Co-Founder of Prezi

Adam Somlai-Fischer is the co-founder and principal artist of the cloud-based presentation software company, Prezi. In this episode, we talk about the power of thinking together as a way to create empathy and compassion in our work. 

His works and products have been covered by leading press including Wired Magazine,

New York Times, Financial Times, Fastcompany, Forbes, CNN, Bloomberg.

He always loved presenting ideas visually. As a young upcoming architect, and later as an established artist, life has always driven him to singular moments when he could present to audiences around the globe. From tiny pecha kuchas to massive tech events: he says he is driven by the magic of how can you go on a journey together, how can you understand something together, and how can you walk away with new ideas and the mindset to change things.

Adam believes that our future will require us to be more creative, more conversational and to be faster, better communicators— and sharing ideas visually to help people make better decisions is the way forward.

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Adam Somlai-Fischer is the co-founder and principal artist of the cloud-based presentation software company, Prezi. In this episode, we talk about the power of thinking together as a way to create empathy and compassion in our work. 

His works and products have been covered by leading press including Wired Magazine,

New York Times, Financial Times, Fastcompany, Forbes, CNN, Bloomberg.

Adam has such a unique view on what it means to share how your mind processes and thinks, the power of presenting ideas that aren’t your own, and understanding the power of voices other than your own. 

He always loved presenting ideas visually. As a young upcoming architect, and later as an established artist, life has always driven him to singular moments when he could present to audiences around the globe. From tiny pecha kuchas to massive tech events: he says he is driven by the magic of how can you go on a journey together, how can you understand something together, and how can you walk away with new ideas and the mindset to change things.

Adam believes that our future will require us to be more creative, more conversational and to be faster, better communicators— and sharing ideas visually to help people make better decisions is the way forward

Learn more about Adam on his website

Check out Prezi here

Check out all things Dia Bondi here.

Dia Bondi  0:19  
Hi everyone, this is Lead With Who You Are. I'm Dia Bondi, and on this show, we explore and discover what it truly means to live with who you are. And we're doing it with people who embody just that. In today's episode, we're talking with Adam Somlai-Fischer, co-founder of Prezi, about thinking together. In this conversation, Adam gives us his take on how to build ideas together, what it really takes to listen and shares with us the notion that idea ownership is a big blocker to better collaborative thinking. He also shares with us his idea that we must build cultures where your value does not require you having to speak up, and that we all recognize that sometimes our job in the room is to support an idea with our presence and listening and not challenge it with our own thinking. Welcome. Okay, everyone, don't forget to subscribe to the show on your podcast platform of choice, it makes a huge difference. Also, if you can rate and review the show on that platform of choice. And remember, if you have someone in your life who is at their absolute shiniest when they are leading with who they are, and you want to help them continue to do that, please share the show with them. Adam Sunlife Fisher is the co founder and principal artist of the cloud based presentation software company Prezi. He created the very first Prezi in early 2000 for his personal projects, and he's still a pioneer in visual storytelling and conversational presenting today. Prezi is a worldwide organization with 85 million users and the largest database of public presentations on the web. His works and products have been covered by leading press including Wired Magazine, New York Times, Financial Times, Fast Company, Forbes, CNN, Bloomberg and others. He's always loved presenting ideas visually as a young upcoming architect. And later as an established artist, life has always driven him to singular moments when he could present to audiences around the globe from tiny Pecha Kucha s to massive tech events. He says he's driven by the magic of how we can go on a journey together, how we can understand something together, and how you can walk away with a new idea and a mindset to change things. Adam believes that our future will require us to be more creative, more conversational, and to be faster, better communicators. And that sharing ideas visually to help people make better decisions is the way forward.

