Anxiousness, Doubt, and Discomfort, Oh My! Overcoming Presentation Anxiety with Alex and Cristina

Anxiousness, Doubt, and Discomfort, Oh My! Overcoming Presentation Anxiety with Alex and Cristina

In another insightful episode of Uncover The Human, hosts Cristina and Alex recount their experience speaking at the 2022 KAMCon Conference in Colorado. Despite anxious feelings and nerves creeping up in the hours leading up to their stage time, Cristina and Alex managed to deliver a presentation they were proud of, reminding us that success is found in the power of being human. 

Listen to our latest episode of Uncover The Human to learn Cristina and Alex's tips for moving through the anxiety, creating a memorable presentation, and applying their concepts in the world of change management and beyond.  Available now, wherever you get your podcasts!

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human









Alex Cullimore: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives,

Cristina Amigoni: Whether that's with our families, coworkers, or even ourselves.

Alex Cullimore: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

Cristina Amigoni: This is Cristina Amigoni.

Alex Cullimore: This is Alex Cullimore. Let's dive in.

“Authenticity means freedom.”

“Authenticity means going with your gut.”

“Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.”

“Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself.”

“It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.”

“Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.”

“It's transparency, relatability. No frills. No makeup. Just being.”


Alex Cullimore: Well, hello, and welcome back to this episode of Uncover the Human. Today, it's just us. How are you doing, Cristina?

Cristina Amigoni: I'm doing well. We're coordinated without coordinating.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, we just joined in on this weekend recording and we're both in orange.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes, like black and orange days. I guess that’s what it is.

Alex Cullimore: Just eventually you just work on projects for long enough just thinking with the same brain and everything seems like the same idea at the same time. And by that, I mean, I walked over and said, “Oh, hey, this sweatshirt is dry and clean, so I’ll be wearing that.”

Cristina Amigoni: I had very similar thought. It was a clean, dry, hanging, yeah, that will do.

Alex Cullimore: This is good enough. This will be warm enough and this is a good actually segue because we wanted to talk about our experience of the first conference we spoke at, just a couple of weeks ago. There is some amount of this a lot of preparation, as well as some number of bullets do what works.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. It's interesting how the anticipation of all of it is way more stressful than actually doing it, and it's just especially since we were the second to last speakers at a two-day conference, and we attended the whole conference, not just our slot or our day, there was a lot of definitely built up anxiety, built up nervousness, every time we heard somebody else speak, it was like a lot of comparison is, like, “Oh, God, they're so brilliant and insightful and they're providing so many good takeaways that we're going to look like idiots.” That was my thought. Then you're – yeah, you get to that point, “I just need to start. This just needs to start.” And then, however it goes, it goes. You can’t control it after that.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. So, to put a little extra context on the anticipation, not only is it like the two days of being there, but technically this was originally slotted for last October. So, we signed up to this, and we were just talking and prepping for this last summer. This has been like nine months or so in the making of thinking about what we were going to talk about and when it was going to happen. Like any good project that requires critical thinking and a lot of like creativity, you feel better when you procrastinate until the last month and decide all the things you need to decide, and see like, “I don't really know. But I probably have time. I'll figure that out tomorrow. I'll figure that out tomorrow.”

Cristina Amigoni: There's always tomorrow.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, so we unsurprisingly, to anybody who's listened to other episodes of this, we wanted to talk about doing human first key account management. It was a key account management conference, and this is like a certain subset of customer success, basically, where you're really talking to the specific accounts you can really get close with and basically be partners with, and those are your key or strategic accounts. It's also called strategic account management.

So, we're there. We want to talk about doing this in a human first way, and I had these just up and down waves of watching these other speakers who would have things like, “I want to talk about relationships, we're going to talk about getting deeper having these connections.” And these are things we wanted to talk about. So not only are we both glad that that's happening, that that's a topic of discussion, it’s already warming people up, and we're also like, “Are they going to take our topic? And we're going to come at the last minute here and repeat something?” Is it going to be, we're going to feel like it was not as insightful, or this isn't the right way to do it? Man, you've put all this prep into it. You have to finalize your deck before you can see any of the conference and then you spend the conference being like, “I hope people address this but not this. I hope we still have our space and we're not taken.”

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, definitely a lot of that. I remember, especially, the day the same day we were on the dock almost every conversation was very similar to ours or at least around human relationships in key account management. So, there was this cheering of, “Yes, you're teeing us up and people are excited, and they're engaged. That means a lot, because then they're going to be excited and engaged with ours.” And at the same time was like, “Oh wait, but we were last or second to last. So, by then, it's going to be two days of being overtired, listening to people, filled up with information. Can't think of anymore and these two bozos are going to go out there and tell us exactly what we just heard for seven hours.”

Alex Cullimore: Boy, there was a, I don't know if it's a thing, but I'm going to coin it now. It felt like an attack of acute imposter syndrome every two hours or so. I feel like for me anyway, I get excited, feel relief, like, “Okay, this is going to be good. I can see how we can connect this to the larger conference. This is really going to plug in.” And then spiking moments, either up or down, depending on how you want to think of it of like, “Oh, God, what are we going to do? Is this right? Is it going to be received?”

Cristina Amigoni: Well, it's interesting, because at least it's not the first presentation. I've done a lot of presentations; you've done a lot of presentations. From a presentation point of view, there's definitely the muscle is there, from a presentation at a conference on a podium with four gigantic screens showing our slides, hoping that there isn't some typo or misspelling that both of us missed over reviewing this 50,000 times, and that's glaring out there, that's a little bit different. After two days of being on the receiving end of all the information that nobody else is providing, and realizing how full our own brains are, from all that information, and how tired the audience could be, yet another representation, yet another set of data, or whatever we needed to present.

