Femme Palette mentee Stephanie Cohen on her journey towards founding Speak Up with Stephanie

Written by
Rose Smith
Published on
November 20, 2023

Stephanie Cohen was a Femme Palette mentee who has finished her Mentoring program. She founded Speak Up with Stephanie, where she helps global professionals up their business communication skills and own their unique English! In this spotlight interview, we asked Stephanie about her journey towards founding Speak Up with Stephanie, the biggest challenges she faced and lessons she learned along the way, and so much more!

Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Hey there, I'm Stephanie, the founder of Speak Up with Stephanie – my coaching venture focused on enhancing your public speaking and business communication skills. My mission is to transform the daunting into the enjoyable, ensuring you feel empowered every time you open your mouth. With my diverse background spanning theater, tech, English teaching, corporate training, and entrepreneurship, I've honed the art of confident and comfortable communication. I get it – no one wants to sound like a corporate robot, and even I still get those pre-speech jitters. My approach involves equipping my clients with practical tools and exercises, allowing them to communicate authentically while maintaining a polished and professional demeanor.

Could you share with us what led you to found Speak Up with Stephanie?

Like many Americans, I made the move to the Czech Republic to teach English and escape the hustle of everyday life back home. In the seven years I’ve lived in Prague, I’ve worked with a wide range of students. However, it didn't take me long to realize that my real passion was coaching adults on navigating English communication in their workplace.

Drawing from my background in theater and the communication skills I picked up from my previous tech job in the US, I found that most English communication issues stem not from grammar or language intricacies, but from individuals' mindsets and their apprehensions regarding how they're perceived when communicating in English. This is where the distinction lies between traditional "English teaching" and coaching public speaking skills – we delve deep into the root causes of their self-doubts.

I've never been your “typical” English teacher – I've always had a rebellious streak against textbooks and standardized tests. Every step I've taken leading up to the establishment of Speak Up with Stephanie has been part of my entrepreneurial journey. I recognized that my unique approach and skills set me apart from other teachers and coaches (and my students and clients confirmed this). Learning to embrace and have confidence in what I offer to my clients has been a journey of self-acceptance and self-assurance, one that I've undertaken right alongside those I coach.

How can people make the best out of cooperating with you (how to use it)?

I tend to approach my work with clients much like a director does with actors – things tend to fall into place once you know your lines!

So, if you've got a big presentation, speech, or something you know you'll be talking about frequently, let's turn that into a practical avenue for boosting your confidence and comfort when speaking in front of others. On the other hand, if you don't have a specific topic in mind, no worries! We can dive into something that speaks to you – be it poetry, a chapter from a novel, a monologue, or even a news article covering a topic you're passionate about.

Throughout our journey, we'll explore elements like structure, intonation, storytelling techniques, audience engagement, and, of course, what to do with your hands while presenting (😉). You can count on a mix of exercises to help you breathe easy and boost your confidence. One thing's for certain – we're going to have a blast along the way!

What's unique about this initiative?

Here's the twist – my approach isn't your run-of-the-mill public speaking course. I'm not here to instruct you to change your natural voice or structure your speech in some cookie-cutter way. No, we're in this together to discover a speaking style (and mindset) that's genuine to you and the unique life experiences you bring to the table. I'm not here to make you sound like everyone else; I want you to sound like you, with all the amazing qualities that make you, well, you. Society might have its rules on how we "should" present ourselves, but I'm not buying into that nonsense.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when you started a business (as an expat)?

So, aside from the language barrier – because I'm still hovering around an A2 level in Czech. If your first foray into entrepreneurship is when you’re arriving in a new country and setting up your "živno", it can be a wild ride. Not only are you navigating the roller coaster of expat life in a new land, but you're probably also feeling a bit lost in the world of being a "successful" entrepreneur.

You see, language teachers quickly learn that it's not sufficient to work part-time at a language school and hope for a few private clients through word of mouth to pay the bills and lead a good life. The business side, the entrepreneurial aspect of being a language teacher, is often missing from the usual training programs. But, I've been fortunate enough to connect with some fantastic mentors in both the language teaching and entrepreneurial realms. These folks have been a game-changer in my personal growth.

Being able to learn from experienced individuals who've walked the same path, made similar mistakes, and have the scars to prove it – that's like having gold in your pocket. It's an absolute asset to have a supportive community you can turn to when you're grappling with a challenge.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this experience?

