About Onlee

In Your Own Words Client Testimonials

Public Speaking Training Improves Confidence

In Your Own Words public speaking training is about showcasing your best assets, like your quirky personality and insightful thoughts. Sometimes fear gets in the way and it’s hard to show the world who you are and what makes you unique – stuff that you want a prospective client or employer to see. Now, imagine how every social interaction can be transformed if you were simply able to confidently express yourself. Wow, the experience is truly amazing!

Participants of my public speaking courses agree that In Your Own Words offers streamlined processes and practical methods for feeling comfortable during any social situation. Here’s a little bit of what they have to say about public speaking training from In Your Own Words.

A Voice From The Past

This is really a “thank you” vs. a business opportunity. You taught my Public Speaking Course at CMU in 1991 and I can not tell you how many times I have used that information in my career. You taught me how to organize a presentation and how to prepare which is more than half the battle. Once you feel ready for your engagement it takes away the nerves and the anxiety. I have now been using many components of that classroom experience for over 20 years and have had great success. I give sales presentations often to major corporations in the US and work hard to be prepared and enthusiastic on my topic. Many of your tips have helped me teach my sales team as well. So job well done! Between you and Dawn Weber I have landed every job interview I have had, and done my fair share of market growth with the products I am selling. I just wanted to let you know that I had a great time in your course, and I am happy to see you are still teaching folks the art of public speaking!

Best Regards,

Scott Hershock

John Paul, President/CEO the Bank of Northern Michigan

In an extremely crowded and competitive banking market, how you separate from the pack is critical.  A clear distinction needs to be made in order to solidify your position and improve your share of the market.  Given the fundamental nature of our business and the similarity of products and services offered by various banks in a particular market, the only real way to rise above the crowd is by clearly differentiating your people.  We have felt, as a relatively new bank that we must have the best bankers in every market we serve.  This manifests itself through a reputation of having knowledgeable, professional and articulate business people serving the needs of our clients.

We can train to create a knowledge base that makes our bankers strong business advisors, but we felt that to truly have an impact, we needed to provide our staff with the tools to confidently communicate everyday with our clients, our prospects and each other.  I became aware of Onlee’s program as a result of a strong recommendation from one of our Board members.  Spending time with her, I knew that her approach to speaking in public was exactly what we needed. 

We had our entire staff complete the Level I program.  I watched as members of our staff who were extremely uncomfortable speaking in front of a group (even though that group was their peers), matured over the 5 weeks we worked together.  The culmination of this class was a presentation by each covering why someone should bank with The Bank of Northern Michigan.  The confidence that they all displayed served as testimony to the effectiveness of Onlee’s program.  I see the key elements displayed every day by various staff members in all sorts of situations.

As a management team, we made the decision to follow Level I for all our staff members with Level II, targeting our Commercial Relationship Managers, Client Service staff and key Mortgage folks as well. I firmly believe that the confidence our staff continues to build in their day-to-day communication style will set us on the course I envision.  That confidence will help build a level of credibility for our Bank that will in fact, set us apart in this crowded banking market. 

Thanks Onlee!

Brian Bourdages, Farmland Protection Specialist


I wanted to send a quick note to thank you! After struggling with certain anxieties and other impediments to delivering a solid presentation, I just had my first “post class” success!

Using your methods for preparation and framework for presentations that you taught to me in your class, I just made my first presentation at a work event and it was terrific! With my outline in hand, I delivered a heartfelt, succinct and impactful presentation and was rewarded with many positive comments and feedback. I”m so grateful for what I’ve been able to accomplish with just your beginners class, I’ll be asking for the opportunity to participate in your intermediate class too!
Thank you so much!
Brian Bourdages, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

Kathleen Kenny Shares Her Experience…

Onlee, I wanted to take a moment to let you know how invaluable I found your beginner public speaking class. 

For the past several years, I have been searching for a public speaking class that would teach me how to calm my nerves and show me how to structure a speech in an environment where I wasn’t negatively critiqued or graded.  Just when I didn’t think such a class existed, I stumbled upon yours and I’m so glad that I did.  I now have the tools to put a consise speech together and remain calm while delivering it. I can’t thank you enough!  I’m looking forward to taking your intermediate class so that I can become even more confident.


Kathleen Kenny

Tim Keenan, CLCP

Having worked with a nationally known speaker and best selling author, I thought I knew it all. Onlee Bowden changed that.  Onlee taught me a comprehensive, effective approach to speaking that covers intimate toasts to addressing the Board of Directors or an audience of hundreds. I would recommend Onlee Bowden to any person who wants to learn the most effective way to become comfortable when speaking to others.

