddy to Start the Conversation

Sonja Stetzler:  I find that networking events too. I have a colleague that if we go to a networking event, if we’re gonna be at the same event, she might start the conversation with someone and say, you know, hey I have a colleague who has done X, you know, Sonja meet John, you know John, this is Sonja, you know, Sonja, tell ’em about the project that you worked on with whatever. And that gives me the intro to start talking about whatever it was that I wanted to promote, so to speak.

Jenn DeWall:  I love that’s, I feel like that’s a great way to even push your employees outta their comfort zone to help them develop and see themselves. Oh hey, actually, Jenn has been working on something like that. Jenn, why don’t you tell me more about that? If you’re a leader right now listening and you want to help someone maybe see their own confidence or give them an opportunity to, you know, promote themselves or just share because you will have to do that. I mean, I’ve worked in organizations where if they’re like, well, I mean, I don’t have face-to-face contact with her, so I don’t know.

And so we need the allyship that’s going to help us find those opportunities to then share it in those moments. And I think that’s a really beautiful example of all you have to do, is kick it to someone else. It’s a way to get them to help themself promote, help share their ideas, and heck, you’re developing someone to helping them reach their full potential or meet, you know, if it’s networking, meet that, you know, potential business partner or whatever that might be. It seems more natural that way. I How would you recommend even finding someone, though? Is it that you kind of had this conversation before? Are you saying, Hey, I’m a little nervous about this and maybe just asking for help? Or how do you find that ally?

Sonja Stetzler:  Well, it can happen both ways. As you mentioned, you can have that conversation, and you know, with a trusted colleague. So, you know, admit, you know, I’m having a little trouble. I’d love to be able to talk about this, but I’m having trouble getting started. Can we work together? And so that’s the actually it was my colleague that  that asked me, she goes, We can help promote each other when we’re in these situations and I’m all for that.

And so we’ve worked it out where if we were at a networking event together, we will, If I am introduced to someone that, or I’m in a conversation with someone and the topic that we’re talking about reminds me of my colleague, absolutely. You know what? I’ve got a colleague who has done this or might be able to help you. Can I make an introduction? You know, can I, can I help put you together? And I think that’s a beautiful way to, to help support other people.

Take an Improv Class to Improve Your Communication Skills

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah, it feels it’s not as vulnerable, it just feels a little bit, yeah, more manageable, maybe less anxiety-inducing. I really like that idea and again, I just love the way that leaders I think can do this to help, you know, raise their team to help their team have different opportunities or help other people see their team in the way that they only can because of how they work together. Sonja, your experience is really extensive as it relates to communication, and I know that there are other things that we didn’t necessarily talk about, but I’m curious, you know, if someone’s looking to improve their overall communication, what are other tips that you might recommend for them to focus on to improve their communication or communication style?

Sonja Stetzler:  Well Jenn, I think one of the best things that I ever did was take an improv class. I took a class eight years ago and it was on the encouragement of colleagues that were in the National Speakers Association, of which I am a member. I know you are a member as well. And many of my colleagues had had a little bit of experience with improv. So when the time was right, I decided I would take a class and one of my frustrations in that class– and it was hard. That was a step out of my comfort zone, for sure. But I kept getting called out for not listening.

Now, that was so frustrating because I’m a trained coach and what is the first thing that you go through in coach training– its listening skills. And it took me a while to figure this out and part of it was my fear of not coming out with something brilliant, which you don’t have to in improv. I mean, life is funny in itself. You don’t have to be the one to come up with the one liners all the time. The other is going into a conversation or a scene with my own agenda. Because you’ve got your ensemble members who also are coming into the scene with their own agenda. And if you don’t let go of your agenda and you’re trying to push a scene in a particular direction, the scene is gonna fall flat. It’s gonna just fail.

Jenn DeWall:  Which is a true leadership example, right? Of why we need to listen and let go of our own agendas and actually work for the ensemble instead of pushing it through. Otherwise, we risk failure or things just obviously not going as planned.

The Magic of “Yes, And”

Sonja Stetzler:  Yes. Yeah. So listening skills. And I realized that improv is nothing more than communication skills. The ability to listen and to truly be present because what I’m listening for is a gift, and a gift is a piece of dialogue or a word that helps me move that conversation forward. Or what we, in improv, would consider the scene. The second is nonverbal communication and improv. We don’t use props. We might have a chair that might be the only prop, but everything else is, is tone of voice, facial expressions, maybe what you’re doing with your hands or, or the way your body is positioned.

