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Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessmakers.com. My guest today is the founder and president of Performance English, Mariam Haddad. Mariam, welcome to The Businessmakers Show.
Mariam: Thank you so much for having me on.
Russ: It's great to have you here. Let's start right at the top. Tell us about Performance English.
Mariam: Okay. Performance English is a company that works with people who work in global environments to improve the results that they achieve through communication. Specifically, spoken communication.
Russ: It seems to me like we all work in global environments now. Would that be kind of accurate?
Mariam: Yeah, absolutely it is. And so what we do is of a transformative nature to help people really own how they speak, how they deliver messages in ways that connect with a very diverse audience.
Russ: Sounds interesting for sure. So performance English, does that mean you teach English?
Mariam: No, actually, we don't teach English. You have to know English to come do work with us. Basically, where we started out eight years ago was working predominantly with non-native speakers on improving how they created their vocal delivery, how they created effective presentation and communication through the use of their voice. So there are a lot of technical programs about the voice, but we also saw that there were some key things we needed to do to create an integration of how they heard language, how they produced language from a perspective of sound, how they saw language, and how they thought about it. And so we don't teach English, but we do seek to improve the functionality of it in the day-to-day process of communication.
Russ: Now is it like one-on-one training? Is it you go watch them perform, or is it a classroom? How do you do it?
Mariam: We actually have different ways that we work with people. Some of it, especially with our executives, is indeed one-on-one. We also created a lot of effective processes to work, for example, with people on improving vocal delivery. And we'll put 15 people in a group and actually track measurable results with our assessment tools and get a very good result in that way as well. And we have some smaller groups, and indeed, performance can't be separated from how we train. Otherwise, we don't get real results that stand the test of stress and varied environment.
Russ: Now the progress that you're describing from when they come to you to where you want them to be when they go sounds fantastic, but I can't figure out how in the world do you do that. How do you get people to improve?
Mariam: So I'm going to explain it in this way. You could have something that you're experiencing that you want to improve. It could be that there's something that's broken that you know you need to work on. It could be - I'm actually performing pretty well at this environment, but I've got a new stage that's coming up, and I need to skill build in order to be able to get there when I need it. So we need to really assess where is somebody at, where are they going, and where can they perform real time right now. And then even in our group courses, we assess, and we tailor our coursework to help people, and we create developmental plans that are step-by-step and process oriented and guide them the whole way there.
Russ: Now the term performance, to me, means that they're probably in front of a large group, maybe even up on a stage. But when you first describe just improving communications, that can apply all the way down to a conversation with two people. So are you just on the big audience end of the spectrum?
Mariam: No, and so that goes to what Performance English really owns as a definition of performance. So for me, a performance is really anything you do in front of people. So indeed, it could be one-to-one. It could be one to few, and it could be one to many. It could be a conversation that's key and important. It could be a teleconference. It could be you're addressing and giving a speech to 1,500 people. And so they are all just a conversation, but how we approach them and how we train for them can vary.
Russ: I find this whole topic to be very curious because you make it sound like it's almost like a science that you can teach somebody, and my experience always is, "Well, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't."
Mariam: Well, I guess that comes from a very technical mindset I have, both as a classical pianist and as an opera singer. It is the fine arts is a high performance world, and you do indeed have to learn step by step. You don't just start off playing the piano by playing Rachmaninoff's First Piano Concerto at a winning competition level. You start off learning the basic rudimentary skills. At first, you're very technically not adept, and the muscles need to be conditioned, and response needs to be integrated from the brain and the ear and the hand. And then from there, you start to grow. Okay, now I've got that. Now let me plug it in to a Mozart Sonata. Okay, now I start learning what I need to do there.
Then you start to understand I perform one way in my living room, but something happens when I get in front of an audience, and it can go away. So how do I really train and sustainably that which I need when I'm front of people? We have boiled it down to a very scientific process oriented approach to create the result of sustainable automatic change.
Russ: Sounds like it's the perfect time in our discussion for you to tell us your background. Classical pianist and opera singer, I happen to know, are part of your history. How did you get there, and how did you get from there to Performance English?