So, there was only a lot of pressure. Part of it was I'm glad we're second class, because we get to understand the audience and see what works and what doesn't work at the same time. Also, they're going to be so tired and so just burnt out that they're probably just going to run out as soon as they can, or in the middle of it.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, we also know we're like the second to last slot in a conference for a lot of people came in from out of town. Surely, they're going to have plans to catch. They’re going to be tired. It's after lunch. So, you get like that lol all by itself. And then we're wondering, are they going to stick around? Are they going to have the same energy they did for the first day? Thankfully, and then this is kudos to the people who set up the conference, and the people who attended it. They had wonderful energy, very engaged, they were very helpful audience, but it is a weird moment of basically vulnerability where you have like these ideas of, “Hey, we threw some humor in here, we have some pieces where we came up with acronyms that we thought were kind of funny and would get the point across.” But mean, how is that going to play? Is this going to sound like we're making things up that are ridiculous? Will it go over? There are so many questions, and you're trying to hold your composure to be like, “I need to say all these things clearly and in a slow manner that people will digest them, even if they hate them.”

Cristina Amigoni: Yes, yeah, the humor component too, because it's at least I try to bring humor, at least in my head, its humor, and on the receiving end, it may not be, to everything to presentations, to any type of thing because the speaker humanizes the topic. It makes things a little more comfortable, and maybe memorable. It makes it more of an experience, then somebody's talking at me. But you also always have, or at least I always have that doubt of, okay, just because I think it's funny. Is anybody else going to think it's funny? Or are they just going to look at me? Oh, my God, can somebody get this woman off the stage?

Alex Cullimore: I did stand up in New York for a few years and it was always that. You're always coming up with something new. I find this pretty entertaining and then it would seem like a total crapshoot. Occasionally, you'd have something where everybody was like, “Yeah, that's great. That's funny. We like that.” Or the next night, you tell the same joke, and they’d be like, “That's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard a human say out loud.” Well, okay, I'll just back up and move.

Cristina Amigoni: It's tough. It's definitely tough, especially since we decided to open up differently on purpose, and so we opened up with some skits, which we thought they were hysterical. When we were rehearsing, we couldn't even rehearse properly, because we kept laughing in the middle of them. But that was a big, like, is anybody else going to understand the humor around these as much as we do? And that was a big question mark.

Alex Cullimore: Yes, suddenly, did we make it deep enough? Do we make it too deep? Is it too specific? Is it not? I mean, man, the questions you have running in your head as you're walking up to the stage to go deliver what is basically too late to change, we're in it now. You kind of feel like you're strapped into the ejector seat at that point, wherever this goes, I'm going so.

Cristina Amigoni: Yup. Yeah, it's very true.

Alex Cullimore: I think it's interesting just to bring it into some lessons learned too on it. I think we kind of consider things in boxes. We do a lot of presentations. We have a podcast, we do speak in a lot of different ways, and then you get into the conference. You think there's some kind of specific magic or skill that maybe you have, maybe you don't really hope you have. It's a concern. This is probably different. This is speaking at a conference, it's not the same as the podcasts, not same as whatever. It's not the same as giving a client presentation. It's a conference. So, you kind of get yourself into this box where you feel like it must be this unique separate thing because it feels unknown. It feels like I don't know all the pieces of how this is going to feel. So surely there's something I'm missing. Surely isn't going to go weird.

But ultimately, we're reflecting at it right after it happens. You're like, “Man, there's a lot of things we've done over the last couple of years that really contributed a lot to this, and it's all in totally different ways than you would linearly expect or hope to create, or to try and train yourself on before doing something like this.”

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, it's so true. I remember I gave a presentation or whatever it is in grad school. We entered a case competition, if you can call it that. I don't even know if it was a competition. If anybody won, we weren't around for the award ceremony. So, we clearly didn’t win. But it was a case presentation –

Alex Cullimore: They’re calling your name to an empty audience.

Cristina Amigoni: It was a case presentation at Columbia University, and it was with a lot of the Ivy Leagues around the US in business schools, business school Ivy Leagues. But it was put together by an Association of Italian Business Schools. So, all of the presentations were in Italian, but we were at Columbia. So not all the audience was Italian speaking and the team that I went with from my MBA class, I was the only Italian speaker. We made it a point to enter the presentation by saying, “We understand most of the people here speak Italian, and some people don't. We are in the US; we are in Colombia. So, we are going to do this presentation in English.” We were the only ones. Everybody else did their presentation in Italian.

It was nerve wracking. I mean, we rehearsed to death. I basically memorized my slides to the point that like, I have no idea what I was saying. All I knew is that these are the words I have to say, just recite the poem. You know it's going to be over, and then it's going to be over. I don't even think the words made sense in my head. There was no adlibbing. There was nothing. It was just memorization from the beginning to the end.

What I didn't realize was that in some situations, when you especially are in a bigger stadium, I mean, this was must have been 400 or 500 people, I think, you are on stage with the lights flashing into your eyes, but the rest of the audience is in the dark. So, the nerves were definitely piling up for a long time, until I got on and I looked up and I couldn't see anything, because the lights are so bright in your eyes pointing at you, and the rest of the stadium is in the dark. The lights are not on. I was like, “Oh, wait, I'm just talking to the void. Well, this is way easier than I thought it was going to be. I can’t see facial expressions. I can’t see if anybody standing up or leaving, nothing.” So, it did make it a lot easier.

