The YOGI M.D. Podcast

The Art of Storytelling with Catherine Johns: Speaking

Episode Summary

This is the second episode of the four part Art of Storytelling Series. You may remember Catherine Johns from her 25 year career in Chicago radio broadcasting! Now a professional speaker and coach for professionals who want to improve communication, she talks about storytelling through speaking. In this episode, we explore Catherine’s winding path, what she has learned about re-inventing her career, and how great storytelling has been a common thread along the way.

Episode Notes

Catherine Johns spent 20 years in Chicago radio as a news anchor and talk show host. In the 80’s and 90’s, she was a morning-show co-host with Larry Lujack and Fred Winston at WLS and then hosted her own evening talk show. She was one of the few female radio talk show hosts in the nation at that time. Later she teamed up with John Landecker at WJMK FM. After Catherine left radio, she joined another refugee from radio, Karen Hand to launch Positive Changes, a hypnosis center helping clients adopt healthy positive changes in their lives. Today, Catherine is a professional speaker and coaches professional clients in effective communication. 

In this episode, we discuss:

Resources:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/catherinejohns/  

www.facebook.com/catherinejohnschicago 

https://twitter.com/catherinejjohns

On Instagram: catherinejohns40 

https://medium.com/swlh/the-science-of-storytelling-why-we-love-stories-fceb3464d4c3

 

The Mindful Minute -

Here's a quote by the great Maya Angelou, "There is no greater agony than burying an untold story inside you." So, my friends, what's stopping you from telling your story?

Episode Transcription

YOGI MD  

Welcome to the YOGI MD Podcast. It's Nadine, yoga teacher, health coach and retired doctor here to bring you and your body together, not in sickness, but in health. Thanks for taking this time for yourself.

 

TB  

Anything you get really, really great at whatever the hobby is, whatever the profession is, you reach a point of literacy where you start to have your own unique way of doing things because no two people have ever come from the same exact set of circumstances.

 

CJ  

I am talking about the willingness to be seen as who I really am. I think that is a distinguishing characteristic of really masterful speakers.

 

RH  

If you get too far into your head and you worry about it being perfect. You'll you won't, you won't dig deep enough into your heart, which is the which is the part that you can't. You can't edit heart in.

 

AM  

And there's something about taking what we don't really understand or what we love and what we appreciate, and externalizing it. We ask, we ask questions through our art together collectively. And the art is this process of cohesion. There's an alchemy that takes place in art.

 

YOGI MD  

Why do we love stories? What makes storytelling so powerful? For the next four episodes, we take a look at how the art of storytelling connects us a connection which is integral to our well being as humans. We will look at storytelling from the perspective of for creative professionals,  drummer Tim Buell, speaker Catherine Johns, writer Randy Heller, and artist and writer Arlette Mahasseh.

 

Catherine Johns spent 20 years in Chicago radio as a news anchor and talk show host. In the 80’s and 90’s, she was a morning-show co-host with Larry Lujack and Fred Winston at WLS and then hosted her own evening talk show. She was one of the few female radio talk show hosts in the nation at that time. Later she teamed up with John Landecker at WJMK FM. After Catherine left radio, she joined another refugee from radio, Karen Hand to launch Positive Changes, a hypnosis center helping clients adopt healthy positive changes in their lives. Today, Catherine is a professional speaker and coaches professional clients in effective communication.   In this episode, we explore Catherine’s winding path, what she has learned about re-inventing her career, and how great storytelling has been a common thread along the way.  Please enjoy.

 

Thank you so very much for being here with us today. It is a great pleasure to have you with us.

 

CJ  

Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

 

YOGI MD  

Can you tell us what life was like in radio, especially being a side chick, which I really liked when I read that about you?

