Judith Humphrey did not believe it when one of her employees told her she had won a YWCA Women of Distinction award.
“I thought she must be making a mistake, it was her first day,” said Humphrey. “Well, sure enough it was true.
“I was so happy. It was really a dream come true for me.”
Humphrey and six other women are at this year’s ceremony, as she is personally being recognized as entrepreneur for her work as founder of Humphrey Group. The firm teaches professionals the art of public speaking.
“Being the entrepreneur for me was so special because I feel that the greatest thing I’ve done for myself and for others in this world is to create something that didn’t exist before,” she said. “Being an entrepreneur I’ve been able to create jobs and I think about that everyday.”
Many of Humphrey’s consultants are actors who utilize their performance experience to teach clients how to calm their nerves and speak with confidence. She started the Taking the Stage program after noticing a particular need for that kind of education among female professionals.
“Women tended to minimize themselves when they speak, and I mean that in every single way,” Humphrey said. “They minimized themselves mentally, vocally, verbally and physically.”
Humphrey and her team have since gone on to train more than 100,000 women how to be more effective speakers.
“Vocally, sometimes women diminish themselves by either softening or sweetening their voices when they could actually speak with more power and authority,” she said.
According to Humphrey, the most important attribute of an effective public speaker is courage. She developed hers through years of taking the stage herself, nearly becoming a professional violinist. She also worked as a speech writer for the Bank of Montreal and before that she was a university professor.
“To step into a classroom of 300 people at York University and give a lecture, that took a lot of courage,” she said. “It took a lot of courage to go into the business world when I had no business experience and go to an interview and tell them I could do the job.”
Her own business has expanded from a three-person operation to boasting three regional offices in Canada and clients across the globe, including Wal-Mart, Google and some major banks. She’s also written a book entitled Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak.
Still, public speaking is no easy task for her either.
“It doesn’t necessarily ever become easy,” Humphrey said. “Facing 1,500 people in the audience, as I will (at the awards ceremony) on May 16, is not easy for me and I’m sure it’s not easy for any of the women.
“But we do it because there is a certain joy in accomplishment.”
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