career

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Dave Shoji

 

Hawaiʻi volleyball fans know him as one of the sport’s winningest coaches of all time. Dave Shoji, former University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Wahine Volleyball Coach, looks back at his 42-year coaching career. He led his teams to win more than 1,200 matches, with a .855 percentage of wins. Now retired in Honolulu, Shoji is focused on his family – and his health. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, Shoji says he’s grateful for the medical care and support he received during his treatment. “You never know,” he says. “You just pray and you try to live healthy. I’m pretty good right at this moment.”

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Dave Shoji:

 

Geographic Expansion

 

Picking the Right Battles

 

Recruiting

 

Character

 

Grace

 

Off the Court

 

Former Hawaiʻi ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett lists the top 10 Dave Shoji wins

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I don’t know where my life would’ve gone, had I not had volleyball. And I, I’m so grateful that I’ve been blessed with, with all of this. This is unbelievable, and so, again, I gotta give credit to the man upstairs, and, uh…I’m, I’m just really grateful for the life I’ve had.

 

He was the second women’s volleyball coach in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association to reach the 1,200-win milestone. Many believe the truly remarkable statistic is that his teams won more than 85% of the matches they played during his 42-year coaching career. But during most of his own years playing several different sports, volleyball was not one of them. Former University of Hawaiʻi Wahine volleyball coach, Dave Shoji, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one, engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Hanging high above the live action on the floor of the Stan Sheriff Center on the Mānoa campus of the University of Hawaiʻi, four banners are on display, proudly representing national championships. Linked to those team titles is another banner paying tribute to an individual and the stellar record amassed through four decades by the man who would build a women’s collegiate volleyball unlike any other.

 

Aloha māi kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Despite his coaching success and national recognition, Dave Shoji says he did not receive many offers to coach at other schools, and he simply was not interested in coaching anywhere else. Shoji spent time in the islands as a young boy, but he was really a west coast kid whose parents were from the farmlands of California. Kobe and Shizuko Shoji wouldn’t meet until 1942, when the families were forced by the U.S. government to relocate out of state.

 

One thing that I, I don’t know if people know about you is where your parents met. Where was that? Can you tell me their story?

 

My parents met…they actually lived about fifteen miles from each other. One lived in upland-my dad lived Upland, California. My mom’s family lives in Chino. They had heard about each other but never met. Once the war broke out and both families were sent to Arizona…

 

Internment Camp.

 

Internment Camp Poston Arizona. I guess they met there. And, um…actually got married before my dad volunteered for the 442, and he was sent off to war, so…

 

Did he ever talk about what it was like to have been in an internment camp, only to then enlist for the very people who imprisoned you?

 

You know, my dad, like a lot of the 442 people, never really wanted to talk about it. So, he didn’t talk about it with his family, with our, our siblings, and…so we knew very little about it. All we knew is that they met, and they got married, and he went off to war, and-

 

Did your mom talk about it?

 

My mom didn’t talk about it much either. Um, it’s funny. I don’t know if it was more private or something, but, uh, they didn’t really share a lot of that stuff with the kids. We would ask, but we’d get kind of one word answers all the time, like, “Yes.” “How was it?” “Oh, it wasn’t great.” “Uh, what did you eat?” “We had little to eat.” Stuff like that. It’s just, uh…not, not too much information.

 

But not resentment? Just-

 

No, I don’t think there was a lot of resentment. My mom was such a sweet person, she couldn’t resent anybody. Uh, and…my, my dad, you know, volunteering was, uh, his way of showing, you know, that he was an American.

 

Uh, and he was quite athletic, I’m told.

 

He was. Uh, he ended up going to Pomona College, but he was a tailback on a single-win, wing football team. He long jumped 24 feet-

 

24 feet?

 

24 feet. Plus, um…so, that kind of tells you what kind of athlete he was. A football player and a, a track star. So, um…and he could do anything. He was very, very coordinated, and that’s where, kind of, I was like, “Wow. I, I need to start doing some of this.”

 

In 1949, Kobe and Shizu Shoji moved to Hawaiʻi with their two sons, Dave and Tom. Dad Kobe Shoji would spend a decade teaching plant physiology at the University of Hawaiʻi. Dave’s younger brother, Kelvin, was born in the islands. The family would later move to Hilo, when Kobe accepted a position with Steve Breuer. Eventually the demands of extensive work-related travel forced the family to move. Dave and Tom Shoji would return to California to live with an aunt. Their parents and the youngest son lived in Iran and Puerto Rico for several years during the 1960’s.

