Updated and includes writing sample.
It’s not just talk. It’s doing something.
I am looking for career positions and shorter term engagements where I can expand my already considerable footprint in my niche specialty of Professional Presence instruction.
Finding and Exploring Your Professional Voice
Richard Thomas, JD
“Presence” is about being yourself and sharing it with the world. “Professionalism” is about getting the job done. A person with “professional presence” is fully alive and human when executing the tasks of their career and its works. My teaching helps you explore who you are in the context of your work life. Why? Because you are great, just as you are — and when you own the reality of your character and personality, and fearlessly share it with other people while simultaneously performing the tasks of your career — both in managing and advocating for it, and in actually doing all substantive aspects of your job — you are most effective. You communicate and connect with colleagues and clients and prospects and peers. And communication and connection are absolute necessities when doing anything involving other people — in other words anything.
You and your colleagues are great talents — superstars of presence. You are human beings. And you are you — unique voices who sing to the world. I don’t teach you how to be “you” or how to communicate and connect who you are to other people. No one can teach you that. I just guide you to deeper discoveries of how to connect with yourself and share it with the world. That personal confidence and openness and emotional intelligence to the unique voices of other people make you more effective at anything that you do. Your “voice” in the context of my trainings has nothing to do with singing. It is about having the skill to be clearly heard by others, honoring your own truth and adapting to the voices of other people. We are happiest when we share ourselves in harmony with others. And we are most successful and productive.
I recently completed a five-year appointment at the UIC Business School as a professor in the Professional Development Program (recognized as a UIC Master Teaching Scholar) and I am a lawyer who used to do trials (my area was professionalism and ethics — I was a litigator with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and I am certified and experienced in the areas of ethics and professional responsibility), and I am also an alumnus actor of the main stage of Second City’s Chicago theater, where I was also a teacher, writer and director (and where I learned improvisational acting, communication and teaching pedagogies from the founders of that renowned theater).
It’s often said that “all the world’s a stage” and I’ve spent the past several decades helping groups, large and small, find and use their voices in whatever developmental stage that they find themselves.
Scores of students have experienced my teaching and have walked away with the ability to deliver stronger and more compelling messages, do work that leaves a long-lasting impact and put their exclusive and authentic stamp on everything they do. They also have learned how to skillfully present themselves ethically and professionally, serving themselves, their employers, partners, clients, colleagues and all other stakeholders in their endeavors.
I welcome the opportunity to share more about my distinctive teaching style with you and develop a customized teaching program to best meet your needs.
I believe in the power of the human voice. I have taught hundreds of students through my hands-on keynote addresses, workshops, and personal coaching sessions.
As the creator of the “Finding Your Voice” modules (I add new ones all the time in response to students’ needs) I intertwine my varied experiences to engage and empower his students to discover and embrace their creative and professional voices.
My achievements have been recognized across a variety of professional, theatrical and academic spheres. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Office of the Provost also recognized me as a Master Teacher Scholar, placing me among the university’s top teachers.
I look forward to working with you and your organization on engagements of short and/or longer career duration that help you grow in the vital areas of creativity, critical thinking and professionalism.
Bio: Richard S. Thomas, J.D. received his Juris Doctorate from the School of Law at Loyola University Chicago. Thomas graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in American Studies and Communication Arts. Professor Thomas was named a Master Teaching Scholar by the UIC Center for Teaching and Learning, one of fourteen instructors so recognized campus-wide. He is a licensed Illinois Attorney who has worked primarily as a litigator in the area of Ethics and Professional Responsibility Law, as well as an alumnus of the resident company of Chicago’s Second City Theater Company. Professor Thomas was honored to be named to the outstanding alumni cast of Second City’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Show. He studied the art of improvisation for several years with most of the theater’s founding members including the great Paul Sills. He has acted with notable actors such as Meryl Streep and Bill Murray among many others.