 

CJ  

So, what was life like in radio? Wow, that's a huge question, Nadine. It was fun, for sure. It was a lot of real life with a little bit of gloss on it, but not too much. I used to say that show prep was, you know, whatever was going on in my world. And then we turned it into a bit or a funny story, or something to research and go deeper on. So in my world, life was show prep, and side chick came from, I really really hated being called a sidekick, even when I was a sidekick. Sidekick always kind of implied second banana, which I was also called, and I didn't like that either. Very clearly when I was a news person, I worked with really big stars, Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, John Landecker. In the world of Chicago radio, those were very big names. And they were always the show. I really was a sidekick. I just didn't like thinking of myself as that way. And so turning it into a side chick made it kind of wry or funny, and I could step into that.

 

YOGI MD  

To me, sounds like you were empowering yourself so that you could see yourself in a more valuable position and like you were an actual contributor and not just there to kind of hold things up. Does that make sense?

 

CJ  

Yeah, it totally makes sense. Early on in my side chick days, I was at the city hall press room because I was also a news anchor and reporter and so after we got off the air, we would get that out to cover a story. I was in the center in the city hall press room, and the program director from the loop came over. He was introducing Jonathon Brandmeier, another big radio name, to Chicago. And among other things, they stopped at City Hall so he could get a sense of you know how politics was covered in Chicago, and introduced me to Jonathon Brandmeier by saying, this is Catherine Johns. She's Larry's news, girl. Larry's news, girl. Really?

 

YOGI MD  

A possession.

 

CJ  

I know that, yeah, well, yes. And not a girl, thank you. A grown woman. I mean, what do you ever have referred to my co anchor as Larry's news, boy. I don't think so. That was kind of how radio was then and truthfully, Nadine, it hasn't changed all that much.

 

YOGI MD  

This is probably a very tiresome question for you. But I wonder with more time as you have reflected upon changing careers because you did you reinvented yourself at least twice. How did it feel to leave radio?

 

CJ  

Well, Nadine, I'd been in radio for 25 years. And actually, I thought I was pretty good at it. And it was devastating to discover that not only was it over at the last station, I worked was WJMK here in Chicago, it was an oldies station. And I was a side chick again, and to discover that there was no place for me anymore, was very painful. In fact, when I left WLS, you know, I was at WLS for 18 years, and when I left it was because the program director told me I wasn't likeable, and they wanted to replace me as a talk show host. That was very painful. Not only because, gosh, I hated the idea of being not likable, but also I practically had call letters tattooed on my forehead, right. I've been Catherine Johns from WLS for so long, I didn't know who I was if I wasn't that. So, I took the skills I had developed in radio and looked for a new place to apply them.

 

YOGI MD  

Do you think part of the struggle leaving radio was that it wasn't necessarily a choice?

 

CJ  

Sure. And yes, of course, part of the issue. The biggest part of the issue was it wasn't my choice. And it's a huge rejection, to be blown out like that, and it has become quite common. You know, think back I left radio for good in 2000. And the sort of gig economy and job rotation thing that was to come hadn't really started yet. Radio was particularly unstable. And it was common in radio for people to lose jobs because the format changed or the program director changed, or they just got a whim that they needed somebody new and different. The job changes in broadcasting were frequent, more, much more so than in the real world. Well, the real world caught up with us, certainly by the recession, in 2007 2008 2009, that era, you know, it, it became a meme right people carrying the cardboard box of their belongings out of their cubicle, and departing and, and so that instability became much more common and less of a stigma.

 

YOGI MD  

Did you ever feel shame?

 

Unknown Speaker  

Oh, totally. Are you kidding? What a massive rejection. We're dumping you because people don't like you? Yes.

 

YOGI MD  

Why did you feel like you had to own that shame though?

 

CJ  

Because, because for a person in radio and this may be true across the board and other businesses as well, but certainly in radio, who you are on the air, is what you're selling, so to speak. I mean, it's it really is at the level of identity. It's not a task to be performed. It's show up every night on the air and be who you are, and make it interesting, make it funny, get people engaged with it. So at the root of performance is his identity.

