Michelle Bowden is the Director of Michelle Bowden Enterprises, a learning and development business specializing in superior design and delivery of Persuasive Presenting, Public Speaking, Train-the-Trainer, and Facilitation skills programs for all levels of experience across the industry. She is passionate about helping you win your next business pitch, speak confidently, clearly & charismatically, (no matter your natural ability).
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in a conventional family in Canberra, the Capital of Australia with my mum and dad and one brother and one family dog! I was always excellent at public speaking. I won many debating competitions in school and was always performing in some way for anyone who would watch! As a teenager, I became passionate about classical ballet and it was here that my love of performing and the stage was embedded in my DNA! My amazing mum Barbara did everything she could to support my dreams from sewing hundreds of costumes over the years for me and the other dancers (including hand-stitching the sequins on all the ballet troupe’s costumes). Mum coached my primary school netball teams to grand final wins year on year. She even project managed my school debutante ball in my final year of high school. Mum was very involved in my life as a performer. Sadly, an Achilles heel injury caused me to have to quit ballet quite dramatically on the closing night of performance in my teenage years, but as far back as I can remember I was told by my parents that I would make something of myself. My parents both really believed in me. I wasn’t particularly smart, but from a very young age, I had great people skills. I guess my parents could see that my strong performance capability, my ability to listen when people spoke, my skill to figure out what’s important to people, and to understand people were unique set of characteristics that would take me places.
When I was 25 years old, I was fortunate to have a manager by the name of Rod Matthews at a company called Impact Human Performance Technologies. Rod taught me a lot of what I now know is best practice on a stage. One of the outstanding activities he did for me as a manager was to take me through the practice of creating a dream board. I worked with him to create what I felt at the time would be my big picture goals for my future, you know things like: living in a big house on a hill with a luxury swimming pool, happily married, three children, being one of the top three presentation skills trainers in Australia. It was the big stuff in life! I worked for Rod for about 2 years and have to admit I forgot all about my dream board once the activity was complete. Some 10 years later, after much time had passed, I found my dream board while moving to a new house. Everything that I’d dreamed of on that dream board had happened. It had all come true. I understand now that my unconscious mind had set about achieving my goals despite me! Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true! If you haven’t yet created your dream board, I highly recommend that you do!
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
At times success hasn’t come as quickly as I had hoped. It seemed like 250 business development calls a day should surely reap rewards. Some days I was so disheartened. The business part of speaking can make you feel very flat compared with the joy of performing. I was working so hard trying to build a client base. I was just trying so hard for so many years. Now that I can look back and reflect some 25 years later, I know it’s all going to work out. If you put in the effort you’re going to get there. Just keep focusing on an activity that gets you where you’re going. One day you’ll look up from the hard work and say, well there you go, I did it!
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
When it comes to presenting nervousness, people have often been taught to “imagine your audience naked!” Ha! No! Please don’t do this! At the best you’ll laugh, at the worst, you’ll vomit. And it doesn’t work anyway! Instead, study with a true presentation skills expert, and they will teach you how to analyze your audience, design your presentation and deliver with confidence without those crazy tricks that make your nervousness worse.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
When I was pregnant with my third child, I had the first of what would become regular panic attacks. I’d been very busy running my national training company, traveling all over Australia, renovating a house, moving into a new home, and all while parenting two sweet little girls. I guess you could say I was quite busy at the time and it just got too much for my central nervous system. A panic attack is not something I’d wish on my worst enemy. It’s terrifying because you really think you can’t breathe. I continued having these attacks on a very regular basis until the baby was born and well into her early life. A miraculous homeopath cured me one night four years later with his wizardry that I’m still too scared to ask too much about as it just worked, and I want to keep it that way! Thank goodness that although I have a residual ‘bruised’ feeling from this experience 16 years later I’m more or less on top of it now. There is still work to do and I feel like diligently managing my work-life mix and staying as fit and healthy as possible is a maintenance strategy that works for me. As a presentation skills trainer, I’m glad I know what anxiety feels like now. It’s made me much more empathetic to my clients who fear public speaking. I’m a kinder, more gentle coach than I think I would otherwise have been.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
My work success has been due to one thing: 25 years ago, I picked my niche within a niche and I stuck to it. I often say, “stick to your knitting!” In other words, don’t be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Become a true expert in every sense within a subject that gives you joy – go deep not wide. I chose to be a persuasive presentation skills expert. When people contact me in business about their customer service problems or their leadership issues I have a wonderful network of experts I feel confident referring them to. I never accept work outside of my niche. I simply don’t want to pollute my brand. By sticking to this niche, all these decades later I’ve ensured that my name is a synonym for presentation skills in Australia. People don’t say, “I’m going to presentation skills training”. They say, “I’m going to Michelle Bowden”. I’m truly proud of this.
What is your morning routine?
I wake at 7 am to get my youngest daughter to her school bus on time, earlier if I’m running a masterclass or speaking at a conference that day. Most days I walk Buddy the Labradoodle 10,000 steps along beautiful Manly beach in Sydney, Australia (which is right near my home on the hill!) Walking at an easy pace on a daily basis is an essential part of my mental health plan. I also go to the gym every day, and I aim to meditate daily. Breakfast with protein is an important part of my healthy routine in the morning, as is a nice strong cup of coffee!
