Opening Up

Fearless Like a Falcon

former debate coach starts public speaking business

Barbara Arnold, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Want to do a TED talk and wondering where to start? Having first-time speaker jitters or experiencing stage fright after years of performing? Prepping for your first high school public speaking or debate competition? Looking to develop some executive presence after being called for a job interview? Desire to speak confidently and come across powerfully in your everyday life?

Wherever you are on your public speaking or performing journey, Rachel Woodward, founder and owner of Peregrine Communications, will work with you one-on-one to provide a tailor-made solution.

Her logo of a peregrine falcon and her mission statement – “Creating Fearless, Focused Public Speakers” – were well-thought-out. She aims to help her clients soar from concept to execution. This includes audience analysis, content and design, assessment and coaching, as well as workshops and training for larger groups.

“The peregrine falcon is a noble bird associated with the power to speak, see, and write,” she shared in an interview. “Birds of prey are focused and accurate, confident, and powerful. Similarly, I want my clients to see themselves in this powerful bird. I want them to go from being a fledgling to owning their power as a falcon does: unerringly and elegantly.”

Such a transition mirrors Woodward’s own experience from a shy and silent young girl in Eau Claire to the woman who led the U.S. Air Force Academy’s highly ranked Debate and Forensics Team, one of the best in the country, for 12 years. She was selected from 350 applicants to coach the team after earning her master’s degree in literary studies from UW-Milwaukee, and a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in creative writing from UW-Eau Claire.

“Peregrine Communications came about because I left teaching at (UWEC) to devote my time to building a company where I could serve others using my gifts of speaking, coaching, analysis, and writing,” she continued. “Creating a business which would allow me to help those who fear public speaking, want to hone their skills, or master the floor, made perfect sense.”

Woodward credits her passion for public speaking to her involvement with the debate and forensics teams under the coaching of Art McMillion and “Mrs. Mac,” his wife, at Memorial High School in Eau Claire.

To realize her business idea, Woodward went to the Western Dairyland Women’s Business Center, which provides free help to women who want to start up a business. Woodward decided to submit a proposal for one of the breakout sessions at this year’s Women’s Business Conference held in late April. Karman Briggs, director of jobs and business development at Western Dairyland, liked the proposal so much that she asked Woodward to revise it and tapped her to be the keynote speaker for the conference. Her topic: “For Women Only: Overcoming the Confidence Gap.”

“Confidence is seen as a stand-in for competence … and you only have seven seconds to make a first impression,” Woodward stated to the 350 women at the conference in the Plaza Hotel ballroom. “Ninety-three percent of all communication is non-verbal. Seven percent is what you say, 38 percent is how you say it, and 55 percent is body language.”

She then showed slides of people demonstrating various body language by posture, head, neck, arms, hands, torso, legs, and feet positions – some demonstrating confidence, and others not. She then invited the audience to strike a pose – either confident or not – for two minutes.  

Not surprisingly, the majority assumed the powerful Wonder Woman stance, described as “standing, legs shoulder-width apart, chest out, arms on waist, an open torso.” A few assumed an insecure position, such as head down, arms wrapped around their waists, and legs crossed.

When the two minutes were up, Woodward then asked the audience how they felt, citing “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” a recent TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard University. Cuddy demonstrated that when a person assumes a powerful or confident stance, the hormone levels in his or her body actually change. So there really is scientific evidence behind how you present yourself and how powerful and confident you look.

Today, one would never know that Woodward was shy as a child. Her personal journey is precisely why she is such a marvelous coach. She is passionate about helping others find their voice and overcome their public speaking challenges. She has evaluated and judged thousands of nationally competitive speakers, assessed and given critical feedback to 2,200 students, and improved more than 11,000 presentations. In addition, she has testimonials from former students, colleagues, and professionals on how she helped them transform their lives. Get ready to soar and become a fearless, focused public speaker!

Learn more about Rachel Woodward and Peregrine Communications at,, or (715) 797-2208.