 

YOGI MD  

You didn't feel like you had a separate identity. Have one who was on the radio for everyone and Catherine, who was outside of radio?

 

Unknown Speaker  

Mmm. A little bit. I mean, were there things I would say to my husband that I wouldn't say on the air? Yes, of course. But, but there's a real blurring of those lines by design. You know, and I think that's true for you know, I tell my clients when I coach people who want to speak better to grow their business, and I tell my clients, what your audience most wants from you, is you. I think bringing you into your work is fundamental for speakers and for people on the radio. That's what I did, right? I was I was me. I used to, I used to say we add 10% for the air. So laugh a little bit louder, be a little bit more iconoclastic or more funny or more whatever you are. Use language that's just a tad exaggerated. So a way to think about it Nadine is, you know how people on a stage where stage may know it's exaggerated, they would look ridiculous if they went out on the street in the makeup that works for the stage, but you need stage makeup so people pass the third row can read your facial expressions. I thought of radio like that. It's me, it's the real person and I have auditory stage makeup on. So that's what I mean by adding 10% for the air, crank it up just a notch. So you're still you and you can be heard and seen from the last row.

 

YOGI MD  

That makes a lot more sense. That was not the impression that I had. I thought, there was a, having never done anything like that. I thought there was a show business person and the real person separately. So thank you.

 

CJ  

Well, there may be, yeah, there may be for some people maybe. I mean, I think Rush Limbaugh would be a good example. When he began as a national host, you know, he did, when WLS became a talk station, they carried Rush. And I remember listening to him in the very beginning and thinking how different his approach was. It was very clearly a performance, you know, with his blustering and ladies and gentlemen and and all of that jazz. And he created a radio persona, how much it has in common with the real Rush, I have no idea because I don't know him personally. But I do think there is a place for that kind of performance. That just wasn't my approach to radio.  

 

YOGI MD  

Okay. So you made the transition from radio to public speaking and coaching. How did you transmute your unique skills in broadcasting to public speaking. And were there differences in your approach?

 

CJ  

Yeah, totally. I actually worked with a coach, which was kind of humorous because I had met this woman at some women's group meeting. And I sort of laughed at the whole idea of a life coach. Remember, again, it was like 2000. There were life coaches, but it wasn't nearly as commonplace as it is now. And, and to me, it seemed ridiculous, you know, coach smoach, so I got to have a coach to tell me what to do with my life? That doesn't make any sense. Then I got blown out. And I thought, you know, I remembered some things she had said, and I thought maybe there's something to this coaching business after all. So I had a conversation with her which was actually very helpful. One of the things we did was look at, what are my skills? What do I do in radio, not be on the radio, which is how I've thought about it, you know, I'm just on the radio. But if I actually break that down, I write, I gather information and I distill it into manageable bites. I can be funny, which is a great thing. I get in a studio with five guys and balance all those egos morning after morning after morning, and get along with all of them, which in itself is a skill. So, as I made that list of things I do then the next challenge was to look where could I put those other than radio? And I thought speaking, I went to a meeting of the National Speakers Association and I just hated those people. I will tell you right now, I'm a proud member of NSA, and I'm on the marketing team for our local chapter. But back then, what I my reaction was, who are these people? Like they speak at a rotary club and they think they're big stars. Are you kidding me? I just, it didn't feel like a fit for me. However, I learned one very valuable thing. I was talking to somebody at an NSA meeting. And I was saying, you know, I like, like smaller groups, and it's interactive, kind of like a talk show. And so I don't want to get on a stage and just deliver a speech, I want. And the person said, Oh, you want to be a trainer? Nadine, I had no idea. I thought trainers were about weights or dogs. There were tons of people already doing various kinds of training in communication. So I learned from a lot of them and set my sights on a new career. So and that was how I made my transition into coaching, training, speaking, the whole world that I'm in.

 

YOGI MD  

Wonderful. So whether you're on the radio, or commanding a statge in front of an audience, or helping coach clients, the common thread here is being able to tell a good story. So in your mind, how do you do that? How do you accomplish telling a good story?

