Tori Aiello: From PTA and Jr League Volunteer to Sought-After Communication Coach

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When she’s not driving up and down the Boston-New York corridor, or flying across the country for her job as a communication coach, Tori Aiello often Skypes from home. The former “stay-at-home mom” kept up her skills through a slew of volunteer jobs in Greenwich.  Credit: Leslie Yager

First in a series of features on stay-at-home parents re-entering the workplace.

These days, taking time off work to “stay at home” and raise children can be tough to reconcile with fears of falling behind in the workplace.

The dread can build when when the resume gap stretches to years. Factor in the recession and a tough job market that is stinging everyone from recent graduates to middle age people with oodles of experience, and the prospect of going back to work can be daunting.

For years Tori Aiello was the volunteer everyone wanted on their committee. Of her volunteer credentials, Aiello said, “I just needed to use my brain.”

After running the Afters program at Julian Curtiss School, where she also served on the PTA executive board and chaired multiple fundraisers, Aiello served on the board of directors for the Junior League of Greenwich, where she led the new member training program for three years.

These days she is a sought-after communication expert working for The Speech Improvement Company, Inc, based in Brookline, MA.

“I cover the corridor between New York and Boston, but I’m headed to Indianapolis next month,” said Aiello on a recent day that she was able to work from home in Greenwich, Skyping clients and making phone calls.

“I just went to Utah for a workshop with leaders of Boston Scientific to strengthen their communication skills – specifically working on their presentation on how to give effective feedback in the workplace,” she said.

Aiello, who has a BS in Speech Communication and an MFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing  – both from Emerson College in Boston – taught English 101 and public speaking as an adjunct before shifting gears to raise two daughters. Alexandra is a sophomore at Exeter, and Christina is a 7th grader at Central Middle School.

Aiello reflected on her years of volunteering. “Although I do love giving back to the community, I said to myself, ‘I’m putting so much time into this, I really should parlay this into getting my feet back into the workplace.'”

“It’s doable. I’ve had so many friends say to me, ‘I’m so impressed you could do that. I don’t know if I could do that.’ And I say, ‘You can do this.'”

Rather than taking a scattershot approach with her resume, Aiello, worked backward from her dream job, contacting a company where she knew her skills were a good fit.

“I reached out to a contact through Emerson College and I knew that the Speech Improvement Company did exactly what I want to do for a career, which is to coach people all over the world to reach their next level in communication skills,” Aiello said.

Working for the Speech Improvement Company, Aiello describes a varied work week, which might include flying to the midwest or driving to Manhattan or Boston. Some of her clients are right here in Greenwich.

Aiello said the previous week she had worked with a group of patent law attorneys,  crafting introductions and honing pitches for a series of upcoming webinars.


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Industry Trends: Increasing Professional Presence and Corporate Storytelling

Weaning clients off one-dimensional Powerpoint presentations, Aiello said she helps her clients increase their professional presence and effectiveness through corporate storytelling. “I help them weave and craft a story into a business presentation,” she said.

“It’s really fun,” Aiello said, describing a day she spent with a group of scientists in Madrid. “Folks who work in science, high-tech, and bio-tech can sometimes come across as one-dimensional and dry. I came in to try to impart what we call pathos, pathos, enthusiasm. It goes back to Aristotle.”

Aiello also works with teenagers to prep them for college interviews, coaching them on the importance of making eye contact, articulation, and slowing their rate of speech. “They tend to speak too quickly,” she said, adding that high school students too often regurgitate their GPA and accomplishments, which are already on the application.

“They miss the opportunity to differentiate themselves and say what they bring to the table,” Aiello said. “We go over what’s the benefit to the potential college, and I have them re-work their talking points between sessions,” she said, adding that prepping for college interview usually entails two 90-minute sessions with homework in between.

Working with business clients might mean six 90-minute sessions over the course of six moths, she explained. She said one particular company is investing in an employee to help her become more confident and articulate in her business presentations.

“I love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Aiello said. “I love helping people. There’s nothing more gratifying than to get an email saying, ‘Thank you so much, this changed my life. I sold the biggest account,’ or ‘I no longer have anxiety before I speak.’ I try to remove those barriers for them.”

“Not everyone’s going to view public speaking as fun, but my goal is to have it not be something they avoid, or that’s drudgery, or that keeps them up at night,” Aiello said. “All those things you see – stammering, red face, shaking – those are all physical manifestations of a mental state of mind.”

Aiello said her goal is to figure out what is mentally triggering a client’s anxiety over public speaking. “Is it a fear of performance. A fear of being judged? Not knowing your material well? Is it a bad experience in their past? Maybe there were humiliated, asked to sit out in the hallway, or the kids laughed at them,” she said, acknowledging that issues with public speaking often stem back to childhood.

“We remind them that people want you to succeed,” she said. “But the hard thing as a presenter, is to continue to make eye contact in the room and not disenfranchise anybody.”

Aiello said her rule of thumb is for speakers to direct their gaze at foreheads, and direct one sentence to each person in the audience, without being robotic.

Similarly, with Skyping, she instructs clients to look at the green light, so they don’t look like they’re gazing off into space. “It’s a whole different way of operating, but I’m seeing Skype and video conferencing more and more often,” she said. “There’s a lot of huge, widescreen conference meetings.”

Aiello said she is part of a team of 12 communication coaches that will soon expand to 16, and that the Speech Improvement Company is the oldest presentation training firm in the country. Founded 50 years ago by a husband-wife duo who graduated from Emerson, the company has grown steadily over the years.

“We are truly based in classic communication, and have an understanding of communication theory,” Aiello said. “We’re practical coaches, meaning we’re not acting coaches. Our philosophy is to be the most authentic version of yourself. If you come across as an actor, you are harming your credibility,” she said.

For more information on The Speech Improvement Company, including contact information for Tori Aiello, go to her page on the company’s website.


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