Patty Cantrell, Senior Policy Specialist, Michigan Land Use Institute

Onlee Bowden has made the difference in how I how approach audiences and my career. Her coaching helped me focus my thoughts, my hands, and my heart on my core message. Now I share it with confidence and clarity.

Patty Cantrell, 

senior policy specialist, Michigan Land Use Institute

principal, Core Connections Consulting

Lew Coulter, Executive Director, Grand Traverse Conservation District

Onlee,  I wanted to tell you that last week’s sessions with you were the best training I’ve had in anything for a long time – don’t even know how long.  You definitely have put a lot into figuring out how to move people along a growth curve.  Thank you! 

Lew Coulter

Executive Director

Grand Traverse Conservation District

1450 Cass Road

Traverse City, MI 49684


P:  231.941.0960

F:  231.941.0837

email:  lewcoulter@gtcd.org


Karl Heinz – Business Owner & Speaker

Thank you, Onlee, for providing such a safe and encouraging environment for the practice of what so many of us fear – public speaking.

Although it literally took me months of testing the waters by talking to you, when I finally had the courage to sign up for the beginners class, the support, tips and words of encouragement from you and with the camaraderie of my classmates, it was quickly evident  – I realized that it wasn’t about doing it ‘right’ but about being in the process.

The sharing and feedback of the group was instrumental in becoming comfortable and in knowing I wasn’t alone. Having completed all three levels of In Your Own Words, I look back to where I was before that first day – passing up opportunities to expand my life because I was afraid to open my mouth, to now knowing that the access to who I am is through my ability to speak with others.

Thank you, Onlee, for offering this valuable opportunity and community in beautiful Northern Michigan!

Karl Heinz

Tom Clynes, National Geographic Adventure Journalist writes about his public speaking training adventure with Onlee Bowden

In theory, a guy like me shouldn’t have issues with getting up in front of an audience. As a journalist and photographer with the magazine National Geographic Adventure, I have followed my curiosity to some of the world’s most off-balance corners. I’ve flown airplanes and jumped out of them; I’ve reported from Ebola wards and camped with Komodo dragons; I’ve traveled through central Africa with eco-mercenaries.

I am often told that I have one of the world’s most interesting jobs—adventure journalist—and I get frequent invitations to speak about my adventures. For years, I have wanted to become an effective public speaker. But fear has held me back.

When I’m telling stories on the pages of a magazine, or looking down the snout of an AK-47, I can be very convincing as a communicator. But when I get up in front of a sea of peering eyes, my heart starts pumping freon. As self-conscious panic takes over, the wiring that connects my intellect with my vocal cords tends to short-circuit.

“Fear,” says speaker-training guru Onlee Bowden, “is something I spend a lot of time helping people develop a new relationship with.”

Earlier this year, I was offered a chance to attend Bowden’s one-on-one “Speak for Yourself” boot camp in northern Michigan’s lakeside town of Traverse City. Over the course of four days, Bowden promised, she would calm my fears, trim my preparation time (I tend to over-plan), and have me ready to deliver–largely without notes–an impactful half-hour presentation. Bowden’s approach, she told me, is to build on people’s strengths and help them develop the ability to comfortably and confidently speak from the heart.


The potential rewards seemed worth the risks. Over the course of my career I had managed to make friends with a certain kind of vulnerability, as I traveled to unbalanced places and managed unstable situations. But the idea of speaking in public continued to pull me farther out of my comfort zone than just about anything else. I was intrigued and exhilarated by the idea of sidestepping the whole publication process and connecting directly with people, to tell them my stories.

Despite my fears, I had in the past accepted some invitations to speak. When my talks had gone well, the sense of satisfaction had run deep. I felt energetic and robust, smart and more fully alive. But as often as not, anxiety had hindered my ability to be fully in the moment, to be completely involved with the story and the audience.

“If you’re like most of my clients, fear will always be part of your experience,” Bowden told me shortly after my arrival. “But the moment you bring it up to a conscious level, you can start undoing those ingrained thought paths, and start creating new ones. Then you can begin to look at all the ways fear is affecting your life. For instance, procrastination is a big one with many people—and usually it’s fear-based.”

Bowden had arranged for me to speak to an audience of about 100 at the end of the week. In the talk, I planned to introduce some of the extraordinary people I had profiled in my magazine stories, people whose own stories embody a spirit of adventure. I would discuss how these individuals managed to shape once-ordinary lives into extraordinary, world-changing adventures.

On the first day of the training, Bowden surprised me by categorizing what I wanted to do as “motivational speaking.” I chafed. To me, the term brought to mind mega-church preachers and get-rich-quick cheerleaders—people who try to cash in by inflating the hopes and dreams of gullible audiences. But Bowden had a different view.