 The other interesting part, which I didn't realize, because again, I was so in my tunnel of nervousness and nerve racking was that after – that was also a two-day conference, which we were in and out because we were presenting, and we were nervous. We didn't actually attend every session. But my mom was actually the one that pointed out and was like, “Do you realize that after two days of conference, you were the only woman that spoke in two days?” I’m like, “Never occurred to me.” I was just so wrapped up into my own world of freaking out, that nope, didn’t even notice.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. It's just the tunnel vision is incredible. Once you get into the moments of, “I don't know if this is going to work out or not.” I don't remember much of walking on and just, it was a little different than the being on stage with lights in your face. It was more a conference room in a hotel. All the lights were on. You could see everybody. You could hear everybody. It was much more, felt like a conversation with the audience than talking.

Cristina Amigoni: It definitely did. It helped, but it didn’t. Part of me was like, “Can you all go turn the lights off so that it's just me talking? Also, this is interactive, so I do want to see your facial expressions.” But the tunnel vision is pretty powerful. I also remember when we were done with presenting, I honestly have no memory of any word that I said during that 45 minutes. I have no idea what I said when I said it. No memory of actually speaking.

Alex Cullimore: I had a lot of vague recollections of, I do remember wishing I was going to say something there that I did not say.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes, I have a couple of moments where I said something I'm like, “No, shouldn't have said it. Okay, let’s hope nobody heard.” Even though I’m on a microphone.

Alex Cullimore: I'm feeling like they might have heard it.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah.

Alex Cullimore: But nobody knows what your presentation was supposed to be. It's kind of this feeling of I'm going to be graded on this and how close it was to what I created and what I thought it was going to be, and you're grading yourself on that but everybody else has no idea. It ended up going most struck and I've done this for a long time. We had Trent Rebecca on the podcast and the work I did with them was a lot of like skits at which point it was supposed to facilitate conversation, and people could take parts and replace them, see what they might do differently, and they would do a lot of like facilitating a conversation around what it felt like. Every single time, it was always shocking, what you think you're portraying, versus what people are saying. And that was what it was with the conference too. You come up with all your points, you understand the arc of what you think you're trying to say. But you even mentioned this in the presentation, everybody's thinking it 900 words a minute can only hear like 300 and can only say 125 words a minute. The amount of information people is digesting in their very specific context that has nothing to do with anything you could have thought of or predicted is incredible. What people see, what they relate to, what they like, is entirely different than what you think you're putting together. The subject might be there, the overall arch is there. You can definitely fill in the details and you can give a story that people will be attached to, but what they get out of it is very unique and very up to them as sort of their own experience, and you don't have control over it.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, it's so true. It's a great reminder, especially with those bits and pieces of remembering, “Oh, I shouldn't have said that part.” It's like, “Okay, let's hope you had enough of those 900 words a minute going in your head that you actually didn't hear it and just got jumbled in there.” But it's so true. We have all these expectations, even between the two of us, I'm sure we had our own expectations, and our own interpretation of like, “This is a key point that we need to make, and we need to make sure we make it well.” Because if any value comes out of listening to us for the next 45 minutes, it's this piece. I imagine that not only that is different between me and you, but it's different between every single one of the 120 people that was in there. They all walked away with a different piece. Some may have walked away with no pieces, which is also fine.

I remember a friend of mine, Laura. Actually, she was on the podcast early on, when we started it. I was giving a presentation. I honestly can't remember what presentation it was. It was something, but she asked me. She's like, “If you want to give some numeric value of I want this percentage of people to walk away with something from this. What is that? How many of them are they?” I said, “Oh, I'll be happy if 10% walk away with some awareness and remember something.” She was like, “Okay, you've got whatever, 50, 60.” I don't even remember because I can't remember what presentation it was. “If you got that many, that's five people. There's a good chance that five people will walk away remembering something that you said or presented, or they experienced.” It really helps calm the nerves. It helps realize that like, you know what, if 90% of people walk away with nothing, I'm okay with that. Because my success measure is 10% of the room.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, and it's good, I think to set that internal expectation of, what I think I would like to get out of this. It's easy to jump. Same as like starting a company or something, you jumped to thinking that it has to be some perfect, well, 100% of people need to get something out of this, or I started a company, it's going to have to have like 10 million in revenue tomorrow. It was never realistic, but it's a way to beat yourself up after if you don't take, well, what do I really want from this? How do I really want this to come across? Making that intention for yourself is incredibly important, I think.