Mariam: Sure. I think my love of music is just something that was innate, and I grew up on the border of El Paso and Juarez in a Syrian family inside of the Syrian community. Of course, they're in the larger spectrum of being on the side of America versus on the side of Mexico. So I found it very difficult to own my voice in regards to here is what I want to say, and here is how I say it that is authentically me. I felt like there was a curtain on that. So I found my voice through the piano. And so I decided that that was what I wanted to do with my life, and then I had a miracle. I had a car accident. You know, I kept playing through that, and I was very hard headed and stubborn in those days, messed up my hand even more. Had to take a brake, and that brake lasted ten years. During that time, I decided to really focus on my voice.
I had always sung, but it wasn't a predominant focus. And I was lucky enough to have a wonderful teacher that was a voice builder and technician, and just an amazing teacher, and transitioned to opera. Got the ability to play again, and was working with people. And some of my corporate sponsors started to ask me, "How do you stay yourself in front of people?" What they didn't know was that I had battled a lot of nerves and memory that would go away when I'd get in front of key audiences and an overall feeling of a lack of confidence. So I basically train people how I needed to train myself because I know that the result works.
Russ: So you were successful at overcoming those fears, and you knew how you did it.
Russ: And so that's turned into what today is Performance English.
Mariam: Exactly. Well, I was invited to put a performance program together for a group of Asian and Latin American engineers who needed to speak at the offshore technology conference ,and I had six weeks to make a change in how they addressed an audience, got the audience to engage with them, get their message across with clarity and with ease. So we managed that, and at the time, it was just a fun thing. The engineers actually said, "Please don't stop. You have no idea how long we've been waiting for this information." Somebody said 20 years. "If I had these tricks 20 years -" And it's not tricks. It's a lot of skill.
Russ: But Mariam, somebody like that, an engineering presenting at OTC, it's very highly technical. Did that part of it present a difficulty to you?
Mariam: No, I think a message is a message, and you've got the heart of the matter, which is the why. How is this important to the organization? How is this important to the industry? And then from there, I'm not going to tell an engineer how to put their details, but there is a level of managing detail. But the really cool thing is I've been blessed and fortunate to have attracted wonderful advisors who are also now a part of our team that have that oil and gas experience. So one of those people I invited to be the managing director, and he had retired from Shell and was a global research manager. He and I really synergized a lot of our information to create a very holistic approach to what the technical person might need to create success, what the artistic person would need to create success. Well, that's a pretty wide scope. So you could see as to how we could fill in the holes from there.
Russ: All right, talking with Mariam Haddad, the founder and president of Performance English. She's the person that went from classical pianist to opera singer to the founder of her cool, cool company Performance English, and we'll be back with more with her after this. This is The Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessmakers.com. This is The Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessmakers.com. Continuing on with Mariam Haddad, the founder and president of Performance English. Now Mariam, I understand your unique background.
Number one, being Middle Eastern and growing up in El Paso, Texas, being a classical pianist, and opera singer, and now you've taken all of those experiences and talents to the point of having this cool business called Performance English. How does the magic convey from all of your experiences to a successful communicator?
Mariam: I think the thing that I seek to do is to let people blossom from the essence of who they are and use my skill and processes to support and bolster that.
Russ: Wow, okay, that's pretty serious.
Mariam: Don't seek to change them.
Russ: So sort of give us a before and after actual experience.
Mariam: I think we have a tendency of getting in our own way based on how we perceive ourselves against whom we think we should be. And that's one of the greatest ways to create a disconnect from your audience. So I had the good fortune to work with a CEO from Asia of a - he's a CEO of a software company, and basically, he was given a wonderful honor. He was asked to give a speech in front of 1,500 people and hadn't really had the opportunity to speak in front of an audience that large. We got to work, and we started to really shape the message and shape the vocal delivery and the voice and the face and the eyes. But to me, there was something that just wasn't there.
I think it's more the job of a director to be able to see what's missing from that shot. You know? And that's kind of how I start to look at people when I coach them. What's missing from this that really has this reach out from the depth of that person and grab the audience?
Mariam: And so we started to talk about how do you feel about this message. And he said, "You know, I feel a little bit like I have who I really want to be as a CEO, but there's what the Americans see is what a CEO should be, and I'm not that. How can I stand up in front of these people and really talk about that?" We actually said, "Well, what's your view on leadership?" We said, "Wow, that's pretty great. Could you please just own that? Could you give yourself permission to just be who you are and recognize it as something phenomenal and amazing? And by the way, people already see it because if they didn't, you wouldn't have been invited to do this speech." So that really kind of struck him. So he started to just accept himself and own who he was. And he was able to manage to do that in front of people because of how we prepared him. But it was definitely a partnership of evolution that allowed him to do that.
