If you’ve ever been to The Practice Space, or taken part in a workshop or event we’ve led, you have no doubt met AnnMarie. As the Founder and Executive Director of The Practice Space, she plays a role in everything we do. So we thought it would be fun for those of you who don’t know AnnMarie yet, to get to know her a little better and what drives her to do this work.
The following is a transcript of an interview by Jan Solomita, Young Speakers Club Coach, with The Practice Space Founder and Executive Director, AnnMarie Baines, conducted October 17, 2019. Some of the questions have been edited for clarity.
Jan: What’s your favorite part of the work you do?
AnnMarie: Ooooh, there are many candidates for “favorite part”. Ah, I’d say…I guess what keeps me going around public speaking in general is just seeing kids improve and having them recognize that they’ve improved. And how happy they are at growth and development. And, it’s something I saw with speech and debate students. One thing I really loved is being able to work with them over a number of years. And get to know them as well as their speaking skills. And I think now at the The Practice Space, I get to see that at lots of different ages and see where that process starts for different kinds of people but what they all have in common is that kind of improvement, which is amazing after a while. It’s great when they feel they can improve and I love how happy that makes them.
Jan: Awesome. It sounds like it makes you happy too.
AnnMarie: Oh yes, definitely.
Jan: I know at The Practice Space you work with almost as many adults as you do children. It’s pretty close to 50-50 from what I see. Do you prefer working with children or adults?
AnnMarie: For me it’s less about age and it’s more about people who just feel like this is something that will catapult them in their careers, or in their school, or in their life. I guess I would say that I probably, if it came down to it, I like working with beginners even more. Although it’s really fun, as an instructor and an artist, when you can really refine and get down to the details with someone who has a little bit more experience.
AnnMarie: But yeah, for me…the kids when they’re starting out have a lot of similarities to adults who are just starting out. A lot of it is getting through the fears, setting goals, and then recognizing that public speaking is something that is manageable and doable, and within their reach.
Jan: Right. And I know you put the curriculum you teach in very easy to digest language and bites, and form, which makes it very easy for the young students and people in general, to start moving ahead. Let me ask you this: If you could put it in a few words, how do you describe the overall mission of The Practice Space?
AnnMarie: The mission of The Practice Space is to help build confidence, and also build community, through communication skill development. And the specific purpose of that for us is to help people develop empathy, but also be able to elevate voices that haven’t been heard before — underrepresented voices — and help people feel included like they belong. And for us, the mission of The Practice Space helps individuals just as much as it helps community. Giving people a place where they feel safe and they feel, “Oh okay, this is a place where I can start becoming someone different, or be able to bring out strengths that I didn’t even know I had”.
Jan: Great, great. Why is it important for a person to improve their public speaking?
AnnMarie: Well, public speaking is the way that you can express who you are and what you care about. It’s a way of expressing your identity. And so much, even with technology nowadays, we still have to express who we are in person. And I feel like when you’re afraid or when you have anxiety, or when you just aren’t able to bring out who you are in that moment it can make you feel stuck. And it can hold you back. And it can keep you from expressing all the amazing things that you have to offer.
AnnMarie: And so, it’s really important because it gives someone control. It gives people more available decisions. It helps them drive their life, and make choices. And a lot of people don’t realize that some of the bad feelings they have about being around others, “I don’t know how to do small talk,” things like that, come from just not enough instruction in the world around oral communication and how to relate to others.
Jan: Interesting. So it’s really quite a wide swath that you serve by bringing people’s skill level up in public speaking. And helping them learn to more effectively communicate. Once your students, whether they are adults or children, have gotten more effective with their public speaking, what does it get them?
AnnMarie: Oh, it varies so much. When they’re able to be better at their communication skills the most common thing I hear from both kids and adults is that there are so many more options available. All of a sudden they want to volunteer to give presentations, or when someone is asked to speak on a certain issue they feel like, “I can do it”. Joshua, one of our students in the Young Speakers Club, volunteered to give a presentation in front of the whole school. And he wouldn’t have volunteered before. So I think the first thing that we see is just that there are more options and opportunities available and you feel capable of just stepping out there and being you!
Jan: It sounds like you feel capable of doing that because you are more capable.
Jan: And that’s what you are bringing to people with your organization.
AnnMarie: And I think so much of communication is both skill-based but, it’s also emotion. And so that’s why I believe that even though we have programs that are private lessons, we also have programs like our clubs, where it’s really about building a team, and building a community. Where you’re not doing this all by yourself because it’s more than a skill. It’s about actually being able to feel wanted and valued and happy. I love that our programs feel fun and that our students feel comfortable and they’re happy. And, I think you can do anything when you feel happy.
Jan: That’s a great point. And you bring a remarkable amount of positivity and joy to the work you do with people, as well as being very good at the instruction end of it. It seems to me in wrapping up our little conversation today, that a big part of what The Practice Space strives to accomplish is very much related to the people in the community, as you have alluded to, in which you are operating. Can you tell us a little more about that?
AnnMarie: Yeah, I think that community and place is so important. Because one thing that I have always been really happy to hear is both when I was helping to run debate teams, but also now at The Practice Space, is that the people often describe our programs as “like a family”.
AnnMarie: Our belief in the power of family is definitely something that drives The Practice Space. For example, we’re based in El Cerrito and I’m from El Cerrito. My family’s still here. Most of our assistant coaches are former students of mine. Some of whom I’ve known now for between 10 and 15 years. Our Development Associate I’ve known for 10 years. And I remember when she was first starting out in public speaking as a freshman in high school. So there’s that direct family aspect. A lot of our volunteers also are the parents of students I’ve worked with in the past. But now what’s exciting about The Practice Space is that we’re building a family that continues to build on itself. I think when people see that our students, both youth and adults, are happy and comfortable and feel joy, I think it makes you want to be a part of it yourself. We are building a community that is pretty eclectic, and pretty goofy, coming from all walks of life and cities. That diversity is what naturally happens because what people have in common is not these different demographic labels. But instead, what they have in common is that they want to feel confident and they really want to spend this time working on their speaking skills.
Jan: As well as coming from the community.
That’s Awesome! Well, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk to us today. Once again, this is AnnMarie Baines and she is the Executive director over at The Practice Space.
AnnMarie: Thank you.