Cristina Amigoni: It is. I think it was, I was going to say Susan David, one of our, Four Musketeers or favorite thought leaders. I don't think it was Britney, I don't think it was Simon. It might have been either Adam Grant or Susan David. I would say it was Susan David that I think it was the day before or a couple of days before the conference, she posted a quote that said something like, “Don't focus on the applause after you play your music and getting that. Focus on making the music.” That helped me a lot. In those moments where I wasn't hyperventilating, or the moments where I was hyperventilating, it helps me to lower my blood pressure by thinking of that. Thinking of like, the value is me making the music, it’s not getting the applause after I've played the music.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, we focus so much on that end result and then it becomes that of anticipation. If it doesn't land, is it okay? It never helps because of some things that we're already talking about, like the personal interpretations of what's happening. Everybody has their own impression. So, you're not going to be able to guess that. I mean, would you like to spend like three months interviewing all the 120 people and then assume that you've got the right snapshot, and you figure out what they might want and like and think about? Or you need just be able to deliver this and have people attached to whatever they need to and that's more mass communication. You speak one way and you're hoping that some of the parts are understood where they resonate with people, and they will let them think about it in a different way. And then they change their own minds. So having that expectation of like, I'm going to deliver this, and it will create a plus is going to give you some weird pressure. Maybe it'll have it or not, but it will come down to there being something that you've delivered that's good. So, you guys will focus on the delivery.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, definitely. We got enough comments afterwards and feedback afterwards. I'm like, “Yup, we were successful. That was a success.” Even without the feedback, I still walked away. Seems like that was successful. I didn't fall flat on my face physically and literally, at any point. Maybe I said a couple of things that I probably shouldn't have. That's up to debate on whether I figure it to leave or fell flat on my face. We delivered what we wanted to deliver. When we asked people to stand up and do a couple of the activities, they did stand up. It wasn't, “Oh my God, nobody’s standing up, so they're not even listening, or they don't care.” It was very interactive, which we wanted it to be, and we wanted people to experience what we were talking about, not just listen to it, and then take it home and figure out how to experience it.

 Because they had to pair up and talk to each other, and listen to each other, with certain guidelines, we had a hard time getting them to stop, we gave them a couple of minutes and getting them back to shut up, so that we can continue, was a challenge.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. We got people really interested in this. It’s fun, though. I mean, it's really cooled to see it because we were – I was very worried. Personally, I don't know if you felt it, but like worried after lunch that we were going to hit a big lol or that people were going to be leaving, or there's just going to be – we were second to last. There's basically supposed to be like some wrap up comments after us. Everyone had basically every reason to be like, “I'm done listening now.” I've heard 40 people talk: I'm done. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. I expected nine people to stay in the room, out of 120. If we're going to get nine, and seven of them are the organizing team, that’s a success. That was my success measure. We've got two friends who are also speaking.

Alex Cullimore: Those are the key low expectations?

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. We know that our two friends who also spoke are going to stick around. We know the organizers are going to stick around because they actually have to take home their props at the end of the day. So, if we get just nine people in the room, that’s a success.

Alex Cullimore: Plus be thinking about, you want to get to 10% of people with a message, then you're down to like only one person you have to reach. Might as well just have that individual conversation.

Cristina Amigoni: Instead, I think only a couple of people had flights, and so they left early. Everybody else was there, was present, was fully participating. I think one of the best comments we got afterwards was like, “That was awesome. It was so humanizing”, which when our just cause is to humanize the workplace and communities, well then, success, we're done. I don't really care what the other 119 people think. Just that comment. It was a success.

Alex Cullimore: Worth it. It was right after, as the blinders of being in tunnel vision start to lift as you're walking off the stage. That's when we got comment. I was like, “Okay, well, immediate validation.”

Cristina Amigoni: That was the point. That's what we tried to do everywhere. So, the fact that you use those words, and that's how you felt. That's it. You got value.

Alex Cullimore: That wasn't even how we suggested. We said human lead, but we didn't – maybe they talked about it being humanizing, and then went to some other verbs, it wasn't like, just repeat, it was nice. It’s nice to see they’re connected.

 Cristina Amigoni: It was. It definitely was. The other thing that I think was important, which we do in a lot of even the presentations we give in the workshops, and just the work that we do is the interactivity. I am pretty allergic to being talked at, and just the learning curve makes us so that when you are talked at for more than 20 minutes, you will forget everything after the first 20 minutes within, well, let's just say you won't even hear it after the first 20 minutes. Whatever you might have retained in the first 20 minutes, if there's no practical application of it, you will forget 90% after the first 24 hours.

So, it doesn't help anyone to be talked at. Given that there are some great presentations that have to happen in this certain way, and that's what it is. But there's a reason why TED talks are 15 minutes or 18 minutes. There's a neuroscience behind it. So, we wanted it to make it interactive. The other, I think, in other good comments that we got was from someone who said, when Bruce and Gail started at the beginning of the first day, and they said that they do improv, and they use elements of improv to do the work they do with groups. I was sure that they were going to ask us to do, to stand up and do skits and practice and they didn't.

I think this woman told us, like, I was so relieved that I never had to stand up and do anything and then you guys got the curveball. Get into a role-play, totally unexpected.

Alex Cullimore: I didn’t see that one coming.

Cristina Amigoni: Complete curveball, did not expect it from us. But that's a big part of it. You must experience something to take anything away from it. Even taking away, I hated that. It's still something, you're still taking it away. Then you can unpack if you want to. Why did you hate it? Mostly, probably because it was uncomfortable, probably because it pushed buttons, it was triggering in some way. It could be neutral, but the experience, it's crucial, which we also do a lot in our change management work.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, that was a huge thing. I think setting that expectation of like, “Hey, this is going to be uncomfortable.” We do this step out of change management, literally every meeting, I think we start out with, “By the way, you, and everyone else here, sit in the middle of the change curve, you're probably feeling it. It's okay, this is to be expected. It's all part of how change happens, and this is what we introduced for the conference too.” We’re like, “Hey, there's going to be some activities. They're not complex, but they are difficult.” It's easy to understand the steps, it's hard to execute them.