Russ: Well, it sounds like psychological counseling.
Mariam: Well, there are a lot of self-imposed barriers, and I encountered those myself in performance. How do you go from preparing thousands of hours on a piece, and you get in front of your audience - literally this happened to me. I looked at the piano, and I went, "I play the piano? What is that? Don't I play the flute? Oh my gosh."
Russ: Hate it when that happens.
Mariam: Yeah, exactly. And it was muscle memory that got me through that momentary - and I am a very science oriented person in my thinking. I thought, "How is that possible? There's at least 10,000 hours that I practiced on that," and it was just gone in an instant.
Russ: So that, and the fear of being in front of an audience. How do you engineer somebody to get over that?
Mariam: You have to first identify who they know themselves to be, who they want to be for that audience and help them to realize the reality of humanity that is simply on the other side. I think we make it something that it's not. And then it becomes inaccessible. So we really - I would say there's a divide. Here is me, here is them, and there are barriers in between. So we go in, we identify the barriers there for those people, and we either disappear them, remove them, or teach them a way to get around them until they can start being themselves, and also have the enriched skill set that they need. There may be vocal issues. For that individual, we did have to do a level of work so that the key words would come out not only with clarity, but ease, and what I would call stickability. That they would have a spotlight on those key words so that the audience could retain that message, basically, leaving.
And so every word wouldn't just become a white washed wall. You would have a painting at the end of it. And so -
Russ: No, I'm totally in tune to what you're saying and can relate to it, both from my personal experiences and other presentations and poor communication skills that I've seen in my past. But that takes me to the business. So you do that as a business. Are there plenty of customers?
Mariam: Yeah, thank God. I am in the process of training trainers, and once again, it's a pretty cool team. So we have literally subject matter experts. One new coach that I'm especially pleased with that's joined our team just retired from BP. Thirty-five years experience of communicating and being that technical mind, and then so we do dual teaching. So people don't only get this creative artistic, "What do I need to do to be dynamic." It's very balanced, but what's in the message? What key words do we need? And so we really create a symphony and guide people to identify how to do that.
Russ: Well, tell me about your team. What does it look like? How big is it?
Mariam: So I would say that on the floor, on the ground every day, pounding the pavement is myself and my office manager, who is an amazing young woman. We have, I would say, our advisory team of seasoned professionals that are about 20, 30 years ahead of me in experience. One is on the side of - is just a marketing genius, an amazing teacher as well. One was the managing director, as I mentioned, was global research manager from vast experiences as well, and another on the side of just an entrepreneurship master, I guess. They have just helped me to build the business to what it is. So we work strategically on the business, on getting our message out, and now on really creating a scalable curriculum because I do have a global vision.
I have a vision that this gets into the hands not only to Fortune 500 companies, but to the people who also need it around the world who really want to make a success of themselves and their businesses.
Russ: Does that mean that at some point, this might even be an online training session?
Mariam: Yes, and I'm excited, we finally have an online support portal that I have not only built, but I'm in the process of adding to. And so yeah, that is my vision that there would be online training, and that there would be amazing trainers to deploy around the world. So we're just in the process of I would say we've had one harvest, and we've gone back to farming, and we're clearing out the weeds, loosening up the ground, and getting ready to plant. You know?
Russ: And say somebody just heard you talk about this portal and wanted to go there. What's the domain there?
Mariam: Well, they have to have had classes with us so they can use it to continue to do their work because there's a certain level of repetition of certain pieces. So at the moment, it's really there for people who have started training with us. And it's not open to the general public.
Russ: But you do have a public website.
Mariam: Exactly, so they could go to Performance-English.com. Please make sure to include the little dash, and so they can find out a lot about that. They can - if they wanted to find out more about me and some of my performances, they could go to MariamHaddad.com.
Russ: Okay. Mariam, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.
Mariam: Thank you so much, Russ. It's been a pleasure to be here.
Russ: You bet. That's Mariam Haddad, the founder and president of Performance English, and this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessmakers.com.