 

Even your brothers were sports guys. And were they athletes as well?

 

My brothers were athletes. Um…at an earlier age…my, my-actually one of my brothers, Tom, played college football at UC Santa Barbara. So, he was quite an athlete as well.

 

And you were a, what, triple letter college athlete?

 

No, just two letters in college. Like, three in high school. I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school. Baseball was my best sport. Uh I played at a high level in high school, and the American legion ball, and then I got actually a scholarship to go to Santa Barbara to play baseball. But I realize that, at that time, that I wasn’t going to go anywhere in baseball, so…

 

Because?

 

Uh, I was too small. I…my arm wasn’t good enough. Um, I didn’t have any power. Um…it’s just a different game in college, and I, I was a good high school player, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere in the sport.

 

And volleyball, how did that come to your attention?

 

Well almost by mistake. I was taking a volleyball class at Santa Barbara, and the instructor was the coach of the volleyball team. His name is Dennis Berg, still a really good friend of mine. He has an Olympian daughter, Lindsey Berg. But, uh…I was taking the class, and I was doing pretty good, and my buddy and I just loved it, and we’d go play wreck volleyball on, uh, on the weekends. And so, the coach, Dennis, said, “Hey, you guys need to come out for the team.” So, I said, “Ok, we’ll, we’ll go out.” So as juniors we, we went out for the team and made the team. I don’t know, I guess the team wasn’t very good or something.

 

You did become an All-American in volleyball.

 

Well back then it was…it wasn’t the same sport as it is today. It was pretty low-level, but, uh, we enjoyed it and we had a good time, and we actually won a national-

 

And you picked it right up. Oh, you won the national…

 

We won one national championship in 1969. That’s kind of my claim to fame as a player.

 

And, uh, were you thinking about, uh, coaching it as you were playing? Or, had uh, any thought since you’re, you know…the, the coach had plucked you out and showed you the sport?

 

Yeah, I had no idea about coaching. I knew I wanted to be involved in athletics somehow. I was trying to be maybe a high school basketball coach, or, not even volleyball…basketball, maybe, but, um…it wasn’t really in my vision yet.

 

Dave Shoji enrolled in ROTC while in college in Santa Barbara, and graduated with a two-year commitment for active duty in the army as an infantry officer. Once again, a volleyball opportunity presented itself. He was recruited to tour and play for the Army’s volleyball team, and then the All-Armed Forces Squad, which very possibly turned out to be a life-altering experience because this infantry officer most likely would’ve been deployed during the height of the Vietnam War. With his college degree and honorable discharge from the army, Dave Shoji returned to Hawaiʻi, where his parents were living again. It was the early 70’s, and after a brief stint as a dishwasher in a local restaurant, Shoji returned to school for a post-graduate study at UH. He found himself helping to set up a new volleyball program. It was the early years of Title 9, and the university had a new Senior Athletic Director for women, Dr. Donnis Thompson

 

She started the UH Athletic Department for Women, and she had two sports. And she chose…she was a track athlete, so she started track…track and field, and then she chose volleyball ‘cause she thought volleyball, uh, had kind of a natural interest in, in Hawaiʻi, and we had some really good athletes. So-

 

And yet volleyball was, uh…it, it wasn’t a…the kind of sport you think of first, first off if you’re looking for sports, right? At that time, it was something you wouldn’t think of right off the top.

 

Well, at that time it was a very regional sport. It was basically on west coast. The Midwest, the south, and east had no volleyball, basically no volleyball. They had teams, but they, they weren’t very good. So, the sport was based in west coast. And so she saw that, and she, she knew we would bring people over and we could go there more inex-you know, inexpensively, so that’s kind of where we focused and she focused. She was…she was quite a woman, and quite a pioneer the sport and women’s athletics in general.

 

Did you ever coach men’s volleyball?

 

Oh, I coached four or five years at UH. They asked me to take the program back. Uh…they dropped the program for a while, and then they wanted to start up again. So, I, I was coaching both men and women at the same time.

 

What’s the difference? What, what is it like coaching men and women?