It’s one thing that is interesting when you get people to interact and get people to do these things. I had many moments during the conference where I was like, “Man, these people have delivered some incredible presentations on a high-level strategy, all this like great concepts really broad, here's how you can overhaul a business and change it, and we're going in with a very tactical of like, here's the basic glue of how you have relationships work a lot better.” So, I felt like, “Man, is this going to be received, okay? Because we've just gone through like a day and a half giant, big concepts, like hard to apply until you get through the nitty gritty, and we're going to go really granular and talk about filling in blue here.”

So, is this going to be received, okay? That's one thing that is interesting, I think in the work that we do. We get to talk a lot about this. We get to talk about this on the podcast with our clients is getting into those human relationship moments and understanding the power of that, and how to do it. I love that you brought it into the presentation a couple days before we started, and one of my favorite lines from it is the idea of like, “How many people have taken a listening class?” And nobody's taken a listen to it, maybe one person has taken, “How do I listen?” We're in a room of key account managers. So, everybody knows relationships are important. But how many people have had a relationship class? Nobody's taught how to do these things. We're all just like symptoms of the world, and some of us think that we're good at it or get better at it or have a lot of relationships, and we don't really have a basis for how we got there.

It surprises me often, we get to talk about this, and we get used to talking about this. And then it starts to feel like maybe we're talking about the basics. I think people really still connect well, with just the topics. They want pieces of that, and I think it was refreshing to have to do that. Even though it was uncomfortable, even if it felt like it was very granular and tactical, I think it's amazing how much people are ready for hearing those things. I'm grateful that we get to do that. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, it's so true. That imposter syndrome comes in or whatever you call it, Gremlin of some sort comes in, because when you go down to the basics, especially after two days of like, high level strategy, this will change your business. This is how you get your CEO on board. This is how you get your board on board, and all these very deep business topics, even with the relationship piece, but very – it takes a while to apply them. You're going to have to practice over and over and over. There's a very specific framework, and then we end with, which from an organizer perspective, I thought it was brilliant. We end with, we're interacting, we're standing up, you're going to do this with each other right now, not when you go back to your teams, two months from now, when you remember something from it, or tomorrow, when you take out the framework and want to apply it. You're going to do it right now and it's going to be two skills. That's all we're focusing on.

So, from an organization perspective, it was perfect, because it wasn't a, let me fill your brain with a bunch of more information which your brain cannot take after two days of listening to people, and taking in all these amazing insights and amazing frameworks everybody else presented. It's also a restating the obvious. Is this condescending to actually stand up on stage and tell people, “We're going to teach you how to listen.”

Alex Cullimore: That's exactly how I was feeling. That's a much more succinct way of putting it. But these people do this all the time. They have to talk to people all the time, are they going to feel like condescended too? Just for context, we put together two skits up front, like one of just kind of an amalgamation of bad vendor calls that we've been on, just things that we haven't enjoyed being on the receiving end of. And then we did another one where it's like, here is how your kind of correct that and listen to people and have the acknowledgement.

One comment we got after the conference was somebody came up and was like, “Oh, man, that first one felt a little bit like looking in a mirror.” I was like, “Oh, God, I got to change things.” Okay, even that will deliver and that was supposed to be exaggerated. I think he was being a little facetious. But he was like, “Yeah, there's definitely pieces there.” I was like, “I've done that. I am guilty of falling into this trap.” It was cool to see those because even when we feel like it might be condescending, or it might come across as we're going way too small, people know how to do this. I'm glad we found a framing that seems to help connect with people, and that was a huge relief.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. Yeah. Huge relief. And we did. We did get a lot of comments even afterwards. After a couple of weeks, it's like, “Yeah, I learned a lot. I realized I built a lot of self-awareness on what works for me and what doesn't.” Another feedback at the moment was Kathy, actually, who said, “I had been trying to figure out how to have this conversation with one of the presenters, actually, regarding, approaching a type of business like his, for our sake, because it's our ideal client. I had no idea how to approach that conversation without sounding salesy, and without sounding fake, and without sounding that it was all about me, and what I needed.” The exercises that we provided, gave her the tools to have that conversation and have the confidence to have that conversation without them, “Oh, I need 100% from you, and I'm going to give you nothing in this next question.”

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, I remember saying that this is the end of the conference and she had two days to almost approach this guy, she wanted to talk to you because she knew this was like an ideal customer and she finally got to be able to do it. She told us, “That'd be cool.” Immediate applicability.

There's another one. It wasn't like we planned specifically this is what you do in a sales call is just how you can glue those relationships and understand things better, and they immediately put that into practice in their own context, and you never know what each context is. But man, you go abstract enough and you go granular enough, you can get something that glues it, and that was really fun to do.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, definitely fun, nerve wracking and fun. So, I remember, when we were done, it was like, “Okay, I'm never going to do this again.” It is way too stressful. I remember my voice even like shaking at the beginning, when we started speaking. I was still that nervous, and then finally calming down. And then a couple of days later, “Yeah, I kind of want to do this all the time.” 

Alex Cullimore: It's fun.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. It's a lot of fun. It did help to have a year and a half or a year and nine months of podcasting behind it, because that was a calming mantra. When you're that nervous, when the tunnel vision is so powerful, it's when having a mantra really helps. And my mantra was like, “It's just a podcast. It's just another podcast. That's all we need to do. It's just another podcast, we're just standing instead of sitting, and we're facing people that are looking backing us. But if we just focus on just doing another podcast, we'll be fine.”