Dia Bondi  3:05  
Okay, so let me set this up a little bit for you. And for everyone who's listening. So you are co founder and principal artist, which I just love that title at Prezi. And I invited you on the show to talk about thinking with other people, yes, how we enable that, why it matters, how we do it in a way that lets who we are actually show up, and how we can use tools and visualization, you know, technologies to do or even a pen and a pencil, you know, in a piece of paper to do that. So when you and I spoke last Adam, you started sharing with me? What software can do to help us think together? You know, we started a conversation around, you know, talking about Prezi product, and we ended up there was a moment in the conversation where you were like, when I can show you my thinking, then I can invite you into my thinking and that that stuck with me really strongly. And I recognize that when we do that we actually open we're opening ourselves up and showing people showing people ourselves and we discussed how that can become a little bit of an act of vulnerability, really an act of openness. Absolutely. And there's like this dynamic nature and a really alive problem that we might be having in our own current thinking or the way in which the word grappling with something. The presentation software sort of often doesn't help us capture because presentation software is like I'm showing you thinking that I've already done right. It's a little different. It's like storytelling is I have a story I've already done the planning of the story. Now I'm telling you the story versus let me invite you into how I'm thinking about something it begs us to decide everything now and then share with you You are decided thinking? So there's so many tools to help visualize what we're thinking, you know what we are thinking. But we're, we're desperate for ways. So let me go back and just say, there are so many tools to help visualize what we're thinking. And we're clearly desperate for ways in which to share things with people over and over again, I mean, more tools are coming onto the market all the time. Prezi is growing and evolving as a tool to I think, go in that direction. I'm going to ask you about that in a little bit. So that's really why I wanted to have you here. And I want to start Adam, with this sort of big a question which you get to answer, obviously, however you'd like, which is, if you were to answer the question now of who are you? How might you do that?

Adam Somlai-Fischer  5:49  
I would probably say the easy one is, hey, I'm Adam. I'm a father, husband, the creative human concert citizens, a lot of challenges in the world. And I think more importantly, in this conversation, I'm a really passionate, creative being who loves thinking together with others. And I have always found that, you know, the less obstacles we have, the better ideas we all have together. And part of that is seeing others ideas. Part of that is listening. And you know, being humble and curious and not coming prepared with everything you want to say or show. But responding to that, to that magical moment. What happens when you suddenly feel in sync with the other person?

Dia Bondi  6:32  
It's a really intimate take. Thank you. I remember. The first time I was invited into the into share sharing something I was working on, in my sort of indoctrination into open source culture. I remember, you know, I've been a leadership communications coach for so many years. And then, you know, worked on really high stakes project, what are the thinking needed to be done, the story needed to be, you know, sort of, in many cases, stories were well documented before they were told to a live audience. I've worked on a few Olympic bids, where we have a very clear pitch. It's been years of thinking and planning. We have dossiers that are 100 pounds each that we're now putting into presentation form. You know, every word is planned put into a teleprompter. It's highly produced environment and the world of Tada, tada was a big part of my work, how do we make it Tada that helps change hearts and minds and move toward decision making that has a huge impact on not just a small team, but in some cases, an entire economy. But I, in the world of open source, I remember a moment where a colleague said, Oh, no, you have to share this idea. And I was like, What do you mean, it's basically a blank page. It's not ready yet? And he said, No, no, it's this is the whole idea to think with other people. And I remember feeling so anxious about exposing the unfinished thinking. And I did it. And I felt I selfishly felt so great and supported. Surprisingly, I felt vulnerable, but ended up feeling supported, and engaged with,

Adam Somlai-Fischer  8:18  
I think one of the most undervalued concepts in, in sharing ideas is that it's not always you, who's the best person to represent them, especially as leaders, you actually we can, we can choose to ask some others to share some of the ideas that are important that are needed to be heard. And, I mean, we know from rhetoric, it's not just the logic, we need the, you know, authority or credibility of the person, and we need to talk to their emotions and, and I think the more you can open up that ideas and thoughts need to be shared and evolved by multiple actors, in teams with others, I think the more impactful it will be, I guess, part of the, let's say, high level conservatory studies that were less and less inclined to buy something because there is a very well produced advertisement. And the more general you know, listen to influencers who are you know, just as professional by now, but, you know, authenticity kind of solid game, so, so, you know, the more you can share this process? Yes, and it is vulnerable, because, you know, you changed some things, of course, highly produced things like literature, movies, they work fantastic, but the process that led to that production, that was very collaborative, teamwork, it was never a single, even authors, you know, they work with others to make sure the book works well. So, you know, then we just see the final show, in a way but but I think for most of us, especially in business, communication and education, that's a much more lively and, you know, based on exchange and based on listening, just as much as talking.

