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Lunch at the Tribeca Grill with: Diane DiResta

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-01-24

When celebrities and CEO's speak, Diane DiResta listens. Then she trains them to speak more effectively.

Ask Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White. Ask Bob Lanier, the eight-time basketball All-Star and Hall of Famer. Ask any number of leaders of Fortune 500 companies.

They will say that the Brooklyn-born Ms. DiResta enhanced their "executive presence." That often translates into bigger bucks in television and radio endorsements and on the lecture circuit. It results in job promotions. It often leads to better relations with the all-pervasive media. It even generates better voicemail messages.

"Executive presence is all about communicating with authority and conciseness, conducting oneself pleasantly but productively with colleagues, the public, the media - it's about demeanor and credibility," the founder and president of DiResta Communications said yesterday. "It's all about projecting a powerful image."

But the question arises: By the time a person gets to be a CEO or a public personality such as Ms. White, wouldn't "executive presence" already be in the repertoire?

"Not necessarily," Ms. DiResta said. "What sometimes holds back people in the corporate sector is not having the right image. A woman executive can have a nervous laugh, for example - something that could adversely affect her impact on an audience. Or someone would be ending sentences in 'uptalk' - with the inflection rising, almost as if that person were asking listeners for permission to end a sentence."

Then there is what Ms. DiResta calls "wimpy words."

"A person could be using 'perhaps,' 'if,' 'I think,' 'like,' or using everyday slang," she said. "Or when a speaker says, 'You guys - ' Such words simply do not work in a high-powered corporate environment. In today's hyper competitive world, everything matters in leadership circles - personality, speech, diction, vocabulary, credibility."

So how does Ms. DiResta coach celebrities and corporate executives? Convention has it that these folks have monumental egos. How does one tell a celebrity that, well, she isn't delivering her speech right?

"Some celebrities can be difficult," Ms. DiResta said. "And in some cases, their associates are afraid to tell them that they need coaching. But when those endorsements slow down, or a celebrity loses out on an important contract - that's when the realization generally hits them."

That's when they come to Ms. DiResta. She typically offers 8-hour coaching sessions, complete with video tapings of her "students." She also offers two-or-three-day corporate seminars.

"At the heart of what I'm teaching is that it's important to get one's message to land," Ms. DiResta said. "That means speaking persuasively."

She landed in the increasingly popular field of speech coaching after obtaining a master's degree in speech pathology from Columbia University, and a 10-year stint with the Board of Education. Ms. DiResta also worked at Salomon Brothers as a training specialist in management development. And she was an assistant vice president at Drexel Burnham Lambert, where she recruited and trained MBAs for the institutional sales and trading training program.

"I liked my work on Wall Street - but I didn't like the culture of Wall Street," Ms. DiResta said. "I saw that there was great potential in becoming a speech coach, especially as corporations increasingly required their executives to make both internal presentations and public appearances."

She found the market more than welcoming. Not only were their opportunities in America's corporate sector, Ms. DiResta's services were also sought abroad. Producing two books - including the best-selling "Knockout Presentations - How to Deliver Your Message With Power, Punch and Pizzazz" - did not hurt her business. Neither did frequent appearances on TV talk shows, and giving talks before educational institutions, corporations, and trade associations.

"Whether coaching sports celebrities to shine in the media, developing leaders to excel at executive presentations, or helping women to step into their power, I see my task as bringing out the best in people," Ms. DiResta said. "I am about the power of language."

She is also all about intuition, and nurturing fundamental talent in people.
"I'm highly intuitive," Ms. DiResta said. "But I'm also well grounded in technique. I don't lead with my ego. I have New York 'shark expertise,' and I also have a down home style."

That style, say people who have worked with her, injects a comfortable level into her working sessions.

But Ms. DiResta has a corollary explanation as to why people are comfortable with her.

"I listen to people," she said. "Coaching means bringing out what's inside of you. I help people see the possibilities - I'm their sounding board. But I always listen carefully to them."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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