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, that's interesting. So, a couple things that I found helped as well, like, mantra is super helpful, really get to clue in on here's what I want to focus on. The other thing that I found myself doing only on the second day, because I kept doing these like spikes, being a little bit nervous, being nervous, being more nervous, feeling more nervous, especially as you get closer and closer, and you're two days into an emotional roller coaster. I found myself first in the camp of I got to put the nerves down, it's fine, it's fine. I know, this is going to be okay. I've given presentations before.

I caught myself in the middle of this thinking, “Wait, I mean, we talked about acknowledging feelings and having to like lean into what you're feeling all the time, and that's like emotional regulation isn't emotional suppressing. It's regulation. It's acknowledging this. It's working with this.” So, I stopped, and I thought, “No, I get it. I feel nervous. It's okay to be nervous about this. I understand that I'm feeling that way.” And it became an entirely different approach, which still, you still have spikes of nerves after that. But when you engage with it, instead of just being like, “Oh, God, I feel like coming out. I got to put down. I got to put that down. I can't feel that right now.” It was entirely different. Starting to put into practice some of the things that we talk about all the time, start to eat our own dog food on that.

Cristina Amigoni: Shocking.

Alex Cullimore: It helps. 

 Cristina Amigoni: It does help. But it's hard to do. We talk about this all the time. We talk about this every week, every year. And still, the second there's some stress, it falls right out the back of your head till you're really focused on it.

Cristina Amigoni: It's so true. When you have the distance to it, when you're externalizing, you can see what the answer is. It's like, that's why it's easy to say like, “Yeah, that's how you do it. That's how it is. That's how you find the success. That's how you conquer that. That's how you get past it, whatever it is that you need to think about.” But then in the moment, you always have these like, “Oh, what if I apply what I just talked about?” And then it works, and you have this epiphany, which to me, I don't know why, but it happens in change management a lot.

We approach change management, I would say differently, and maybe it's not that differently, but slightly differently from the traditional. “Oh, let's go in. Let's do the deliverables. Let’s capture the information. Let's put everything in a nice framework. Here's all your documents. Here's your plan.” Almost the traditional change management is very project management. There’s a checklist, there's tasks, you go through the motions, and then you're done. Poof, change transformation is done. It almost takes a – while it is about humans, it takes away the humanity of the fact that that's not exactly how it's going to go. You can have a plan and you need a plan, you can have a toolbox, and you need a toolbox. And sometimes you're going to have to let go of that, because it's not going to work out that way.

So, when we approach change management with our clients from a coaching point of view, from the premise that people change when they internalize the need for the change. We can't force the change. We can't manage the change or they're going through, they need to choose. The unknown is better than the status quo. But it's an internal decision. So, the way to coach through change and to facilitate that is to allow for space, is to allow for people to experience the emotions of change, is for people to find their own answers. It's not for us to tell them, here's your communication plan. I don't know your people. I don't know your teams. I can provide some suggestions, and I can provide with some questions to get you to your own communication plan. But my communication plan, for this case, for whatever case I had in mind is going to be very different from what you need.

So, when we approach it that way, it may take a little longer because it's not this immediate, “Here's your plan. Let's go do it.” It's more about like, “No, we're going to listen to you for a while, and you're going to talk to us, and then we're going to provide some suggestions and guidance towards that.” We're seeing it in practice, with our clients are now coming to after six weeks of working with us, they're not coming to meetings where we're barely talking, in some cases. They can happen like, okay, so we want to do this, this, this, and this, and this is the plan and that. We’re like, “Okay, yeah. That sounds good. How can we help?”

Alex Cullimore: We help facilitate that. We come up with the next things to start considering, the next hairy questions are going to be asking, and that ends up being the successful thing. I think, trap us so much into thinking we have to have the answer. I think that's what we did with the conference, too. We thought we had to have the answers. We're delivering answers. Over delivering is a different way of thinking about this, and some practice that you can see that you don't have to do it the way you've always done it, and that you can have some other structures that you can practice. I mean, we even went through the change curve like ourselves that you're talking about, you felt nervous, you didn't want to do it ever again. But realistically, you also want to do that forever. I think this is what changes humans is. There are moments where you're like, if I have to hear the X word, again, I'm going to bomb it. I get too excited, like, “This is exactly the right way to do it. You're out there evangelizing it. You're going to talk to everybody, and you want everybody be on board.” That's normal and that's okay, and that's the only thing you can absorb, which is by checklists, and toolboxes are not as effective. You can't just keep trying to deploy the same thing, even if it's the right steps, because that's not how people are experiencing it.

Cristina Amigoni: Yup. And from a change perspective, which both these are changes examples, they’re change of behavior, change your perspective, skills that change how you relate to other humans, how you create those relationships. And then same for bigger business and organizational transformations, you're going through a change. The way for that to stick is, first of all, to facilitate the answers to come from within, not from the outside, and also to make it a practice. So, if we practice what we preach, so if we say in change management, the important thing is for you to create two-way communication, where you're listening a lot more than you're talking, if we don't actually do it with the change agents, how are they supposed to experience that? How are they supposed to know what that feels like to then turn it around and put it into practice? They have to experience it first.

So, it's our job to provide a two-way communication, to listen to them before we speak, to provide advice, but not impose. To really not create a state where we're telling them what to do, because we're the first one to say, you can’t tell people what to do. That's not how they're going to change. But if we, do it to our clients, first of all, there's an integrity issue, and also, t's not really helping them understand through their own experience of going through the change management tools and practices of what it's supposed to be like for their teams.