And I have to read that. I have to be able to read that and be able to acknowledge what is going on with that particular ensemble member. We need do that with, with the person we were having a conversation with. And last but not least, and I know everybody has probably heard of the “yes, and” approach.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes! I love that! But explain the “yes, and” because I don’t know if everyone does.

Sonja Stetzler:  So yes, and. Yeah. So yes, and doesn’t necessarily mean agreement, it’s an acknowledgement. I’ve heard you, and I’m building on top of what you’re saying. I’m building on the piece of dialogue that you’ve just given me. So probably one of the, this is the personal example, but I think it was very, it was a pivotal moment. Years ago, my oldest child was a senior in high school and he came home one afternoon, it was a Friday afternoon from school and he, it wasn’t even an ask, it was an announcement that he was going to this party and he was going to break his curfew.

Now my first response would, would’ve been, heck no. And it was a little bit stronger than that, but it was like, it would’ve been a headbutting moment where I would’ve said something like, No, I’m taking your car keys and whatever, whatever.

I had just started taking improv classes and it was a nanosecond decision. However, I said Yes, and let’s talk about the consequences. And as a result of that line, he was able to express to me his need to belong to this social group. And in the meantime, I was also able to express my concerns for him because I knew there was gonna be drinking. My concerns were his safety driving home in the middle of the night, you know, wee hours of the morning. And I had to add my need for beauty sleep because I wasn’t gonna get to sleep unless he was home safe.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. Oh my gosh. I’m sure .

Sonja Stetzler:  Yes. And so we, we worked out a compromise, but from that day forward, we had been butting heads that whole school year because he was senior in high school. Of course he knew everything. However, at that particular moment in time, we were able to have a dialogue like we never had that whole year and we just started on a new footing with our relationship. And to this day we still have a very open, honest dialogue where we can have a conversation. And that was the pivotal moment where the yes, and I think saved that relationship.

Jenn DeWall:  That is a really powerful example of just how that can soften communications. It can soften the tensions or the competing values or objectives that each party has. I mean, I love, Yes. And you know, even in that idea generation place of how we ask teams for meetings. Yeah, that’s a great idea. And, and? I mean it’s, I think improv is one of the most underutilized tools of helping to learn authentic communication.

I don’t know if you see this, but you’ve been practicing for a while. It’s something that I got into in the last five years, but just even helping you be more, Okay, there’s not a right answer. You can’t go into it scripted, you can’t think about it as well, I’ve got the perfect one. You just kind of have to be like, well, let’s see how this goes. All right, perfect!

And so a basic activity, I guess, with your team, take the yes and have them bring up a topic or, you know, brainstorm solutions and have them practice only answering each other with yes and. Not no, but– no one wants to hear it. It’s yes, and. I just love that example of you being able to like, breakthrough probably the awkward times of a, a young adult and a parent trying to compete over setting a curfew. Oh my gosh, Sonja, I’ve enjoyed our conversation today and I appreciate the insights and expertise that you’ve given us. How can our audience get in touch with you?

Where to Find More From Sonja Stetzler

Sonja Stetzler:  Thanks so much for having me on, Jenn. This was a lot of fun. You can reach me two ways. My website is or connect with me on LinkedIn and you can find me again,

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh, Sonja’s great coach. You can help you with your communication needs. Sonja, thank you so much for being on the show. It was great to have you and thanks for helping our audience learn how to represent and promote themselves in an authentic way. I very much appreciate your time and your expertise.

Sonja Stetzler:

Thanks a lot, Jenn. Thanks for having me on.

Jenn DeWall:  Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast. Sonja had great insights on what we can do to come across as more confident. Hey, heck, one of those is rehearsing, but another way that we can improve our communication skills is improv! I hope that you found valuable insights into how you can promote yourself in an authentic way and even what you can do to help give other people that opportunity for promotion or set the stage for them.

If you wanna connect with Sonja, you can get to know more about her by heading over to There you can connect, find additional resources, or if you want to connect on LinkedIn, she invites you to do so as well. Head on over to Sonia Stetzler there.

And, of course if you know someone that could benefit from this conversation, share this podcast episode with them or leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service. That’s how we ensure that the Leadership Habit Podcast gets heard. And finally, if you want help with your communication needs, whether that’s delegation, or conflict resolution, we’ve got you covered here at Crestcom. Head on over to, and you can find out more about our services and our 12-month-long leadership development program. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.