 

Oh, it’s night and day. Yeah, it’s, uh…I always felt like the women were more receptive to my teaching. They, they were willing to learn about techniques and they would actually listen. You know, and do things. The guys just wanted to play. They wanted to play. They were more athletic, and so they didn’t want to do drills. They just wanted to play, which is ok…um, it, it just wasn’t my way of coaching. So, it wasn’t real enjoyable for me. We had great games. We had great teams, uh, even early on, but, um…I decided, like, I, I’d rather stay on the women’s side and let somebody else do the men. And, and the men have done fantastic over the years, too.

 

That must’ve been hard, doing both at the same time?

 

Well, it was. It was, uh, because the men’s season was in the spring, and the women’s in the fall. So, the, the recruiting part of, uh, the women’s game was in the spring, and I had a hard time juggling both-coaching the men and then trying to recruit for the women, and running the women’s spring season. So, it, it was difficult.

 

And were the men and women, at that time, playing at Klum gym?

 

Yeah.

 

Uh, and people don’t remember it. Many people don’t, or weren’t, weren’t alive then, but it was a…it was small, wooden gym.

 

It’s still there. Klum Gym is still there.

 

I didn’t even know it was still standing.

 

If you had seen games there and wanted to walk in there and, like, reminisce, you can still do that ‘cause it’s still up. My dad took me to basketball games at Klum, and, in, I think, I remember 1956 or something, it was built. And I thought, “Man, this is awesome place.”

 

For the audience it’s fabulous ‘cause you’re right near the athletes.

 

Yeah, it, it was…

 

It’s really hot in there, though.

 

It was really hot, but we had a big homecourt advantage. I mean, teams would come in there and it was just stifling hot, but our, our kids were used to it, so we usually won.

 

That, um…and so, you developed a fanbase that, I don’t know, may be second to none. Tell me about that, the relationship with fans.

 

Well, you know, back in the early days, we had people…I don’t know who they were. They would show up, and, and then…I don’t know. We had a lot of local kids on the team, so I think that was part of the attraction, and then I’m from Hawaiʻi, and so I think there was some kind of bond there. But they, they would come and then we’d start winning, and I think people jump on the bandwagon and they come, but then they’re hooked. They, they see the game. They see the girls and, and, uh, they just fall in love with not only the, the game, but the players and, and the coaches. So, we had a little, I call it a cult following, you know? It was like-

 

What, what about the aunties? What kind of cult is that?

 

Well it’s just…uh, at that time, they weren’t old. But they, they…but, um…you know, no one really knew about us outside, uh, you know, this tiny little circle. So, we had…first it was like 1200, and then 1500, and then 1800 packed, you know, the Klum gym, and then…and so we had a really loyal following, even back then. It was, as far as I knew, it was only 1800 people. Um…we weren’t on television yet.

 

The coaches of the other teams would sometimes say there was a real high level of volleyball knowledge and appreciation in Hawaiʻi.

 

Oh, absolutely. Uh, our fans, especially the ones that followed us from early on, they knew volleyball. And they knew good volleyball, and they appreciate good volleyball. And if it came from the other team, so be it. They would appreciate volleyball that was played, uh, at a high level by the other team. They wouldn’t ever be nasty to the other team. Uh, they’d cheer their plays as well as ours.

 

You know what really used to move me so much was, um, the aunties would give lei to your players, but they’d also give lei to the, many times to the other players as well.

 

It was interesting, the other night, at the Cal Poly game. So, we win. Our girls go and get the lei from the aunties. Um, the other team storms off…’cause they’re upset. They lost. But their coach made them come out of the locker room and go get their lei from the aunties, ‘cause she knew that they had brought lei for the other team, too. So, that’s an interesting phenomenon. I don’t think you’d see that anywhere else.

 

Although the Wahine volleyball program has been undeniably one of the most successful in the country, recruiting has always been a challenge. Shoji had to import height, as well as compete for many of those top-tier players as possible. Diane Sebastian was the first, followed by so many others, including Lily Kahumoku, Angelica Ljungqvist, T. Williams, and Kim Willoughby. These were the players who were often highly recruited by bigger, wealthier schools. Shoji sites Emily Hartong and Suzanne Eagye as examples of players who were not heavily recruited, but while playing at UH they worked hard and elevated their game. They were considered among the best players in the country. But Coach Shoji gives a great deal of credit to the local girls, Hawaiʻi’s own home-grown talent, as they key to the program’s success. These women will always share a special bond among themselves, with this community, and most definitely with their coach.

 

What were your experiences?

 

My experience with Dave, ok, first started…can I? Can I?

 

Ok, yeah.