“Think about any one of your stories—for instance, the guy [Lawrence Anthony] who sneaked into the middle of the Iraq invasion to save the animals in the Baghdad zoo. That’s inspirational stuff. People are bombarded by trivia; they want to feel moved. If you tell those stories in a compelling way, you will motivate people.”

As a writer of narrative nonfiction, I go out and gather facts and impressions, then harness them to the techniques of literary fiction. I spend a lot of time building story structures and constructing narrative arcs, ascribing themes and subtexts to events, places and characters. But according to Bowden, what I do best—writing sentences—is “the kiss of death with public speaking.”

“Your biggest challenge,” she said, as we worked on the structure of my presentation, “will be to come down the ladder of abstraction. People are lazy listeners; they want to be entertained. You’ll need to simplify it, and put your stories in a format and flow that’s easy to follow. Keep it to two or three main points; keep it clean and clear.”

Bowden knows how it feels to lose track during a presentation, to have that shake in your voice, to feel your face flush. “I had a huge fear,” she said of her early public speaking experiences.

A former communications instructor at Central Michigan University, Bowden honed her craft in front of her students. She drew on her background in drama—which taught her how to claim her space physically, project her voice, and gesture in ways that would complement her speech—and combined it with the concentration she learned while earning a black belt in martial arts. Then she mixed in some communication theory and organizational strategies.

By the second day, I could see that her formula was working. My script had begun with 10 pages of notes; by day two it was down to three.

“Let’s get it to one,” Bowden said. “When you have fewer notes, you’re forcing yourself to get your head in the game. Just write down single words that will serve to bring you back into the flow. Apart from that, I want you to talk spontaneously.”

As she works with speakers, Bowden quotes everyone from Malcolm Gladwell to Eckhart Tolle and Daniel Coyle. She often talks about “staying inside the presentation,” which sounds a little new-agey, but it’s actually an old concept.

“It means staying focused on the here and now. You don’t allow your mind to race ahead or to play sideline commentary. It is the most important part of both speaking and listening—and probably the hardest for anyone to do. It takes discipline and concentration.”

Bowden explained that our brains can finish thoughts much faster than we speak, allowing us to race ahead or to start engaging in self-talk. The problem is that the brain cannot be in two places at once. Once we leave the present conversation, concentration is broken. 

“For this reason more than any other,” Bowden said, “people get lost when they’re speaking in front of others. Not because they don’t know how to finish ideas, but because they’ve allowed their thoughts to race ahead.”


By the third day, with Bowden’s guidance, I had organized a series of six anecdotes into three sections, each of which reinforced the central idea of the talk. Then I kept tweaking the presentation, thinking of the audience and asking: What do they want to know? What will ring true? What will be memorable and compelling?

We paid particular attention to the transitions between stories and sections. We worked on gestures and eye contact, timing and rhythm. We integrated the elements of effective face-to-face communication into my own communication style, which tends to be informal.

By Thursday afternoon it was coming together, all except for one troublesome section, which we decided to cut. “Anything that doesn’t enhance the message must go,” said Bowden.

Each time we practiced together, I made a few blunders.

“Please don’t worry about being perfect,” Bowden told me, “because blunders don’t matter when you speak from the heart. You don’t want to be perfect, you want to be perfectly compelling. You want to be passionate, and have the best part of your personality to come through, the way you are when you’re relaxed and hanging with friends.”

On the morning of the presentation, I felt it was getting pretty good. But then why was I still so nervous?

“Let’s work on breathing,” Bowden told me, as she led me toward the stairway of a parking garage next to her office. She waited for me as I ran up and down four flights of stairs, three times in a row, until I was gasping for breath. Bowden had me breath from my diaphragm, working it up and down, slowly and deeply. After a couple of tries, I found that it was easy to get my breathing back under control.

As we headed over to the library, she told me: “If anyone asks you if you’re nervous before the talk, just say, ‘I’m excited.’ And remember: Nervousness is just extra energy. Channel it into the moment you’re in, and put it to work.”

As the audience filed into the auditorium, I ducked out behind the building for a quick walk. I conjured an image of myself giving the presentation. I pictured myself speaking with a clear and confident voice, and in my mind’s eye, I could see the audience responding.

Then I went inside and knocked ’em dead.



Tom Clynes, National Geographic Adventure

Jed Wakeham Assistant Manager Hagerty Insurance Agency, Inc.

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you! I really enjoyed the class and appreciate the time that you took with us. My goals were to have some sort of structure to work with and to feel a more confident in myself when to speaking to a group. I was amazed at how simple the structure was and how well it worked for me. I also felt really good in front of the group for the last two speeches that we gave, which I really wasn’t expecting… Jed



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