 

CJ  

So I'm going to back up a minute and say that the things that I want to do myself and teach my clients to do are command a room and connect with the audience, and I think they're both essential, and really masterful speakers, dance between them. There are moments where command is more important than anything. I'm the leader. Everybody follows. I have information, everybody learns. And there are moments where connection is the most important thing. The relationship between us really dictates how well you learn what I teach, and it certainly dictates how well I take in your feedback, your needs and everything else. So I want my clients to develop both of those qualities, command and connection. And that's what I model when I'm speaking. And then I would say, to your point about the story, the story grows out of that. But, but I have to have that going into it. Otherwise, I just get up and perform and tell a story. Yeah, yeah. So I tell my clients, what your what your audience wants more from wants from you more than anything, is you. And once you give them that the story develops. If they don't have that, the story doesn't ring true, then it they might as well read it in a book or find it online. Or you know, now it's the starfish story that every inspirational speaker tells, that has nothing to do with you or me.

 

YOGI MD  

So being authentic?

 

CJ  

Make sense?

 

YOGI MD  

Yes, so being authentic is the key to forging that connection with a group of strangers?

 

CJ  

It's part of it for sure. I think people sense phoniness. And one of the reasons that we work on physical delivery skills is phoniness can show up as that disconnect between what you say, and the message that your body conveys. So, if I say I'm interested in what you're learning today, but I never make eye contact with you, you are unlikely to believe me, at some level, even if you're not consciously aware of what it is it rings false. Makes sense?

 

YOGI MD  

Yes.

 

CJ  

Yeah. So so this is why we work on the whole package of communication, not just the words, but how those words come out of my mouth, how I listen to what I hear to what others say, all of it. So, yes, authenticity and I think there's also a piece there have a genuine interest in the audience, not as a mass who's going to clap for me at the end? I don't mean that. I mean, the individuals who are sitting there, if I don't fundamentally have some concern or care or interest in them, I'm not likely to be effective as a speaker.

 

YOGI MD  

Okay, so it's not about you. So that that idea of connection again.

 

CJ  

Yes, and it's not easy. Because all of us have a natural, self protective instinct.

 

YOGI MD  

Yes.

 

CJ  

We want to look our best. We want to sound our best. We want people to think highly of us. I mean, that's normal.

 

YOGI MD  

And it's hard to be vulnerable.

 

CJ  

Very! And so am I willing to set that aside and show up in front of an audience without my armor? And I do think it's essential. I mean, and I want to say when I talk about, you know, being authentic or vulnerable or any of that stuff, I don't mean that we strip ourselves bare and you know, tell every sad story we have and cry on stage. I'm not talking about that. I am talking about the willingness to be seen as who I really am. I think that is a distinguishing characteristic of really masterful speakers.

 

YOGI MD  

What would be wrong with the sharing of an incredibly painful, heartbreaking moment? At the right time with the audience?

 

CJ  

othing would be wrong with the story. I think. I think it depends on the audience and the speaker's motivation. I think if we're, if I'm telling you a story, because you will benefit, you will learn something from it, you will feel that I relate to you, you will get an idea from it. If If I'm motivated by that, I could tell you any story. If I'm in that place of, I need to share my pain. I need somebody to listen to me. I need to process this. I have no business doing that. I think that's why God made therapists.

 

YOGI MD  

Yes. Okay.

 

CJ  

Right. And I think that I really think that's a an important distinction. You know, if I need to tell my story, I should tell it to my best friend. If I deeply believe that you need to learn something from my story, I should tell it to you.

 

YOGI MD  

To me, being vulnerable, being authentic means that I show you my emotions, but I see what you mean. The motivation makes a huge difference.