 

[cheers]

 

You know I’m not a talker. Dave knows I’m not a talker, but…back in ’82, he got in touch with me. I had eligibility left. It was still AIAW. So, he asked me if, “Joyce, do you want to come play? You got two years eligibility, and they turned NC2A.” So, that was the best memories of Dave. Getting in touch with me…sorry, guys.

 

[cheers]

 

But, I, I met remarkable women. We won back to back. Yeah, Dave? And, um…I just want to thank him for bringing me back to school, sharing with my fellow, my fellow, my fellow…yep, 2, 2, 2. Um, so, Dave, thank you, mahalo, and love you. ‘Kay, that’s all.

 

[cheers]

 

It’s over! What a comeback! What a comeback! What a comeback! Down two games to none, they win three in a row! They do the impossible! They are the national champions.

 

We were always supplemented by a great local player. They had great volleyball IQ, they call it. “Tita” Ahuna was one of ‘em. Mahina Eleneki. Um, Kanani Danielson was another that just could play volleyball. I mean, they, they didn’t need to be big, tall, whatever. They could…so, you combine those, kind of…a great athlete, working hard, undersize with the, the good local player, and we were pretty successful. I don’t know if it’s, uh, a natural thing with Hawaiian players, but, uh, every center we had from here had wonderful hands, touch. And Robyn is one of ‘em, and go back to Nahaku Brown. But Hawaiian girls just seem to have some kind of amazing touch on the ball, where the mainland girls, they were just all…most of ‘em were so trained, you know. And they could, you know…they were so mechanical, where…I guess it’s from the park or something.

 

That’s so interesting. I…why-

 

Yeah, I, I don’t know. I couldn’t explain it, but if you…I mean, Robyn grew up down in the natatorium, and her dad would play. And Nahaku Brown, her, her, her dad ran Pahoa at the gym, and so she was always in the gym, and…but it was something…I didn’t reach then that touch. It’s just amazing that we’ve had probably six, eight local setters and they all just…I’m like, “That’s, that’s what we need. We need that touch. They’re just so natural and-

 

Dave Shoji met Mary Tennefos, an accomplished athlete in her own right, on the UH Campus. They married in 1986. Although she played basketball in college, Shoji says she became very knowledgeable about volleyball.

 

Mary, what can I say? I, you know, I think someone said it really well…yeah, if there’s, uh, a great person, or a great coach, there’s always a great woman pushing that coach along the way. So, thank you for 31 years, Mary.

 

How was that raising a family and, um, and conducting a life outside that consuming career?

 

Yeah, it was difficult with the family, ‘cause, um…and my wife reminds me all the time that we had our second boy, Erik, and I went from the hospital, uh, took her home, the baby home, and went to practice. So, she, she didn’t appreciate that. But the, the family kind of became intertwined in the, in the job, and to this day I think because the boys were always in the gym. From two years old, they would come to the gym and play with the ball…that’s how they became good at volleyball. They, they had a knack for it. They understood the game. They were around it. They went to all the games.

 

All that practice at the gym, waiting for dad, paid off. Kawika and Erik Shoji have been successful at the highest levels of men’s volleyball competition. Both were first team All-Americans while at Stanford. Kawika is a setter who was named 2010 player of the year, as he led Stanford to a national championship. They both played for the U.S. national team and won bronze medals at the 2016 Olympics.

 

We both want to say thanks, dad, for just really being an unbelievable dad. Um, making time for us outside of volleyball, too, and making all of our games, and supporting us, and, um…just really dedicating all of your time to not only the state and the program and the university, but also to our family. And so, thanks, Dad. We love you, and this is a well-deserved celebration.

 

Athletics continue to dominate the Shoji ‘ohana. Daughter Cobey Shoji Hutzler was a defensive specialist setter at University of Las Vegas, and the University of Michigan. She was Director of Volleyball Operations at Stanford, and has coached at various places, including a championship high school team in Florida. She’s married to Coleman Hutzler, a coach for University of South Carolina football. They have two children.

 

What do you look forward to most these days?

 

Got three grandchildren. Hopefully we’ll have four or five, um, but those three grandchildren are just kind of our light. Uh…you know, now we, we just look forward to seeing them. Two of ‘em are in South Carolina, and one’s in Poland, so we don’t…yeah, so, they’re far away. But, um…yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s, uh…watching-we watch a lot of volleyball still.

 

Hey Robyn, where are you? Come. Angelica, come, come up here. No, I’m not going to yell at you. I’m not gonna yell at you.

