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creative:impact - The Speaker Whisperer: Eleni Kelakos

Eleni Kelakos
The Eleni Group
Eleni Kelakos

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Eleni Kelakos, the Speaker Whisperer®, is a presence and presentation expert, and the President of The Eleni Group, established in 2003. She uses performance techniques learned over twenty years as a professional actress and award-winning, nationally touring, singer/songwriter to help speakers and business leaders across the globe speak & present with more authenticity, confidence and impact.

When she’s not coaching individuals or facilitating trainings at companies like General Motors, Allstate, Little Caesar’s Pizza, and Kubota Tractors, Eleni practices what she preaches, firing up hearts and minds with her signature keynote presentations at conferences nationwide.

A double major in Theatre and Semiotics from Brown University, Eleni has appeared on big and little screens (e.g., Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, multiple comedic skits on Late Night With David Letterman, Beverly Hills 90210) and in theatrical productions spanning the country (Off-Broadway at La Mama E.T.C., San Diego Repertory Theater, The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis). She’s a proud member of the Actor’s Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild/A.F.T.R.A, the National Speakers Association, and a past president of the National Speakers Association of Michigan.


The Eleni Group

Eleni Kelakos on Facebook

Eleni Kelakos on Twitter

Eleni Kelakos on Instagram

Eleni Kelakos on LinkedIn

Eleni Kelakos on YouTube


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays for creative:impact, the WEMU segment that explores the impact of our local artists, creative workers and businesses and what they do here in Washtenaw County and often across the world. Eleni Kelakos is known as "The Speaker Whisperer". She coaches people in all walks of life to speak in public with confidence. Eleni, welcome to creative:impact.

Eleni Kelakos: Thank you so much. Deb, I'm very excited to be here.

Deb Polich: Well, so, I know it's probably hard for some people to believe that I was that person who dreaded speech class and would be filled with panic whenever I had to present to any size group early in my career. I could have really used your coaching back then.

Eleni Kelakos: Deb, you are one of so many. It's such an overarching, overriding fear.

Deb Polich: Apparently so. The fear of public speaking, according to many media reports, is the number one fear of Americans. It's even higher than death. What is that all about?

Eleni Kelakos: You know, I think it just goes back generation after generation, all the way back to tribal days when feeling on the outside of the tribe was literally dangerous. I mean, you could die if you were not part of the tribal whole, if you will. And public speaking, when we face an audience, I think it mimics that experience where we feel suddenly on the outside and that is terribly threatening to us.

Deb Polich: That's a really interesting suggestion. I have to think about that. So, you know, you're an actress, or an actor, I should say, and even actors and performers can fear public speaking. Did you ever find yourself in that situation?

Eleni Kelakos: Oh, my gosh. Yes. I can say...I could cite numerous stories where fight-or-flight kicked in, and all kinds of craziness happened. I mean, one of my most public experiences was singing the National Anthem at Shea Stadium. And the groundskeeper, as I was stepping onto the field, said to me, "You know, the great Broadway singer--he forgot the words to the national anthem." Yeah.

Deb Polich: Way to set you up!

Eleni Kelakos: Yeah. Oh, I stepped onto that field, and all I could think of was if Robert Goulet messed up, I'm going to mess up. And I did. I did. That's the power of the mind in this kind of scenario.

Deb Polich: Oh, my gosh. That must have been terrifying in its way. So, did that lead to you going into this this world of public speech coaching? And, as far as I know, there's no formal training for that. So, how did you get here?

Eleni Kelakos: You know, my training really comes from my actor training because I had to learn--and I learned from master level teachers in New York and in Los Angeles--how to be present and breathing and relaxed in high stakes, spotlight moments with eyeballs on me. I had to learn to do that consistently over time. You know, in audition after audition after audition after audition, whether I was feeling up to it or not, you know?

Deb Polich: Mm hmm.

Eleni Kelakos: And because of those techniques, I got pretty good. I got pretty good at showing up in those moments. And those are the sort of same tools that I use with my clients, honestly, for 20 years now. They worked for me, and they work for them.

Deb Polich: So, you've mentioned both some innate realities about public speaking and then physical: breathing and the like. Does this all really, really trace back to centuries of conditioning of humans?

Eleni Kelakos: You think that it's nature/nurture? I do feel that it's certainly in the work that I do with my clients. What I know is that we reach a point in our lives where we start to care almost too much about what other people think. We want to please. We want to make nice. We want to be accepted. We want to be liked. And those are the kinds of things that show up as limiting beliefs or fears. I call those the lies that bind you. And they begin to get in our way. We start getting out of the moment and into our heads, and we start to really self-doubt, which takes us out of the moment and out of our power as speakers, as leaders, as communicators.

Deb Polich: So interesting. So, without naming names, can you give us a quick example of a success story?

Eleni Kelakos: Oh, my gosh. You know, I'm thinking of one guy I've worked with. He's a thought leader--an international thought leader--in the tech world. And he was going to give his very first big, huge, massive keynote. And he called me completely freaked out. He had never done a keynote like this before at an incredibly prestigious conference. And we worked for two months on. I helped him put that presentation together, so that it reflected him. But all through the process, I helped him manage the fear that constantly came up, you know, and I gave him tools and techniques around that to help stay present and breathing. But I know this: the work we did on putting together and rehearsing and practicing this talk calmed him. You know, on my wall in front of my eyeballs right now, it's this: Practice builds confidence. Confidence builds presence. And presence is power. And I believe with all my heart that one of the greatest ways to manage fear of public speaking is practice. It's getting near the material and making it your own, just like actors do.

Deb Polich: Oh, so interesting. Well, he's lucky he found you. 89 one WEMU creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Eleni Kelakos, the Speaker Whisperer. She coaches people in all walks of life to speak with confidence in public. Eleni, you've authored two books: "Touch the Sky. Find your Voice. Speak your Truth. Make your Mark". That's a long title. And the recently released "Claim the Stage: A Woman's Guide to Speaking Up, Standing Out and Taking Leadership". Why did you focus your second book claim the stage on women?

Eleni Kelakos: Well, Deb, after many years of doing this work, I was noticing that many of the women that I was working with were saying the equivalent of "I don't have enough confidence. I wish I had more confidence. I don't have as much confidence as the men...it seemed like the men I work with have." And so, I'm going to get very curious about that and began to do a little bit of research around that and decided that it was important for me to do my part and not only elevating confidence in as many women as I could using these tools that I've practiced myself and taught for years, but also encouraging as many women as possible to not just find their unique voice, but to find the courage to put it out there on platforms large and small. Because I believe that we need more women's voices. We need more women's voices in the places where it matters.

"Claim the Stage: A Woman's Guide to Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Taking Leadership" by Eleni Kelakos
The Eleni Group
"Claim the Stage: A Woman's Guide to Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Taking Leadership" by Eleni Kelakos

Deb Polich: And some of that goes back to our conditioning, right, as we're being raised, particularly. And well, I imagine it's also cultural, correct?

Eleni Kelakos: Oh, yes, it is absolutely nature/nurture. Yes, yes, yes. To a certain degree, our brains are built to be relationally oriented. And there are many other factors--many other, many other ways that our brains are different from men, frankly, to a degree. But also, we've been trained to be--I'm going to say it--perfect, pleasing and polite. You know, I call those the three pitfalls. And because we've been in a one-down power position for generations. So, part of it is being able to get out of our own way. I always say, "Yes, there are factors out there that limit us." But we cannot control some of them. But we can control what we bring to the table, you know, and that means speaking up and asking for what you want and putting your ideas out there--you know, not second guessing yourselves.

Deb Polich: So, that triggers a thought: social media. People seem to be really out there voicing lots of things, talking right out loud and in a print and almost a veiled experience. Is that changing how we might be more comfortable speaking in public, or is it just because you can type rather than actually speak out loud?

"Touch the Sky: Find Your Voice, Speak Your Truth, Make Your Mark" by Eleni Kelakos
The Eleni Group
"Touch the Sky: Find Your Voice, Speak Your Truth, Make Your Mark" by Eleni Kelakos

Eleni Kelakos: Yeah, this is such a....we could talk all day about that. You know, I really feel about it. You know, it gives people courage. And sometimes, I think of it as false courage because the real courage is standing and looking someone in the eye and sharing your big idea or your thoughts or your wisdom. It's a lesser courage to me to hide behind a computer screen and share like that, especially if you're--how do I put this--not being supportive--you know, if you're trolling somebody or you're using your voice in a way that is designed to hurt or harm, right? On the other hand, you know, there are some incredible platforms out there that use the written word that have allowed people--and women--to write and express.

Deb Polich: And to find their voice in a way.

Eleni Kelakos: Exactly. Yeah. You know, it's a double-edged sword.

Deb Polich: Well, you are very encouraging. I encourage folks to check out your book. I know I want to read it. And thank you so much for being on the show.

Eleni Kelakos: Oh, I'm so delighted. Thank you for having me.

Deb Polich: That's the Speaker Whisperer, Eleni Kelakos, and she coaches people all over the world about public speaking. Find out more about her, her practice, and her books at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. We invite you to join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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