Dia Bondi  9:54  
Right, it's more emergent, then projected. Maybe there's some thing, interesting also about, I'm actually intimidated by sharing my ideas visually, to draw them on a whiteboard, to sketch them out to represent them visually, I'm I'm intimidated by that, I don't know why I think I've just very practiced in, you know, using talking as a tool. And I feel, you know, I don't identify as an artist or having any, you know, this idea of it. Like, if I have to show something visually, then it should look a certain way or have some, you know, I don't know, some it should render the idea in artistic way, or the thought and artistic way. But there's something about the balance of power that can get redistributed. I hadn't even planned to talk to you about this, but it's just coming up for me that there's a balance of power that gets redistributed when we close our mouths, and, and represent your ideas visually. Because it's not about the loudest, most charismatic voice in the room. Which if you know, if you can articulate yourself, well, if you can speak powerfully, that's a beautiful tool, but it's not the only tool, and sometimes can gain more power and influence in a room, then the idea might merit. So how do you think about the dance between speaking our ideas and representing them visually, and how that might impact what ideas get heard,

Adam Somlai-Fischer  11:25  
I actually have a very, let's say, curious or radical experience, from my artistic background on developing ideas through as many formats or as many mediums as possible. Like some of the early Prezi concepts we did as a live performance as a theater. It's kind of hard to imagine, but you know, we connected stories with location and, and I learned a lot from that. And I think, eventually, each each format dictates a certain kind of thinking, and they all have their value, but they also have their drawbacks, and, and the more formats you can invite to your repertoire, I think the smarter and the more creative you will be, there is one exercise that I really enjoy and kind of talks to this challenge to mention that, of course, not everybody can draw and you know, whiteboards, some are really good at some and the same goes with tech, some are super eloquent in their language. Now, there's something guy I do a lot in, in team thinking, where everybody has to bring us more paper with their ideas, but kind of clear enough that we can all see, just put it on the ground, we can kind of see each other's ideas. And the surprise thing is, then you have to pick up somebody else's project and present it. And all the little misunderstandings just build on the original author's positive feeling that way I didn't even know I thought of this, because everybody of course, wants to impress and make something good of what they just picked up. And somehow this mixing of people, egos really ideas and, and understandings and misunderstandings just brings the whole group to a much higher level of trust and a lot of surprises in the face. Of course, when you want to diverge riders and collect more, not not just before the deadline when you need to focus.

Dia Bondi  13:11  
That's very interesting that you notice that it it lifts the tide of trust in the room. Yes, absolutely. So when you so let's just switch for a second when you built, why did you build Prezi? And what were the what was it for in the early days? And where is it going now. My professional background was in interactive art, experimental architecture, it was going really well globally. I may have chosen Venice, Vienna, and Tokyo and all over the place. And so I had to do a lot of talks and presentations. And being you know, very literate with technology, it was computer based art and very visual, with my architecture background, it was just a very natural thing for me not to buy or learn any product, I just quickly wrote something for my own needs, which was a big open canvas where I could place all the ideas and and what I really enjoyed was partly the process, as I saw everything on one canvas, I could build a much better storyline. And even more importantly, when I was showing or performing it in front of others, I could really feel out the room, like a good DJ, you know, good DJ, and feel if I mean, this is getting boring, let's just elegantly move to the next space or the next area. So you know, be a bit more like a dialogue with the audience rather than a prepared show. And I really enjoyed it. So that was just a personal toilet for a few years. And then I met my co founders, Peter, who became our CEO and Peter Malachi. And you know, they they kind of saw that this is maybe useful for others as well. But just being my own word, and and after a few years, I kind of fell in love with this feeling that you know, I spent a decade being very creative, and I can actually build that tool that makes other people feel creative. You know, people who don't have a visual design background. They feel very proud of some Think visual they did. That was just fantastic dopamine. So early days, it grew a lot in education. And then the second wave was when in business people told us when I saw my kid using Prezi at school, and I was blown away, it was so much better than my slideshows. So you know that we had the second wave in, in physical presentations. And by mere luck or coincidence, just just a few months before the pandemic, we release the virtual version of President work through zoom and other video communication tools. Now together with Jim who's our CEO today, you know, not forgetting, you know, our high achieving amazing presenters in physical spaces. But that became a new, very important like for us to, to create these discussion based visual dynamic interactive visualizations of your ideas. In this new space, where we're all living and working today,

Dia Bondi  15:55  
you talked a minute ago about their different tools, different modalities, to express different thinking and being in his physical space with one another, you know, collaborating across geographies, you know, these are all tools that are going to accelerate and enable people sharing ideas, no matter what the where they are in the world, and what they what they need for the context that they're in. So when we think about I'm in the business of helping leaders, ambitious professionals, speak powerfully, what does it mean for us to think powerfully together?