 

We can roast you some more.

 

No. I want to say this in front of everybody. But, uh, when I retired, and it was kind of a simultaneous hiring of Robyn Amo, I was so happy for her, and I was so happy for the program. And then she told me that she wanted to bring Angelica back. Um…I, I am just ecstatic that these two women are gonna head the program. And Kaleo’s here, too, somewhere, but, uh, the third coach in our program now.

 

Dave and Mary Shoji have been regulars at the Wahine matches since he retired as head coach. We sat down with Coach Shoji for this conversation late in 2019. He told us he’s grateful for the medical care and support he received while being treated for prostate cancer, and he wants people to know he’s feeling great. Dave Shoji is reluctant to talk about his individual accomplishments as a volleyball coach. So, before we finish up, here are just some of the highlights of Coach Shoji’s amazing record, for the record.

 

Coach Shoji never had a losing season. He led the Rainbow Wahine to four national championships, and 9 NCAA final Four appearances. His teams amassed 20+ win seasons 38 times, and 30 plus wins 19 times. He coached 86 All-Americans, 25 conference players of the year, and 175 All-Conference picks. Academically, he has also coached 107 conference All-Academic players.

 

You’ll find more of our conversation with Dave Shoji posted online at PBSHawaii.org. These extra clips also include the top ten Shoji wins from former Hawaiʻi sportscaster and ESPN anchor Neil Everett. And Coach Shoji talks about women’s college volleyball has expanded geographically, why there’s more parody among schools today, and the critical role club coaches play in recruiting young high school players years before they’re ready for college. Mahalo to Coach Shoji of Mānoa, Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

I’ve been reminded of this for a lot of years now, and the last few, you know. We got to the thousand wins and then 1100, and now, whatever the record is. So, I’ve had time to reflect on this over the course of the last few years. I never really thought about it back when we had 800 wins or 900. It just wasn’t important to me, and…but lately everyone seems to be on this theme of breaking record, and…well, I think the key word is we’ve achieved, not what I achieved. I haven’t really done anything myself. It’s, it’s all about the people around me and people that’ve helped me, and the players. That, that’s what, uh, how I’d like to be remembered. Not me, or how many games I won. I never served a ball, Jim, and never dug a ball. I never had a kill. So, you’ve gotta give credit where…really, the credit goes to the players and the, all the other people involved in the program.

 

Oh, wow, what a rally. Match point. Aloha ball. It’s over. Dave Shoji is the winningest coach in the history of Division 1 NCAA volleyball.

 

[cheers]

 

It’s really a humbling night for me because we would’ve never had anything like this, uh. The crowd in Hawaiʻi, the fans in Hawaiʻi are #1. Still love them. I still enjoy it. I love you guys. I love my team. I love the students over there, coming up to support us.

 

[cheers]

 

Again, I…I really don’t know what to say. I just want to reflect on, yeah…reflect everything on the team and everybody that’s been part of the program, as well as everybody in this building tonight. So, you know, I appreciate all of the accolades, but let’s think about this as yours and ours together, alright? Thank you very much.

 

[cheers]

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit pbshawaii.org.

 

 

 

[END]

 

 

Dave Shoji

Cover story by Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

Hawaiʻi volleyball fans know him as one of the sport’s winningest coaches of all time. Dave Shoji, former University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Wahine Volleyball Coach, is featured this month on a new episode of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

After defeating Santa Clara University on September 6, 2013, Dave Shoji became the winningest coach in NCAA Division-I women’s volleyball at the time.

After defeating Santa Clara University on September 6, 2013, Dave Shoji became the winningest coach in NCAA Division-I women’s volleyball at the time.

 

During his 42-year career, Shoji’s teams won more than 1,200 matches, more than 85 percent – one of only a handful of coaches in the National Collegiate Athletic Association to have done so.

 

Despite his success as a volleyball coach, Shoji pursued other sports as a student athlete. Growing up in Southern California, Shoji played high school football, basketball and baseball. Of the three, he says baseball was his best sport; it led to an athletic scholarship to the University of California – Santa Barbara.

 

Left: Shoji (center) in 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee with the UC Santa Barbara volleyball team after winning the national title against UCLA. Right: Shoji in 1994 coaching the UH Wahine volleyball team

Shoji (center) in 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee with the UC Santa Barbara volleyball team after winning the national title against UCLA. Photo Courtesy of the Shoji FamilyShoji in 1994 coaching the UH Wahine volleyball team Courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi Media Relations

 

His college baseball career, however, didn’t last long. “I realized at that time that I wasn’t going to go anywhere in baseball,” Shoji says. “I was too small and my arm wasn’t good enough; I didn’t have any power. It’s just a different game in college.”