Where do I even begin, right? 😅 Being an entrepreneur and a business owner has hands down been one of the most transformative journeys of my life. I can't quite recall who said it, but there's this quote that always plays in my mind, "Being an entrepreneur and starting a business is like personal development on steroids." Honestly, truer words have never been spoken!

To effectively market your services (and yourself), you've got to be a walking encyclopedia about your target audience and, even more importantly, about yourself. I've found that just when I think I'm making headway and feeling confident about how I help people, another existential crisis takes center stage in my brain. Word on the street is that this is perfectly normal, but it can be a real mental workout. That's where your support system comes in – a therapist becomes a kind of lifeline, having a mentor is a non-negotiable, and having a community of fellow entrepreneurs wrestling with the same demons is like a warm blanket on a cold day. Don't fool yourself into thinking you can do it all on your own or solve everything by googling – most folks ask for help to avoid wasting time on things that don't move the needle in their business.

And lastly, YOU, with all your unique quirks, talents, and experiences, are what draw clients to you and make people eager to work with you. Embrace the things that make you seem a little "out there" or different – they're exactly what will make you unforgettable! I used to shy away from my theater background due to some negative feedback I received, but as I've grown older and wiser, I've realized that it's been my secret weapon in my corporate and entrepreneurial life. So, let your "weird" shine, and you'll attract folks who resonate with your kind of "weirdness." It's seriously the best thing ever!

Let’s talk about your experience about being a mentee in our mentoring program. What made you decide to join as a mentee?

So, in December 2020, as a little Christmas gift to myself, I decided to apply for the Femme Palette mentoring program. Just like most folks during that December, I was feeling the whole frustration, stuck-in-a-rut, and burnout vibe of the pandemic, thanks in part to my hectic teaching schedule. To stay active during lockdowns, I was also working with an online fitness trainer (big shout-out to Erica Villani Fitness). What struck me was how the principles my fitness trainer was teaching us for health and wellness were directly applicable to my English students and clients. Lightbulb moment!

This realization made me see that I could reshape how I taught my students, helping them achieve faster progress and better results. The only hitch? I had no clue where to start or how to market myself to reach more people. I'd been a member of the Femme Palette community for a while and figured this was the golden chance to snag a mentor and get my new business rolling. They paired me with an awesome mentor (another big shout-out to Robert Sovik), who guided me from the conceptual stage of my offering to actually running a beta version with real clients. It was quite the journey, going from nearly zero knowledge about this stuff to running a successful program. And let me tell you, that transformation wouldn't have happened without my mentor and the amazing Femme Palette community.

During your application, you outlined your goals for the mentoring program. How has your mentor helped you achieve them?

What's funny is that when I started on my mentorship journey, I was pretty much in the dark about my goals. All I could muster was a vague "I want to do something different from what I'm doing now," which didn't exactly provide my mentor with a clear roadmap at the outset. But Robert, my mentor, was incredibly understanding, patient, and posed some brilliant questions that kick-started the process.

Through our conversations, we managed to set up SMART goals and began our journey towards them. Six months down the line, I had a clear vision of what I wanted my business to achieve, who my ideal client was, and how I could make it engaging for them while keeping it sustainable for me. I even pulled off a fully functional beta version of my program, which was the icing on the cake of my mentoring experience. Then, that autumn, I launched my very first official cohort of the program. None of this would've happened so swiftly without my mentor, Robert.

Mentee Testimonial: Could you share your overall mentoring experience with us?

I've got to say, the community that Femme Palette has fostered is just incredible. It was this sense of belonging that made me believe that the mentoring program would be an excellent way to learn the ropes and kickstart my business journey. Entrepreneurship can often feel like a solitary road, leaving you isolated, but when you have people who are genuinely invested in your growth, there's no stopping you.

I wholeheartedly recommend the Femme Palette mentor program to anyone pondering a career switch, seeking professional growth, or thinking about launching their own business. There's no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have come as far as I have on my journey without the guidance of my mentor and the incredible support of the Femme Palette community. 🌟

Are you an entrepreneur looking to surround yourself with the support and guidance of like-minded individuals who have already walked the path you’re embarking on? Get support from your business mentor and grow your business through our mentoring program for founders, entrepreneurs and freelancers

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