Adam Somlai-Fischer  16:34  
First of all, you you really need to care for your audience. It's not always easy, because you know, many people in leadership roles first see themselves in front of others, which is a standard situation. And it makes sense, of course, it's part of your job. But if you truly try to understand what your audience would love to hear, partly going back to my other concept, maybe not everything should be taught by you. This is the surprising statement that involves some someone from the team to say the things that need to be heard, it might resonate so much better, because it really matters who's talking. But now when you know, and of course, you end up doing your own speech there. There's two things I believe, obviously, the easy one is visuals. And I'll get back to that a second. The other one, for me is integrity. I personally love to believe that the speaker truly believes in what they say, and truly understands it. And I would even prioritize it to best practices of articulation, or I personally really love listening people who served up. Because to me, that shows that you know, they think a lot about this. And of course, the more you know about the topic, the more you understand that there's limitations of your knowledge, you know, probably the more intelligent you are. So I read it online and people bit question what they say and it's maybe this is what I think because for me just resonates to the the integrity I love to see. But not with every audience I understand depends on if you have a really smart audience, I think it goes down really well. Maybe if you want to be in nationwide elections, you need to be like, really, on to the point. But you know, as business leaders, often we talk to very, very smart people. So it's you know, you have to find you and I think in your understanding of who you're talking to, and what what really resonates with them. And visuals I am I just love seeing ideas to me to make good visual story is is just very inviting, because you glance at it, you kind of get an idea of where these things will go. And this time it was with well into the details complex, it can go very high, or the whole process has already been very inviting, because I had an idea of the direction from the second one and I can understand things faster, I can contribute much better rather than struggling to just listen to the long speeches and then the grammatical relations between start and end of sentences. So I think it's a very, very powerful vehicle and and I hope more of us will use it in the future.

Dia Bondi  19:09  
What's coming up for me as you're talking about what it means to think powerfully together. There's this interesting fine line and sort of confidence that comes with knowing enough. You said the word integrity and I think about how does that actually show up when we're thinking with each other? Because to me, there's there's something about knowing where you stand and what perspective you're in, and having the sort of courage to own that and to know to show up fully in that and also pair that with a flexibility and openness to add to your perspective. That is the balance between showing up powerfully and having clarity in a conversation or in a dialogue or in In doing, you know, conversational presenting, as you call it, yes. And it's interesting balance between knowing where you stand and having openness at the same time. And to me, making, helping your audience know exactly where you are, in that balance is integral.

Unknown Speaker  20:21  
Yes. And I think you can have your audience, I think it's absolutely great to show up with passion of your current state of mind and understanding. But be very clear that and you're here to listen. And the moment there is a better idea, my good idea is just as good as the next idea that will be better. That's the purpose of my good idea that somebody has, we have been inspired to build on it. And you know, together, we have something better if this is clear to the group than I think people want mind building on your idea. And of course, you have to be open to listen and evaluate. And sometimes, of course, say no, if things don't make sense. So it's not just about accepting everything, but like, be very focused on your shared goal. Ideally, the goal is never that the original speaker's idea goes through the goal is to achieve an aim in the the whole group. And very often, you know, the group is smarter than the veto.

Dia Bondi  21:14  
So you've said the word Listen, a bunch, and I use, I use that, in, in my work with founders, when they're preparing for a board, or they're going into a round, or they're, you know, a fundraising round, or they're getting ready to stand in front of an industry and, you know, speak their ideas in a way that, you know, establishes their leadership voice in the space in that industry in their domain, you know, that listening activity happens long before we even get in the room with folks, you know, we're, we're we're shutting up for a minute and asking who we're really speaking to, we're trying to meet them, right? Where they are understanding, listening ourselves, asking ourselves questions and listening for the answer. What do they care about? What matters to them right now? What are they afraid of? What are they excited by? You know, where do they want to go? versus where do we want to take them? You know, all this, the listening stars weeks before, lights go on, and the mics are turned on? And you've shared with me that you do you facilitate team, Team thinking group thinking together? What stops us from listening, if it's so critical