Professor Thomas led the well-received Finding and Exploring Your Teacher Voice, a four-week seminar for UIC instructors campus-wide under the auspices of the UIC Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning; led an interactive presentation on the subject of writing and presenting effective case reports for the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business Redesigning the MBA Conference in Indianapolis; and participated in a panel discussion regarding the writing of effective case reports for the Forensic Expert Witness Association, an organization of business professionals who testify at trials.
Professor Thomas was also honored in 2016 for founding The New Keenan Revue, a Notre Dame campus tradition dedicated to community-building and intelligent satire.
Professor Thomas works with business, academic, not-for-profit, legal and any other professionals who want to improve their awareness of themselves and others in order to achieve their diverse and several objectives in the world of work.
- 2013 – 2018, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Professional Development Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Business Administration
- 2006 – Present, Lawyer. Practiced primarily as a litigator in the field of ethics and professional responsibility at the Illinois Registration and Disciplinary Commission
- Alumnus of the resident company of Chicago’s Second City Theater
- Article re: Lawyer/Artist
- Ethics professor
- B.A. in Communication Arts from Notre Dame; J.D. from Loyola Law School (Chicago)
- Newsweek Article re: Founding Campus 40 Year Old N.D. Campus Event
- Certified by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy in Communication Skills
- UIC Master Teaching Scholar Thomas Chosen UIC Master Teaching Scholar
- Teacher as Artist Article for UIC Provost
- Illinois State Bar Association Master Teacher in Communications Skills
- BAR ADMISSIONS: Illinois State Bar, Member• Northern District of Illinois Bar, Member
- Taught improvisational acting classes at Second City, the Victory Gardens Theater and independently • Member of Second City Chicago’s resident acting company; well-reviewed by many publications’ critics including Frank Rich of The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/02/arts/revuew-second-city-comes-to-first-city.html and John Simon of New York Magazine; received Obie and Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for ensemble acting; performed in Second City’s 50th Anniversary Alumni Show; co-wrote and performed in Second City Revues: Exit Pursued by a Bear, Glenna Loved It!, and Orwell that Ends Well; directed Second City’s National Touring Company developing young talent including Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris • Film acting work for Mike Nichols http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e28Y80Er8HQ and Woody Allen • Free-lance writer for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street • Performance Artist and Comedian at Second City ETC Theater, New York’s Improv Comedy Club and West Bank Café; wrote and performed one man shows The Rick Show and Good Times praised by Second City Founder Paul Sills and West Bank Café’ Founder Lewis Black • Led improvisational acting workshops and performed for the Young Presidents Organization and an audience that included former President Jimmy Carter. Currently writes, performs and produces his one-person show at various venues.
Selected Class Topics
- Improvisation to Make Your Anxiety Work for You! Steven Spielberg is nauseous every time he starts to film a new scene. Muhammad Ali was terrified in the moments before every fight he ever fought. Fear is good. It makes us intensely aware of ourselves and everything around us. Adaptation is a necessity whenever we deal with unknown factors, and when interacting with others there are always unknown factors. Improvisation is not only for comic actors. It is a tried and true method of turning anxiety into creative action for EVERYONE. Hint: anxiety becomes positive energy when one is immersed in focused action.
- Teaching as a Professional. All professionals are called to bring their own particular skills and expertise in concert with clients and colleagues and other stakeholders. The greatest ideas can’t be added to a process if they aren’t explained and communicated. Teaching is a skill that anyone can learn — and no two people do it the same way. Teach yourself how YOU teach!
- Public Speaking as Influence. If you can stand up in front of a group of people and communicate your ideas, you can influence others while being responsive to THEIR influence and discover amazing things about yourself. A great topic on its own, even better when taken in tandem with Improvisation to Make Your Anxiety Work for You!
- Connecting with Others with Empathy and Authenticity. When one’s voice harmonizes with the voices of others beautiful, creative and productive things happen. Learn the skills of emotional intelligence and see your ideas resonate with others, and be influenced by others’ ideas and feelings to create beautiful collaborative and effective outcomes.
