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Long-Time Executive-Speaking Trainer Modernizes Small, Profitable Firm

By Neal St. Anthony Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Instead of focusing on her traditional in person, one-on-one executive speaking coaching business, Anett Grabt and her younger, tech-savvy employees invested nearly $300,000 last year in new equipment and customized software. They will use that technology to create a new digital "Leadership Speaking Bootcamp"

MINNEAPOLIS

Anett Grant, a four-decade pioneer of the executive-speaking circuit, had just about had it with the business a couple of years ago.

"I was just doing private coaching," she recalled. "I stopped doing groups of business people 20 years ago, because they would go in and out with their cellphones and that irritated me.

"Business was successful with one-on-one coaching. We got up to $1.4 million (in revenue) in 2014. I charged (up to) $15,000 for two days for executives. And that included the Russian oligarch who I trained on his yacht on the Maldives. I've never experienced such a level of condescension.

"I could have gone on. But I was burned out. I needed a new process."

Grant, 66, founder of eight-employee Executive Speaking, was faced with bailing or reformulating the business.

She and her younger, tech-savvy employees invested nearly $300,000 last year in new equipment and customized software, a studio and more to create the new "Leadership Speaking Bootcamp 360" that they launched this year.

The two-day group sessions use an 85-inch video screen, personal coaching and feedback from peers with iPads. Grant, who launched the product a few months ago, said it's more engaging, dynamic and realistic training for speeches, group encounters and one-on-one exchanges.

"I decided to try a new approach with the new voting technology we developed with our own software," Grant said. "It was an immersive experience.

"We hired technical people, integrated this advanced technology and built a facility in our building. We struggled through to develop this system over (several) months. Nights and weekends. It was exhausting. And it's working."

Grant said more than 280 people have participated in the two-day program so far; companies from 34 states and overseas, including Minneapolis-area neighbors 3M, Abbott Laboratories, Aetna, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, U.S. Bancorp and Toro.

The cost is about $3,000 per person, for a two-day class, but less per person for groups of up to 12 people.

"It's very profitable," Grant said. "I care about money because I'm in a business. But I also always want to ... allow people to learn better. This is like 'crowdsourcing.' Speakers can see what others think. Immediately. We have iPads and people rank them on style and message. So we provide feedback from somebody other than the instructor. Peer evaluation."

Grant, who still does some one-on-one coaching, has turned to a young protege to lead the boot-camp program. Jonathan Monson, 26, the son of a small-business owner, has a master's degree from Oxford University.

"I trained him and what we're doing is meaningful, and it works," Grant said. "We also have a profit-sharing plan because I want our young employees to act like owners. And I believe we now have a competitive advantage."

Grant, the mother of two adopted immigrant children, also does pro bono coaching with charities.

"This business will go in one of three directions," Grant said of the future. "We could franchise, or duplicate it ourselves in other cities. Or, down the road, I will partner with someone, or sell to a larger company."

A native of Montreal, the charismatic, direct Grant moved to the Twin Cities in 1973 to earn a master's in theater direction at the University of Minnesota. She also worked on stage productions and taught at a community college.

A corporate recruiter suggested Grant's background might be useful in training. Grant flew to New York City to watch a speech-coaching seminar. She decided to be an entrepreneur and started Executive Speaking in 1979.

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