 

UC Santa Barbara ended up being the place where Shoji discovered volleyball, a relatively new collegiate sport at that time in the 1960s. With Shoji on the team, UCSB won a national championship in 1969, and he became an All-American player in the sport. He later took his volleyball chops with him to the Army, where he served on active duty for two years.

 

After completing college and his military service, Shoji moved to Hawai‘i in the early 1970s and helped set up UH’s new volleyball program – setting the stage for long-term success in the sport. Among his career highlights, he’s led the Rainbow Wahine team to four national championships and nine NCAA Final Four appearances.

 

Dave Shoji on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox Tuesday, March 31, 7:30 pm

 

Now retired in Honolulu, Shoji is focused on his family, with three grandchildren in South Carolina and Poland. He is also focused on his health. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, Shoji says he’s grateful for the medical care and support he received during his treatment. “You never know,” he says. “You just pray and you try to live healthy. I’m pretty good right at this moment.”

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Pam Chambers

 

She’s built a reputation as “Hawai‘i’s presentation coach,” but in her youth, Pam Chambers was far from that. The former wallflower reveals how a turning point in her career helped her blossom as a public speaker. For more than 30 years, Chambers has helped local professionals and students on their presentation skills through feedback that she describes as honest, gentle and clear.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Pam Chambers Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I was in the third grade, and Mrs. Zimmerman, our teacher, gave us the assignment of doing a book report. As I began to read, I stumbled on a word, and one of the girls in the class led the group in laughing at me, and I remember deciding this is not a safe activity.

 

It took twenty years after that incident for her to feel comfortable standing in front of an audience again, and she made a career of helping people get over their fear of public speaking. Meet this presentation coach next on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one, engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha māi kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. It’s one of the biggest fears of many Americans: public speaking. For more than thirty years, Pamela Gaye Chambers of Honolulu has been coaching Hawai‘i residents, from children to CEO’s, in how to develop presentation skills. Not just public speaking, proper etiquette, dressing for success, preparing for a job interview, and learning to work more effectively in a workplace environment are only some of the many skills she teaches. Her career began with wanting to help people with speaking disorders. She avoided work that involved public speaking until she took a job that she wasn’t aware required it.

 

You grew up in west Los Angeles.

 

Well, my father was a professor at UCLA. He taught the classics: Greek and Roman history. And my mother was a stay at home mom, which I so appreciated. Some of my friends would go home to an empty house. My mother was always there finishing up a painting or something. And so we were…we had a humble beginning. I mean, I-I teach dining etiquette now, mainly because I had to learn what fork to use ‘cause we only had one fork. Well, we each had our own, but we didn’t have two forks.

 

And you went to public schools in LA?

 

Yes.

 

Where you had your third-grade experience –

 

Yes.

 

– That, that scarred you until you recovered from that?

 

Yes, yes. Emerson Elementary School. And Mrs. Zimmerman, our teacher, gave us the assignment of doing a book report, and I was an avid reader, so I instantly knew I’m gonna do Charlotte’s Web, and I was excited and I wrote it all out, and I couldn’t wait to get up there and read my book report. And as I began to read, I stumbled on a word and one of the girls in the class, her name was Wendy, was a leader of the group, and she led the group in laughing at me for my mistake, and I became flustered and my glasses slid down my nose and my face got hot and I just choked. And Mrs. Zimmerman said, “Go on!” That was her way of supporting me, and I remember deciding this is not a safe activity: being in front of the room with all eyes on me, being vulnerable, being laughed at. This is something I will avoid. So, for the next two decades, I avoided being in front of the room.

 

How did you get out of presentations for the next twenty years?

 

Oh, by being very cunning. If, if there was a school play, I would be absent the day that they were aud-you know, assigning the, “You be the rock, and you be the lead.” And, and I would volunteer to do extra credit work behind the scenes so that I wouldn’t have to be in front. I got very good –

 

Did anyone notice that – what, what you were doing?

 

I don’t think so. No one called me on it; no one said, “Hey you – “

 

You majored in something called Communication Disorders?