- Telling Stories and Making Cases. We tell stories because that is the way people connect with one another. Learn how to tell more purposeful stories. We make cases — advocate for ideas — in order to promote positive understanding and change. Learn the skills of thoroughly and clearly presenting FACTS (relevant stories in a work context), raising ISSUES AND QUESTIONS, ANALYZING those issues and questions in an INFORMED AND EDUCATED manner using CRITICAL THINKING and APPLYING HIGHER LEVEL THOUGHT demonstrating one’s knowledge and expertise in order to MAKE CREATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS AND DECISIONS in professional contexts.
- Career Discovery and Advocacy. We are all the authors of our own careers and lives. Learn how to understand what directions your voice is directing you to take through writing and speaking about YOU, THE WORLD AND ANY OBSTRUCTIONS, internal or external that are blocking you from understanding your heart’s desire and how others wish to use your heartfelt work in order to serve clients, organizations and any other people or entities that need you.
These topics can be explored by groups and individuals independently OR in multi-day intensive workshops that explore all of these aspects of professional presence.
Why hire me to teach in your organization?
I inspire, energize, and captivate audiences with my impassioned presentation style, interactive experiential learning exercises, and deep coaching and insight. I customize my presentations to the immediate needs of your teams and blend the principles of improvisational instruction and the principles of professionalism, with traditional training tools that your team can immediately implement.
Here’s are people saying about my teaching:
I appreciate his methodical approach to examining each case study. The process of connecting the technical learning to the real-life case studies helped the class apply the technical knowledge in a practical way. I have also been able to use this same process to build a case for change within my professional organization. I appreciate that the not only the course material, but the way the material was studied was beneficial.
Laura, Regional Manager Starbuck’s
Richard’s class far exceeded my expectations. Richard has a wealth of experience to draw from and approaches the material from a unique perspective. Through a series of exercises and short lectures, he created an environment in which it was safe to take risks and learning was just plain fun. His feedback was positive, discerning, and insightful.
After taking Richard’s class, I realized that I’m much more effective in motion, writing on a white board, than I am stuck behind a podium clicking through a PowerPoint. I’m energized and confident and I’ve seen dramatic changes in engagement and responsiveness from my audience. I would recommend his courses to anyone, and I look forward to future opportunities to study with Richard.
Elizabeth, Lawyer and Entrepreneur
Richard is a man of great talent, originality, passion, and infinite integrity. It was a total joy to work with him and so exciting to watch him perform. His performances were always surprising and provocative in the finest way.
He also has to be one of the smartest guys on the planet, and also one of the most compassionate.
Jeanette, Professional Actor
Richard presentation was valuable for folks, like me, who frequently provide continuing professional education to colleagues … and do presentations for the general public. Richard also made learning “fun” – which is not a word most often associated with professional education. Thanks, Richard, great job!
Sandra, College Faculty, Attorney, Mediator
Richards presentation was innovative and exciting. Our lawyers all enjoyed participating in the Improv games and I know that we learned a great deal from his class. I believe that this exercise was not only rewarding, but was also a lot of fun for our trial lawyers.
Michael, Law Firm President
Rick is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. I have seen him perform on stage numerous times; I’ve sat in on many of his classes to help me develop my own teaching skills; and I’ve read many of his writings … so my recommendations in all these areas are based on large sample sizes.
Ranjit, Actor, Musician, Arts Educator, College Faculty
“Richard presentation was valuable for folks, like me, who frequently provide CLEs to our colleagues in the Bar and do presentation to the general public. Richard also made learning “fun” – which is not a word most often associated with lawyer CLEs. Thanks Richard, great job!”
“After taking Richard’s class, I’m energized and confident and I’ve seen dramatic changes in engagement and responsiveness from my audience. I would recommend his courses to anyone.”