Unknown Speaker  22:25  
one example I see a lot. And I can resonate with this, it just makes sense that there is a really important presentation. I mean, you want to get investment as you please to the board, whatever it is, you probably going to present to very experienced people who are very intelligent. So you prepare a lot and create a narrative, a story and everything, and just can't wait to tell it. And every time what happens because these people are experienced, they look at you they listen for a few sentences, they decide that they trust you and your your deep understanding of your subject. But they want to ask questions that you probably won't be covering, because they have seen similar presentations. And that is very tricky that very often presenters, just try to stick back to their stories. Oh, good question, and then I'll have something else. And and I just think what Steph says is again a bit, you have to be confident that you're there because you know something, don't worry about trying to share everything you thought of you represent your knowledge, even after a few words for most people, they will trust you as a human being which will integrity, not because you say all the logical things that you prepared, but because it's you there is that person. And then be ready just to fully listen to what they are asking. And the concern is the questions and not try to tell the story that you prepared beforehand.

Dia Bondi  23:52  
When you're facilitating group thinking together, and people are maybe offering ideas or listening to feedback. When we're collaborating what stops us from listening.

Adam Somlai-Fischer  24:05  
Unfortunately, very often, I mean, these, these events, or the organizer, or the guys are talking too much. So there is that aspect. I hope it's getting better over the decades, but I was hoping it will happen much faster. So yonder, just the simple cultural group dynamics. Some people are more introverted than others. We actually, one of our side product of our tool is that in group video talks, you don't have to ask for the mic. You can just type in your ideas and they show up next to you. It was kind of accidental, but what we learned that introverts just love this, you know, they don't have to get the attention but they could share the ideas and then facilitators can just glance and say a lot of good builds. So there is this cultural thing. And I The other thing is people are a little bit obsessed with ownership of ideas. I think ideas are very important but ownership of ideas. As much less so, again, ideas are just as good as what you build on them, and so forth. So like this exercise I mentioned, when you have to present other people's ideas, partly what it does that you let go of that very strong feeling that it's a my ideas or me, man, or your ideas come from you. And they are built on all your knowledge and culture and people you talk to. So you're standing on the shoulders of giants, and let's do this together. So, as a facilitator, you probably have to have sometimes themes to ease up on this. And if somebody talks too much, that they shouldn't talk so much. So it's, it's a lot of, you know, managing just feelings and how people are

Dia Bondi  25:42  
good friend and colleague of mine, he took this quote from someone else, and that and maybe a listener, or you'll recognize that he says, We're not afraid, afraid of change, we're afraid of loss. And this idea that if my idea changes, it's not mine anymore. Is is an interesting notion, and one that I think can be scary for folks. I worked with a company years and years ago that had this idea is sort of a cultural, it was a way in which to allow for folks to challenge each other's ideas called constructive confrontation. And great in concept, but what it ended up meaning was that if you You're laughing, what what has you what has you laughing?

Adam Somlai-Fischer  26:35  
Yeah, I mean, the sort of confrontation, I'm already this concept sounds like, this is not what ideas are about, I think, but apologies, please, finish the story. No,

Dia Bondi  26:44  
I stopped because because, you know, well, folks are listening to us. I'm seeing you on video. And I'm seeing you smile and laugh. And exactly that the idea that what show what ended up showing up was that everyone would add something, their own idea or challenge something, and they spoke for the sake of speaking and not for advancing the idea, because my value in this meeting in this collaboration is only measured by how much challenging of the existing ideas I've done. So I'm going to invent something to add into the mix, even if it's not actually additive, or building on. So there's this, to me, that's about owning, you know, when you when you say the idea that we want to own our ideas gets in the way of our listening, I think that's a go back to the word I started with earlier, it's an act of vulnerability to add something into a group or to bring an idea to the table and then let it go and let it belong to the group. Because now it's not mine, I don't own the territory anymore. It's not

Adam Somlai-Fischer  27:49  
one of the feelings I have on this is that it also goes back a lot on trust on your team among your team and your role. Ideally, it shouldn't be a problem at all, if you don't say anything, because you listened. And you felt that you didn't have something to build, but you were wise enough to try to speak on the topic. And the I think this also means that we need to be at cultures of meetings where you don't have to speak up to be a respected member, you know, you have to show up and you have to present and you express your appreciation. And you thought hard about Is there something wrong, but if it wasn't, then your job is not to challenge it, but support it. And partly facilitators can of course have to have those who don't speak to say something but not force it in a way that they have to critique but, but officially their support. And in the next meeting, of course, you might just have the best idea and try to take attention and turn things if they have to be turned.