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
There are four things that I attribute to my overall satisfaction with life:
I chose the right guy! I am incredibly fortunate to have the best husband ever. He’s my best friend, a wonderful dad, my business partner, my adventure buddy, my holiday planner and he can even cook! He tells me when I’m annoying and he loves me unconditionally. We spend a lot of time together working in our shared business, living together and we even exercise together – yep, we are in each other’s company for a good part of the day, every day, and we’ve somehow stayed in love and even married for 24 years! On a daily basis, I thank my lucky stars that this beautiful man chose me.
Balance. Striking a balance between work and life is important for me. I like to live my life doing a variety of interesting things like painting, singing, reading, watching movies, catching up with friends and family, eating great food, and having adventures. When I can do some of these things every week as well as serve my clients my heart is singing!
Body maintenance. To ensure I am as healthy as possible, I have an awesome team that includes a chiropractor, physio, naturopath, acupuncturist, and the list goes on. And of course, exercise is the key to my positive attitude, my stamina for my physically demanding career, and my boundless energy in business development. I lift heavy weights; do a number of cardio sessions every week; and I also have a lot of relaxing walks along the coastline, listen to uplifting music and meditate daily. I also think putting good quality fuel in your body is essential: organic, whole food that nourishes you and gives you energy is a must for me.
Gratitude. Without the skill of gratitude, all of the above would go unnoticed. I spend at least a few minutes every day feeling glad for the blessings in my life.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I have a few tricks:
Outsource where possible. Most important to me is that I get rid of all the activities I dislike. Life is too short to be doing admin that leave you feeling grey. I have a team of people around the world that I can call on when there are tasks that don’t suit me, or that I simply don’t want to do. This includes sending clients I don’t really like to my colleagues or competitors who are better suited to their needs!
Plan properly. Know what needs doing and ensure you have worked out the steps and resources to get it done in time. A bit of time planning can save you hours of time in the long run.
Keep your spaces tidy. I’m a self-confessed Home Edit fan (it’s a show on Netflix). I have a beautiful place for everything and everything in its place. A tidy space is a tidy mind.
Take regular holidays. Prior to Covid-19 my family and I undertook regular charity missions. These were wonderful international holidays where we donated our time or gifts to kids in need. It’s so important to give back. I wanted my kids to grow up realising they are privileged and that they can play an important role (no matter how small) in giving others support. It’s an essential part of a good life. These breaks away refresh me and leave me feeling invigorated and productive as I embrace the new year.
Take forced breaks from social media. I delete the email and social media apps from my mobile on Thursdays and don’t reinstall them again until the following Tuesday morning. This way I make somewhat of an effort to clear my mind and give my nervous system a break every week. When I go on leave I am sure to leave my phone in my undies draw so I’m not tempted to work!
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The very first inspiring book that I read was Networking Magic by Robyn Henderson. I borrowed it from the library when I was 22 years old. At the time I was in my first proper learning and development job and I loved this book so much that I read it three times before returning it to the library. At the time, I was so moved by the simple messages for building your career networks, that I wrote Robyn (the author) a little thank you note praising her for her inspiring book. Unbelievably she wrote back to me thanking me for my kind letter and wishing me all the best for my career. It really moved me that she was an author who took the time to reply to me. As a best-selling author myself these days, I’ve taken a leaf from Robyn’s book and always write back to people to send me praise about my book. Who knew that 6 years after reading Robyn’s book I’d actually get to meet Robyn in her capacity as President of the National Speakers Association of Australia and have the chance to reminisce about her impact on my early career? Robyn has always been a generous inspiration in my life.
Choosing Happiness by Stephanie Dowrick is another of my all-time favourite books. I use this truly beautiful book when I feel the need for inspiration. I believe in just opening the book at the page it falls at, and whatever you read there is the lesson you’re meant to take on for the day. My favourite passage from this book is, “Whatever our background, culture or race, what rewards us most powerfully and consistently are the most deceptively simple abilities of all: the ability to be kind, to live enthusiastically and creatively, to appreciate and understand experiences different from our own, and to sustain a sense of inner stability and trust even in unwelcome and difficult situations.”
The third book that has shaped my personal relationships is Love is Letting go of Fear by Gerald G. Jampolsky MD. It’s another life-changing book that has hundreds of life lessons to help you feel gratitude, release fear and live well.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I’m a professional speaker so I’m a walking quote encyclopedia! Here are some of my favourites:
“Bite off more than you can chew and chew hard!” I’ve always punched above my weight in terms of success and achievements. I aim high and then do what it takes to achieve.
“Love your guts!” This is something all my clients will recite to you. I say it a lot! Yes, it’s a crude way of putting it, but the point is that if you don’t love yourself then it’s going to be difficult for others to love you, listen to you, and be persuaded by you. In line with this quote is another from my oldest daughter Holly who says, “mum, moods are contagious, is yours worth catching?’ She’s sassy for sure, but she’s right. Is your mood worth catching? If the answer is no, fix it.
“Unless you choose to make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate” by Carl Jung. This quote inspires me to take charge of what’s happening around me.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” by Theodore Roosevelt. This reminds me to show love everywhere I go.
“Bring it in!” I love to hug. I will hug anyone. I hate being kissed on the cheek (it seems too familiar and weird when people do this, and I don’t know why it’s still something men do to you in business) but a hug is something I can give whenever you want it so bring it in!