 

CJ  

It really does because the audience is not there for me to process my stuff. That's not their job. And, and I have no business, putting them in that position. I need to process my stuff, stuff with somebody else, and then distill it into something that the audience can benefit from and cares about, and then share it with them. So it's really is it's just all about motivation. I am very focused on you. Could we be wrong? Yes, we could. Right? Maybe the audience doesn't need what I think they need. But in general, the more I'm motivated by meeting the needs of the audience, the better my talk will be. And as soon as I am instead motivated by my need, my need for applause, my need to be heard, my need to process my emotional baggage, any of that, then there's a shift. And I think that makes for less effective speaking.  

 

YOGI MD  

I think what can be confusing for a new speaker would be okay, commanding means that it is about me and it is about me taking control of the room and making sure that I am getting a response so that I can tell that I am commanding and moving this talk in the way I would like it to go. I think there's a fine line there.

 

CJ  

Yes. And I would offer a completely different view of command because so can I tell a story?

 

YOGI MD  

Please.

 

CJ  

All right. The consulting firm I worked for, when I was learning to be a presentation skills trainer had a bunch of clients in financial services, and a dozen of us consultants. They actually had to bring in staff from Chicago and San Francisco to do the gig because they we didn't have enough consultants in our New York office for this assignment at JP Morgan training newly minted MBAs who were just starting out, there in presentation skills and sales communication. We were on day two of that training on September 11. And so I was on Wall Street when the Twin Towers came down, and I was part of the dusty hoard trudging out of the finance district.

 

YOGI MD  

That's horrible.

 

CJ  

It was, in so many ways. Our CEO was an ex marine. And he did such a great job of leading us out of that mess. So it was upsetting. It was frightening. It was horrifying. It was all the things you think it would be. And at some point after the dust began to settle after both towers had come down, and you know that we, you saw on TV that thick cloud of dust in the air. As that began to settle, we were allowed to leave JP Morgan and Mark got us all together, had us count off. So everybody had a number and gathered us and reassured us that we were going to get out of this together. And we began to walk back to our office in Midtown. And of course, we were part of this huge crowd of people trudging along the streets, you know, shuffling our feet through this dust that was all over the place. And some of us were wearing inappropriate footwear. I learned from that to always have a pair of sneakers handy because, man, there were women who couldn't find a pair of shoes. We stopped in drugstores and bodegas looking for flip flops. There was nothing to be had. Anyway, we walked back back to the office and every so often as we'd sort of get strung out, Mark would have us count off again, and gather us again and reassure us again, and he was preoccupied with making sure nobody got separated from the group. Nobody got left behind. And nobody got too far out in front, either. You know, we stayed together because that was survival. So I launched into that story because when I talk about commanding a room, I'm talking about that kind of command. It's not about, Look at me, I'm in charge, I have to tell everybody what to do. It's about how do I bring this group on a journey and get us where we want to go and get us there safely.

 

YOGI MD  

You're talking about leading.

 

CJ  

Yeah, yeah.

 

YOGI MD  

Well, you certainly are a very talented storyteller. My final question is, Catherine What is your personal definition of what it means to be healthy?

 

CJ  

It would have to a balance of both physical health and mental or emotional health. I know people who are excellent physical specimens that I wouldn't describe as healthy. So it probably has to do with habits like eating well, sleeping enough getting some movement every day, that kind of stuff, but also having a sense of connection to other people and interest in other people and a willingness to grow or learn. So called that introspection or self awareness.

 

YOGI MD  

And now it's time for the Mindful Minute. Here's a quote by the great Maya Angelou, "There is no greater agony than burying an untold story inside you." So, my friends, what's stopping you from telling your story? Stay tuned next time for part three, when we dive into the art of storytelling through writing, with  master storyteller Randy Heller. Thanks for being here. See you next time.

 

Testimonial  

Having Nadine as my yoga teacher and I have ADD has helped me slow down, concentrate and relax. I have found my neck and my shoulders don't rub my ears all the time.

 

YOGI MD  

To learn more, and to practice yoga with me. Find me at yogimd.net.