Q&A with Eliza VanCort, Author and Motivational Speaker at TEDx

Media 7 | March 5, 2021

Eliza VanCort, Author and Motivational Speaker at TEDx, is an in-demand consultant, speaker, and writer on communications, career and workplace issues, and women’s empowerment. The founder of The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca, she is also a Cook House Fellow at Cornell University, an advisory board member of the Performing Arts for Social Change, a Diversity Crew partner, and a member of Govern for America's League of Innovators. Her first book, A Woman's Guide to Claiming Space: Stand Tall. Raise Your Voice. Be Heard., publishes in May 2021.

It’s not only about raising ourselves, but also raising other women, because when we rise together, we rise so much higher! 

 
MEDIA 7: Please tell us about the background that you come from and take us through your journey.
ELIZA VANCORT:
My passion to empower women to live the life of their choosing bravely and unapologetically is the direct result of three things in my personal history.

As a child, I was repeatedly kidnapped by my mother and brought across state lines. This traumatic experience taught me that in order to be safe, I had to be small and quiet - lessons I had to unlearn later in life. I studied political science and went on to NYU Law. I’ve always believed that when you’re going through hell, don’t keep going! Turn around or you’ll end up in hell! Despite doing well my first year at NYU Law school, I realized pretty quickly this wasn’t the right path for me. I took a leave of absence, and never looked back, returning to my first passion—acting. Opening the leading acting studio in Ithaca NY, taught me about running a business and helped me discover how much I enjoyed teaching and mentoring others.

Things were going well -- I was a young mother with a thriving business. Then in 2014... BAM! I was riding my bike and a texting driver hit me, causing a serious head injury which impaired my memory and my communication. This was a turning point for me as I had to rebuild my communication from the ground up, brick by brick. During this process, I cracked what I think of like the HTML of communication.

Now, I’m passionate about teaching communication skills that empower people and lift us all up. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t clearly see how the world makes girls feel small, or learn the independence and skill required to run a business and the code that helps us all communicate better. The road I took here was rocky, but it laid the groundwork for my teaching, talks, workshops, forthcoming book, and my approach to life. The most painful things I went through forced me to grow the most.

M7: Being a leader, have you ever been subjected to gender bias at your workplace? If yes, how did you strive to claim the place you deserved?
EV:
I’m self-employed so thankfully I’m my own boss and most of my clients are really wonderful. That said, like many women, I’ve encountered everything from mansplaining to interruptions to sexual harassment.

My approach to these situations is twofold. If I know and trust the person, I sit down and talk to them directly. I approach the conversation with a question. “I’m not sure you noticed this, and I’m guessing you were unaware of it, but throughout the meeting you were [insert gender-specific microaggression here!].” I recently said that to a friend via zoom and he was so horrified I could see him blushing with embarrassment through the screen! It’s amazing how even if we’re really good-hearted, we’re not always aware of how our communication impacts others.

If, however, the person is not open to honest conversation, that’s a bit trickier. I handle it differently depending on the level of the aggression. Often, I still ask a question. For example, I’ll say, “Tom just restated exactly what I said. I’m wondering why it’s now being adopted and credited to him?” I think of microaggressions as bullets from emotional snipers. When you shine a light on them, they are easier to attack.


The first step to realizing your full potential is to believe you have the right to claim space, really believe it. After that, it’s just about committing to earning the skills and implementing them!



M7: What are the challenges of being a motivational speaker and how do you ensure your speeches are captivating enough to maintain a connection with the audience?
EV:
I work hard to share my story from the heart and authentically. It keeps folks interested, but more importantly, it shows that it’s possible to claim space even if you’re facing an uphill battle. I’m also offering folks actionable tools people can use every day for the rest of their lives. It’s hard not to be interested when you’re learning lifelong skills!

The big challenge for me has been COVID-19. Transitioning to remote was a bit of a shock at first, but now my studio is set up and ready to go. I actually find it really fun to work from home, although I do miss the person-to-person talks in the hallways (and sometimes the women’s bathroom!) after my official talk is over. Those were wonderful!

M7: Video call etiquette has become the need of the hour post the COVID-19 outbreak. Would you like to share a few tips and tricks on nailing virtual meetings for our readers?
EV:
I think there are three things that can be very helpful. Firstly, be well lit. If you’re in the dark, it’s easier to ignore you. Secondly, make sure your sound is good. These both seem fairly obvious, but it’s amazing to me how few folks are easily seen and heard when you can get relatively inexpensive ring lights and mics for under twenty dollars on Amazon.

Beyond that, I recommend people who feel their voices are getting lost to come to every meeting with at least one question. It’s important that your voice is heard!

M7: Your upcoming book ‘A Woman's Guide to Claiming Space: Stand Tall. Raise Your Voice. Be Heard.’ is all set to be launched in May. Please give us a sneak peek of what it is about!
EV:
The book teaches women how to claim space. Women who claim space powerfully live the life of their choosing, and they do so unapologetically and bravely. Sounds simple, but it’s tough to achieve, especially without guidance.

One thing I’m really proud of is that the book is written for real women, women with busy lives. It can be read in order, but it’s also completely fine to read it out of order. You can just flip to the short chapter you need help with and read that chapter. The book is divided into five parts, with each part exploring one of the five pillars of claiming space: developing superior communication skills, fostering meaningful connection, neutralizing self-destructive patterns, shutting down harmful aggressions, and supporting each other across differences.

These chapters cover everything from improving posture to neutralizing anti-mentors to resetting your emotional compass to identifying toxic relationships to handling sexual harassment. It’s not only about raising ourselves, but also raising other women because when we rise together, we rise so much higher. As I say in the book, you can’t claim space with a one-woman army!


I recommend people who feel their voices are getting lost to come to every meeting with at least one question. It’s important that your voice is heard!



M7: Being a super mom isn’t easy! What tricks do you carry up your sleeves to strike a perfect balance between your personal and professional commitments?
EV:
People often talk about separating work and home, but when you’re working in your kitchen that can be hard! Thankfully, my kids are 17 to 25 now so they aren’t little people I’m chasing around the house anymore! Although now, during the pandemic, three out of four of them are home again. My kids are truly amazing, and I’m not at all biased! The other day I was on a deadline and my daughter and nephew decided to cook dinner for all of us! One way that I try to spend time with them when I’m busy is to include them in my work in ways that highlight their talents. My youngest, Lucian, is actually the photographer for the photo that’s used for my bio in the book! The book is a community effort - I’m so thankful to many women who read an early copy and are working hard to help get it out there - but it is also a family affair. I love that!

M7: Your advice to the women out there, fighting to claim their places for realizing their full potential?
EV:
Women have been given the message that it is not our right to claim space. It is. The first step to realizing your full potential is to believe you have the right to claim space, really believe it. After that, it’s just about committing to earning the skills and implementing them!

ABOUT ELIZA VANCORT

Eliza VanCort is an in-demand consultant, speaker, and writer on communications, career and workplace issues, and women’s empowerment. The founder of The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca, she is also a Cook House Fellow at Cornell University, an advisory board member of the Performing Arts for Social Change, a Diversity Crew partner, and a member of Govern for America's League of Innovators. Her first book, A Woman's Guide to Claiming Space: Stand Tall. Raise Your Voice. Be Heard., publishes in May 2021.

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Eliza VanCort

Eliza VanCort is an in-demand consultant, speaker, and writer on communications, career and workplace issues, and women’s empowerment. The founder of The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca, she is also a Cook House Fellow at Cornell University, an advisory board member of the Performing Arts for Social Chan...

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