“Richard’s presentation was innovative and exciting. [We] all enjoyed participating in the improv games and I know that we learned a great deal from his class.”
“The personalized coaching sessions were very informative and helpful and used real-world examples to provide a new perspective and 8strike to illustrate the lesson.”
Amanda, Lawyer and Consultant
“Through the career coaching, I was able to develop successful networking skills, and recently left a networking having made some very helpful contacts, an incredible improvement from my previous experiences in networking.
“This coaching has left me optimistic about my career and with concrete ideas of how I can improve my future job prospects.”
Henry, Seeking employment
Interested in learning more? Contact me today at (312) 285-5415 or firstname.lastname@example.org to explore and develop a plan that applies my expertise in a manner that best meets your school, firm or organization’s goals.
All the best,
Richard S. Thomas, J.D.
An excerpt from my writing, Voice Lessons: Reflections on the Art of Being Professional and Authentic:
The artist is someone who is unable to do things as others do them.
I was teaching a group of college professors a class entitled “Finding and Exploring Your Teacher Voice.” The class considered what this book considered — consciously asserting one’s humanity in a professional role — to the benefit of oneself and others. I’m an actor (among many other things as you will see) and I made an illustrative example involving me, a white man, playing an elderly African-American woman. Many in the class were shocked.
“How could you ever do such a thing!”
“Why not? The theater has had non-traditional casting for years. Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan in a film a few years ago. Denzel Washington and Judy Dench have played the young Danish prince Hamlet when neither were young or Danish…there are countless examples here… many, too many to mention.”
We all have our professional roles too. I have life experience which might give a little more insight on than many other people. I am or have been an actor, a comedian, an improviser, a teacher (of several subjects) a marketing executive, a writer, a college professor and a trial lawyer. At first I took on different roles because I was searching. Now I realize they are all the same things. The common denominator in all of the careers is that I showed up for work as a human being and so did all of my peers.
The pillars of professionalism are the same for everyone in every job; be competent at your task and in your field; be diligent and complete promised work; communicate; don’t lie; don’t steal and be civil.
There is an enormous diversity of types of people and work. There is also a common humanity to every type of person and job. Please read this book from the perspective of that common humanity.
I write many of the sections of this book from the perspective of one of the professions I’ve worked in. Please read the book from your perspective as a human being and apply any insights you like to yourself and what you do.
What is true for the lawyer is true for the actor is true for the teacher is true for what you do.
Many professionals (defined as teachers and other academics, lawyers and other legal professionals, doctors and other medical professionals, creative and other arts professionals, and business, government and non-profit professionals of all stripes) are unaware of the relative ineffectiveness of their presentation, leadership, and group and one-on-one communication skills. Many other professionals are aware of their deficiencies but lack confidence and are intimidated by the prospect of improving these skills.
This book asserts that being authentic in the working flow of your vocation can be approached as an art form. It can be learned and developed experientially through the process of personally creating your unique method of presentational and interactive communication.
Creating professional authenticity is a democratic artistic process. It is not only a realistic process for those who are perceived as “talented.” No two professionals communicate in the same way. This book aspires to share some of my thoughts, methods, attitudes and values in an effort to help professionals discover and explore their personal confidence, conscious authenticity and creativity in their own way.
Work on one’s voice requires a commitment to hard work and deep and considered reflection. If one approaches this work “for fun” or as a hobby, they will get the equivalent results to the lack of demand that they put on themselves.
A major interest of mine is the experiential interrelationship between logic, critical thinking, substantive knowledge AND creativity, self-assurance, awareness and communication. My background as an attorney and in the improvisational theater has taught me how rationality and structure, and spontaneity and emotion, are complimentary and equally necessary to the development of a strong professional presence.
Artists learn and then (or contemporaneously) feel compelled to share what they learn with others. The artists are then affected by the others’ response to what the artists have offered and transform (learn) again. The process repeats itself ad infinitum with greater depth and in some cases, breadth. By this definition this book is very much a work of art.