Dia Bondi  28:49  
You are a principal artist at Prezi. It has been alive and growing in the world for well over a decade now. And you come to this work with a very human take. Yes, I do. And what is it been like for you to business of Fi you're your approach and work and ideas and sense of sort of the the human experience side? What's it been like for you to turn these big, beautiful, heart centered ideas with an artistic take into a

Adam Somlai-Fischer  29:30  
business? So I mean, it did start like a fun experiment. Why not try something else that we haven't? And once I started receiving almost love letters from normal people around the world who maybe wouldn't come to art exhibitions, but expressing their gratitude that we made them feel creative when we have them stand out and achieve something. I hear this a lot. Oh man, you helped me get through college. There's just it feels like this is The best thing you can do. Now, the other thing that I have experienced that. And efficient startup I think is the simplest way to have impact in the world today. in tech, an impact can mean a lot of bad things. And it can mean unintended consequences, like creating polarization and breaking democracies. Nevertheless, the possibilities there, and if you're if you deeply care about the effect of your impact, not just as a business, but as something that brings value, without any big words, like we're changing, and simple things like having some people feel more creative, and achieving, you know, work or college, that's just really, really rewarding. And I don't think there is a better vehicle to that than building a product in tech, because you can scale it instantly. And it's only up to you bad ideas that be fair, or we have to try again, you're not limited by some authority, or your country of origin, or whatever it is.

Dia Bondi  31:00  
Adam, what are you optimistic about today?

Adam Somlai-Fischer  31:03  
Empathy. We face a lot of challenges together. And I, my optimism is that every time I actually see people who fight meet for real in a physical space, or get to know each other a bit better, usually it ends up with more empathy and less polarization and frustration. So we have some biological traits that can help us getting through a future crisis through this, I think, and the second is knowledge. I think, in our history, we just learned so much about the word it's so hard to comprehend how how much we know about things that are so far away that there is no words can describe them, and so complex and so difficult and, and we could organize to become specialists and learn and understand. And I truly believe in, you know, science, knowledge intelligence that it can. But you have to pair it with empathy, and you have to care. Even when you build a tech product, you have to care about your impact. And if these things go back together, I think we have a good chance to help keep improving the this, this little space around us, for our kids and for ourselves. As you look

Dia Bondi  32:18  
at your own life and leadership. What does it mean for you to lead with who you are.

Adam Somlai-Fischer  32:28  
I think I tried to lead with who I am by being very vulnerable. And showing up very openly to the people who I need to lead includes admitting all the mistakes, and the learnings and you know, the bad decisions, we made, you know, that created challenges, but maturing up with this strong belief that I'm here to listen. And I might, I might, I might not be the smartest person who saw this, and probably you're not too. But together, we're gonna rock and we're going to do something quite amazing. And I truly believe this, I seek out people just to call them upward friends to just share an idea and because in the response, something and it's already much better so. So I always like to think of ideas that it's it's not here next to me, even though our technology allows me to float my idea here, and it's not there next to you, but it's somewhere in between us. And that's where things can really crystallize and grew. And can I you know, I just want to stand wholeheartedly represent this as a positive thing. And this is how I show up.

Dia Bondi  33:45  
Adam, it has been a joy to talk to you today about how you're bringing your ideas into the world so that others can build on them, and to nurture that in the way in which we think together. Thank you so much for being with us.

Adam Somlai-Fischer  34:00  
Thank you The pleasure was mine. It's very inspiring discussion.

Dia Bondi  34:05  
Lead with who you are is a production of Dia Bondi communications, scored, mixed and produced by Arthur Leon Adams, the third and executive produced by Mandy Miranda, you can reach out to us at or leave us a voicemail at 341-333-2997 you can like rate, share and subscribe at Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Go to for shownotes and to learn about all it is that we do to help you speak powerfully and lead with who you are

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