 Alex Cullimore: That is so true. Can you imagine if we went in? It sounds ridiculous saying it now, but it's so easy to fall into this. Can you imagine if we went in and tried to talk at people for an hour and a half about how they should listen? Trying to back yourself into an argument about like, “Well, they're going to have to listen to me when I talk for these 90 minutes it's not really helping.”

Cristina Amigoni: Has anybody gone through a listening class previous to this? Well, good, you're not going to be in one of this one either.

Alex Cullimore: Okay, this is a one-way communication about how two-way communication is important. So shut up and listen.

Cristina Amigoni: Practice listening now because you won’t get a chance to speak at all.

Alex Cullimore: This is what, I think, change is so difficult because people think they're like, “Well, I have the reasons, this is important.” That is a good step one. You should connect to why this is important. But if you think that's the end of it, how successful have your change has been? Ask yourself how often that has worked. Imagine if we went in, and we’re like, “Hey, you need coaching skills. As leaders we're happy to provide these things that would be helpful when you want to be able to interact and grow people. Here's ways to do it.” Imagine if we just had one way on that, never had them practice this, never had any validation. Here's all the important things, you might as well just drop a textbook on somebody's lap. It's not going to happen. It’s not going to help. 

Cristina Amigoni: Which has allowed what happens. A lot of what happens is like, well, if we're going to teach you coaching skills, and all we're going to do is not teach you, tell you about coaching skills with no teaching or learning insight, then go read this white paper. Go read this book. Why am I here? Why am I here in person? It's the same thing for change management. The successful change management is when you actually go through the motions to the point that you have internalized the experience so much that you understand the benefits of it. So, you can't unlearn that. The next time there's a change, when we're not around, you're going to go through the steps, because you've experienced them, and you know exactly where the benefits are, and how to do them.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. I will say, you talk about these things all the time, it's not easy to do these things in practice. It's so easy at a conference, when you've been invited as a speaker, to think, “Well, I've got a 45-minute slot, I better be speaking for 45 minutes.” It's so easy as a change management consultant to go in and be like, “I've been hired as the expert and change management. I need to give them all of my knowledge. I need to give them, here's 40,000 things that you need to digest and do.” It's so easy to think that's where the value is, and it's very vulnerable and very difficult to let go of that and see the real value is in letting people experience this and giving them the framework and helping them internalize this. Because it's a lot harder, it's a lot more ambiguous, and it feels sometimes like there's less happening or it can – especially if you have a client that's addicted to deliverables, or really needs to see 40 pages generated every week or something. You feel like maybe you're not delivering on what you should be delivering on because it's a human thing. It's a more general, up and down. You have to follow the waves. That's the actual experience, and it's hard to do that, even after talking about this on podcast, after doing this in person. Even after all this, every project is still a new battle with yourself to be like, “I have to slow down. I have to let this be – this is how this should go.”

Cristina Amigoni: Every day, every meeting, there's that imposter syndrome. There's a Gremlin speaking and say like, “Provide value, provide value, provide value, in tangible value. It's got to be a deliverable. It's got to be a 45-deck presentation. It's got to be this.” How else are you going to show value? And yet, the value is in the experience, the value is in change behavior, and change behavior doesn't happen on a slide. It doesn't happen on a spreadsheet. Change behavior happens from experience. We're starting to see that already. It's like change behavior is already happening. Yeah, sure, have the deliverable, so that you can whatever, justify the budget, whatever it is. The deliverable is useful. I'm not saying it's not, but the deliverable is not the value. The value is the change, that behavior through experiencing different behavior.

Alex Cullimore: Every consultant, and this was a buzzword for a while, and it still is used inside at Camp Con a few times. A desire is to become the trusted advisor. Right? That's always the key phrase thrown around. You want to be the trusted advisor, be the trusted advisor. We, I think, internalize that a lot of times similar to how we internalize leadership. We're like, “Okay, I must be able to give advice. I must have to know all of the things to be able to do this and it's very easy to fall into that trap.” I say trap, because we are an expert in this, you can help with this, you can give lots of pointers. But until you figure out how you're delivering that in a way that can be digested, you might as well be talking at a wall. You need to ask enough questions. You need to understand enough about what everybody else is doing. And that means a ton of documenting, a ton of listening, and a ton of them understanding the experience of being listened to do.

By virtue of creating these deliverables, you are really just going through the process of getting people to experience these, and that's same with same with the conference, you want people to experience it. It has to be done in a way that takes you out of the equation, and that's very difficult to do. You are the person, you're the advisor. If you're the trusted advisor, you must know all the things. But you go back to trust, how do you trust anybody who claims they know everything? You know that's not true. Everybody knows that's not true.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. It's interesting, because I think it's Simon, that defines trust happens not – or maybe Bernie, one of the two, or together in a podcast. But where they talk about like trust doesn't happen when you ask for help. Trust happens when you are willing to receive help. And what happens when you’re receiving help, you're shutting up. You're actually not the expert in the room. You're not helping. You're not the one talking. You're not the one telling people what to do. You're the one asking the questions, because you don't know which way to formulate, because you need the help.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, and that's what's difficult about what we do is that what our expertise is, is not just in creating the deliverables, it's in creating a presentation that has a good structure to it that people will follow. It's creating human experiences, because we know that's where we can deliver the value. We know this is the thing that's underpinning, we know that the ability to get empathetic with this is what's going to help come across. This is what can help and that a lot – it means we have to take that step back. We have lots of experience, we can do lots of strategy – we've done lots of strategy work for our own businesses, as well as our companies we've worked for. We can help you come up with strategies, that's great. But the experience of implementing them is the ambiguous part. Obviously, it's a blast, and it also means you're going to be hitting that wall, and they are, and you are, over and over again, to go figure out the right questions to ask, to tease out what you need to tease out. It's fun and it's hard.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes, it is fun, and it's very hard. Because it's that against the grain. It's against the normal like, well, where's the strategy? Where's the deliverable? Where's the plan? And I'm like, “I can come up with a plan and a strategy in a day.” But in a day, when it's very complex, I could come up with an hour when it's not that complex. Does that mean you're actually going to do it, adopt it, and your transformation is going to be successful? I would say absolutely not. There's a good chance, a very good chance that it's not going to happen the way that I created it. Because it's not my change. It's not my transformation.