Artists such as myself have much to teach professionals when the professionals reflect on the artists’ work through the lens of their own experience as professional artists (whether or not that they acknowledge their own artistic status.)
Many professionals explore art classes (improvisational acting, creative writing etc.) in an effort to improve their authenticity and presence. Taking such classes is a positive step. This initiative would be more effective because it links the art education to actual work experience and development. It connects personal enrichment with pragmatic professional development.
Many workplaces have de facto apprenticeship programs and activities where more experienced professional expose those junior to teaching strategies and plans that have been successful for the more established leaders of the firms. These approaches are useful, but they are more content- driven than the process-driven method that I am proposing here. A professional has to have a mastery of content AND EQUALLY be personally engaged with that content AND, of course, the other stakeholders themselves. There are professional authenticity concerns beyond the obvious necessity of “knowing the material.” The “apprentice” approach doesn’t address these concerns. It might give structures for delivering information. It doesn’t help an individual discover how they personally can “reach” others. This book is a broader and deeper consideration of what it is to be professionally authentic and effective.
It bears repeating that substantial artistry and professional development can only be achieved with dedicated, committed and sustained work. It is not enough to understand this topic conceptually. It is not only about approaches that you adopt. It is about something that you yourself become, maintain and expand.
The book aspires to stimulate its audiences to discussion, thought and new creations of professional art.
Introduction to Process
Before you can be a consciously authentic professional you have to be a consciously authentic human being. (We are all at least unconsciously authentic since authenticity is a matter of existential being, not something we matriculate to.) Authenticity is not a matter of self-invention. It is who we are, whether we know it or not.
In other words before you have a professional voice you have to have a personal voice that you apply to your professional tasks. You find that voice, and the skills to call upon it in action through play — in the making of art. All art begins as a spontaneous improvisation and is shaped and structured later. Art connects you to your own personal voice. You become a more effective professional when you speak (and act) in that voice. And learned in your ways of making art you will turn your professional work into art itself.
Teachers, actors and trial lawyers are sometimes frustrated when students, audiences and juries aren’t engaged with the material being presented to them. These “others” are not engaged in every case because there is no expressed humanity infused into the dry substance placed before them. I was flipping through cable channels late one night and found a documentary where the rock star and humanitarian Bono was standing in the middle of a West African village saying that “no amount of statistics expresses the truth of this situation as the joy on these villagers’ faces.” I then turned to C-Span where a scientist was telling a Congressional committee that “only image and narrative has been offered today; we have no hard data which gives a full picture of the reality we are facing here.”
The truth is that as professionals we need hard data and/or other evidence that we view rationally in order to make competent and informed judgments AND we need to connect warmly with other people in order to share what we know. We need to be able to reason like the C-Span scientists and create image, narrative and feeling like Bono.
A professional should be exhausted after a day’s work because she is personally involved with all of the stakeholders that she interacts with. Sharing your voice is a revolutionary activity. It is a commitment to not perform, pretend or persuade or dominate or hide; but rather BE there for better or worse standing with integrity for all that you believe and all that you are. Our roles limit how much we reveal of ourselves. An authentic accountant, for example, wouldn’t show aspects of his voice to a client as he would to his spouse; but he would show all the depths of his voice that are applicable to his relationship with the client.
Having a voice is a skill. It is not an abstraction. You can’t develop one by learning and discussing theory. You have to do things. This book suggests that you do improvisational exercises to find and explore your voice in pure action. It says you should state opinions, and keep journals and be very aware of your thoughts and feelings. It says that you should work on your practical reasoning, critical thinking and argumentation skills and apply them to your fields of endeavor. It says you should study examples of public leadership in all fields, particularly ones disparate from your own and make discerning judgements as to how those public leaders do things that could be applied or avoided in your sphere.
Voice lessons are found in experiencing, observing, and reflecting; and applying the insights we gained from those three processes to real world actions with real world responsibilities and consequences.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas