The M3 Interview: Denise Graveline, Communications Consultant

Denise GravelineDenise Graveline, speaker coach and communications consultant, calls her consultancy don’t get caught because she makes sure you don’t get caught unprepared, speechless or without a message. If she only had a butler, she’d never get caught unpacked or unpressed. (Even without him, I don’t think she does.)

Where/when do you feel most successful? When someone I’ve been training–usually in presenting or public speaking–finds out she can do the thing she thought she couldn’t do. I just coached a speaker for TEDxBrussels who said, “I feel as if I’ve had a complete attitude change about public speaking. I can go into this excited, instead of frightened!” That’s wonderful success for both of us.

What is your number one rule for achieving success? Set good boundaries in your work and life relationships. To do that, you have to trust your gut instincts. If you feel your boundaries are being crossed and it makes you uncomfortable now–like sand in your shoe–it will only get worse if you do nothing. Sometimes that means saying “no” more than you think you should.

With what do you struggle? Workflow, although I get better at it every year. My clients’ needs are not consistent and I don’t sell an off-the-shelf product or service, and sometimes it feels as if everyone needs me at the same time. That’s good for business, and not as good for making sure I get time for myself. I use virtual assistants, lots of productivity tools and am always looking for a way to do something faster, or not at all, if I can help it. Saying “no” is part of that, too. I just turned down a gig for a longtime client that allotted too little time for the proposal process and even less time to create the product desired. Rather than go to the wall and work 24/7 and risk lowering my quality levels, I just declined the chance to bid on the work, since those were firm deadlines. If there had been room to maneuver, I’d have negotiated enough time to do a good job without killing myself.

What one thing do you wish you had more time for? My mother will laugh when she sees this: Reading. I grew up with a book in my lap (even at the dinner table, until I was caught), worked my way through high school and college at a public library (no late fees for staff), and even today am always listening to an audiobook or reading my Kindle. Even though I spend a big chunk of every day reading in my work, I have a long list of things I want to get to for my own reading. Mogul, Mom & Maid, of course, moves to the top of the list as it is a special treat to read a book when I know the author.

With what do you wish you had more help? There are many days when I wish I had a butler. I swoon when I think what he could do for me when I’m doing lots of business travel. All that packing, pressing, putting away….sigh.

Is the life you’re living now the life you imagined at age 25? Oddly enough, it’s very close. When I was 25, I was a freelance journalist and loved it, particularly the working for myself part. I got talked into changing careers and going into PR when I was 27. At that point, I promised myself that someday I would come back to doing more of my own writing (rather than work for a client), and that I would work for myself again. Nearly 20 years later, I won a big career award as “Washington PR Woman of the Year.” And that reminded me of that promise. Having hit the heights in my second career, I decided to go back to work for myself and do a mix of my own writing (2 blogs, and a book-in-the-works) as well as consulting and training for clients. I don’t know that I had this specific business in mind at 25, but the components are all there. And I’m glad I didn’t wait to keep that promise.

If you went back to age 25, what would you change? I’d believe in myself more and trust my instincts. Looking back, my regrets are all around second-guessing myself.

What is your dream job? Owning a business, working with smart clients doing communications strategy and training, helping people learn to be better public speakers, and writing. Oh, snap!

What would you like to see women do more of? Public speaking. Historically, and even today in some cultures, free speech didn’t belong to women. Where we have the opportunity, we should take it. I’d love to see women say “yes” more often when they are asked to speak, instead of suggesting someone else or feeling unqualified and saying “no.” Public speaking is an important way to share ideas and influence others. Men know this. We need to grab those opportunities, too.

What would you like to see women do less of? Housework and elder care and childcare. I know lots of men who say adamantly, “I won’t change diapers” or “I won’t clean a toilet” or “You won’t catch me cleaning up after my incontinent parents.” I don’t hear women getting that choice. Taking care of your home and your family are things you won’t regret, but it doesn’t make sense to me that these things are solely, still, the women’s province in too many families.

Who are your heroines? Queen Elizabeth I, for sheer courage. Virginia Woolf, for writing. My mother, a Buddha in everyday life and the world’s best listener. Malala Yousafzai, for not letting a bullet to the brain end her already strong speaking career. U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, the mother of all outspoken women. Jane Fonda, for graceful aging.

What do you admire in/about other women? All that knowledge. Women know so many things, from so many spheres, on so many levels. If you are living the many roles women live these days, it is a constant stream of intellectual activity. We just don’t frame it that way, but you are always thinking on many levels, solving problems, anticipating, absorbing other people’s needs and wishes.

What is your best habit? I am prompt, or its cousin, early. Many days, I wish I were not this way, but it is always appreciated by the person meeting with you or waiting for you.

What is your worst habit? Thinking there might, someday, be a butler in my life.

Is your life balanced? Balance? Sounds like a tightrope to me. I like to think of a wheel, coming full circle so that I am always returning to my core self and staying true to it, but also moving forward, with many spokes providing support. But seriously, yes. I do my best working and living when I am rested; stretched (physically and intellectually); reflective; and renewed by my hobbies and my dear friends and family. I work hard and play hard and try to rest and renew enough to do both. 

Visit Denise’s blog The Eloquent Woman. And for more stories of women making it all work, read Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman.

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