Alex Cullimore: I can tell you; I can go research; I can figure out what's important about what you want to change to you. But it has to still fit in your context. You have to know what the change is. Yeah, so it's speaking at conferences, speaking with customers, it's about taking yourself out of it a little bit and providing the space to get the value they need. Because a lot of times they have it, they just can't get through it. They have answers, they know what will work, they know what's going to need to happen. Oftentimes, they will have either not considered it or they won't think that that's part of the change. But like you said, I can give you a suggestion. I can give everybody suggestions. I can walk around the street telling everybody what they should do with their lives. How often does that apply? How often is that correct? Did I ask anybody what they were dealing with? No, I'm just going to tell them this is the thing you need to do. That's unhelpful. By the way, I do you recommend doing that.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, just go around and tell people what to do. See how that goes. But a lot of transformations are taken. It's like, “Here's the new technology. Now, go use it. Done. Transformation done. Success change. Checkmark, CFO success.” That was that here's your ROI. That technology's implemented. The processes are implemented. I'm like, “No, they were delivered and told. Implemented, totally different thing.” If actually, people use them, and their behavior has changed. Has their behavior changed? “Well, no, they're still using Excel, because they don't trust that technology.” Then you just wasted $2 million dollars on that new technology. Congratulations.

Alex Cullimore: I thought it was fun. I'm going to throw a new metaphor on this because I think it's hilarious that it is not the deliverables and the plan. Because how many times have you walked through Times Square, to have somebody with a bullhorn and a cardboard sign that says, “Repent”, scream at you? And then you thought to yourself, “I do need to repent. Maybe the end nigh.” How often has that changed your mind? And that's basically what you do when you just say, “Here's what's important. Here's the thing to do.”

Cristina Amigoni: Go do it.

Alex Cullimore: First, let's think about this. This is why it's so important to think about the right message at the right time, and the right way. Is a bullhorn the right way to do it? Is it shouting in people's ears while they're tired of trying to get to work? How often is this resulted in change behavior? I get the impulse. I get wanting to spread a message that you think is important. I get why, but that empathy of feeling like what is it on the other side? How many times have I been on the other side and taken that, and then been fine with it? I was shouted that this is important. I will now make this important for myself, because it seems like that angry person has established that as important.

Cristina Amigoni: So true.

Alex Cullimore: Do you want to be the street side preacher? Or do you want to have actual change?

 Cristina Amigoni: Yes, we do want to do more presentations. And yes, we'll still be very nervous. And yes, we'll still be hyperventilating all the way until we start speaking and a little bit in the first five minutes.

Alex Cullimore: Only if we're doing it right.

Cristina Amigoni: Only if we’re doing it right. And yes, we're still going to say things that we wish we wouldn't have said or forget to say things we wish we would have said.

Alex Cullimore: But you're talking about Dan Pink in his new book on regrets, you either push that away and ignore it, and then don't learn about it next time. Or you acknowledge like, yeah, there's something I'd like to do differently next time. I need to be able to focus on that and figure out what I can do to change that. Regret can either teach you or it can shut you down and make sure you keep yourself in a box you don't want to be in. This is a whole different topic. Just throw that can of worms at the end there.

Cristina Amigoni: Definitely, different topics. So, here's another listening skills lesson by you listening to us, and us not listening at all. Enjoy this episode.

Alex Cullimore: I was preaching communication on a podcast is somewhat ironic. Yes.

Cristina Amigoni: Listening skills on your podcast for 54 minutes.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, I do want to give one thanks as well to Meredith for her help in both of our podcast’s conversation with her was great. But her content on presentations is wonderful. That helps us shape a lot of it. We saw a lot of things in other people's presentations were like, okay, this helps. I see why that works. I see things that I would want to do differently here. Listening to that and having the framework of just even – if it's some advice, we've got off her TikTok, helped us create like the skits upfront, instead of spending five minutes saying, “Here's who we are and what we've done.” We didn't want to lose that time, we wanted to get right into it, and these are all pieces of information we learned from people like Meredith, and you get to glean these and put them in practice and its super fun. But I have a huge, huge amount of gratitude for the conversations we've had with her and everyone else who's kind of helped along to perform what we got to do there, and what we'll get to do again.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes, thank you, Meredith, and everybody.

Alex Cullimore: Thanks everyone for listening to this. I hope it was enjoyable.

Cristina Amigoni: Thank you.


Cristina Amigoni: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast. 

 Alex Cullimore: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood. 

Cristina Amigoni: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Alex Cullimore: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at podcast, or at our website,, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E A-R-E S-I-A-M-O.

Cristina Amigoni: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.