Coaching Professional Speakers Runnels Works With High-Profile Clients in Government, Journalism, Science In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   November 01, 2010
Coaching Professional Speakers
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader can be reached at
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader can be reached at×
Article Information
Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   November 01, 2010
Coaching Professional Speakers
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 24. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.15142010.24
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 24. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.15142010.24
Name: Cathy Runnels, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Owner, Accent On Speech, LLC
Location: Washington, D.C.

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In high school, Cathy Runnels was on a discussion panel she didn’t know was going to be covered by the media. When a reporter cornered her with a microphone and asked some questions, she opened her mouth and nothing came out.
“I kept trying to say something, but nothing worked. People kept answering the questions for me,” she said. “All I could do was nod my head. It was so embarrassing!”
Since then she has not only overcome her bout with performance anxiety, but today she is the owner of a steadily growing private practice in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area that specializes in coaching professional speakers. She also recently completed a two-year term as chair of the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing (NBASLH)—a role in which public speaking was a key expectation.
Runnels works with clients on speaking, voice care, body language—whatever it takes to make them superstars in front of an audience. She helps them polish their delivery and also has branched out to help them hone their visual presentations. And it works. Runnels has loyal high-profile D.C. clients, including Pentagon officials, broadcast journalists, Congressional witnesses, and even a growing number of clients from the science community.
“It’s no longer enough for scientists to do their work in a lab—they have to communicate to the public, to investors, and even to their employers about what they are doing,” Runnels said. “I’ve found a very interesting niche.”
Trends like these make Runnels’ practice all the more necessary. Although it should be of little surprise that a service to help professional speakers would spread like wildfire in Washington, D.C., Runnels is still shocked by her success.
About 15 years ago, Runnels was working as a school-based speech-language pathologist in a school district in the D.C. metropolitan area. Over the years when she would meet people socially and they would learn she was an SLP, they assumed she could help them improve their speech, especially individuals with foreign accents. She began investigating intervention strategies and working with a few clients. A few years later she came across two key mentors: the former vice president of Marriott Corporation, Chester Slaughter, and Ann Utterback, a broadcast voice coach.
Through a county-sponsored business program for female- and minority-owned businesses, she received instruction on creating a successful practice. Utterback supplied her with guidance and practice feedback. Once she felt like she had firm footing, Runnels left her 19-year position in the school system and leapt into private practice full time.
One week after she resigned, calls started coming in and haven’t stopped. As a bonus, Runnels’ move to full-time private practice coincided with Utterback’s decision to pull back from hers—and Runnels inherited a coveted client list.
It appears that the sky is the limit for Runnels. Her future goals include collaboration with other professionals doing similar work; she’s also looking at all the factors that can affect a speaker’s ability to deliver a message and broadening her services to address these factors. She and her colleagues are starting to pay more attention to writing, lifestyles, family support, and even creating social skills groups for foreigners in the Washington area. (The most popular topic? The art of “American chit-chat,” of course.)
“People always want to know how it is you got to where you are, and I tell them it’s from the generosity of other people and also from keeping an eye out and staying open to new trends and directions,” Runnels said. “We’re really excited about what the future holds.”
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November 2010
Volume 15, Issue 14