 

Right. I was going to be a speech pathologist. That was my plan, to help people who stutter or who have a lisp, or who nasal and they want to change that, or they’re too breathy.

 

And that comes from what? Because you liked helping people, and you were looking for –

 

It came from taking a class in linguistics that fascinated me. It was a class that told you, taught us how to write not phonetically, but in the symbols and – well symbols that allow us to know how to pronounce a word when we look it up in the dictionary. So, the world ‘length’ has a symbol for the ‘ng’ sound, and I was really good at that. I could listen to the teacher say a word, and I could write it in that language –

 

Diagram it.

 

Yes. Yes, and then I thought, “Well, so where do I get more of this?” And someone said in the communications department. So, I joined that department.

 

And found out there was something called Communication Disorders to major in.

 

Yes, yes. And I was able to work with a child who stuttered. I was able to work with an aphasic woman, a woman who had – very elderly woman who had a stroke who could not find her words, and I was supposed to find an aphasic person to work with for my term paper. So, it took me to really interesting places, but then I took a job that required me to stand up in front of groups.

 

Why did you take a job requiring you to stand up in front of groups?

 

I didn’t know they – I, I didn’t know that I would have to. They, they left out that part. I was working for a company called Actualizations, a self-improvement company in San Francisco. That’s where I was the sales manager, mostly doing one on one sales or very tiny groups. But once a month, I would have to stand in front of 300 people and introduce the seminar leader. So once a month I would have to be on a riser in a fancy ballroom introducing Stewart Emory, was his name, and once a month a minute; it’s just not enough to get over anything. So I would quiver and tremble and shake visibly.

 

How did you get over this?

 

Well I, I did the unthinkable. I said to them, “I want to conquer my fear. I need more speaking opportunities, please.” And they said, “Okay. Once a week, you can lead a preview about this seminar, and we’ll get hotel rooms and we’ll maybe attract 20 people that you can speak to.” And that’s how I got over it.

 

That is so smart, because if something is unnatural to you, it’s hard to feel natural, so you do it until it feels natural.

 

Exactly. And I knew and loved my subject. I loved the seminar. I knew the seminar. I knew exactly what I was talking about, which is key. And once a week was all it – was what it took. We were in four cities on the mainland, and Stewart Emory and Carol Augustus, the owners, said, “Who wants to go to Hawai‘i to see if we can get the seminar going there?” And I said, “I would.” I was the only one who raised a hand. Well, if I had known how hard that was gonna be, I wouldn’t be sitting with you right now. it was not easy, coming from the mainland with a bunch of registration cards expecting people to sign up for something they had never heard of. But I got 80 people in the room.

 

How’d you do that?

 

Oh, ugh, it was so hard. I, I was here for three months, and so I was here – they paid for me to rent, you know, a little apartment, and they paid my paycheck and I got the people together. I had a lot of help. I had some support. And at the end of that three months, I realized I don’t want to leave here. I want to…I, I –

 

Even though it was hard to do your job here?

 

Well I, I had made a number of really good friends and I loved everything about it. So, but I didn’t have the courage to quit, so I went back to San Francisco and I misbehaved.

 

Purposely, I take it?

 

Un – subconsciously. I, I can look back, and I look back at the mistakes I made. In my right mind, I would never have done those things that I did. They were egregious. I got fired.

 

You did get fired?

 

I did. My – Carol called me. She said, “It was clear to me by your behavior at the Women’s Workshop last week that you don’t want to be here anymore. So we are releasing you.”

 

How were you acting at the Women’s Workshop?

 

Oh, I left her out of the group photo. There was a group photo of all the people in the workshop, and I had the photographer take the picture without waiting for Carol Augustus to be in the picture. How passive aggressive is that?

 

But you’re not regretting getting fired?

 

No, I, I cried for about ten minutes, and then I said to my boyfriend, “Doug, let’s go, let’s go to Hawai‘i.” So we packed fourteen boxes of things, came here, no place to live. Uh, someone lent us a spare room for a while. No job, no, no nothing. Fourteen boxes of stuff, and we, both of us has – have been here ever since. That was forty years ago.

 

Pam Chambers secured a job in Hawai‘i that continued to put her in a public speaking role. It eventually led her into creating her own business.

 

I ran the Winner’s Circle Breakfast Club in the eighties, maybe you’ve heard of it? It was a weekly motivational meeting held in various places over that ten-year period, and I was the director of it, and I was the emcee. So, every single week I was in front of a hundred people running the breakfast. It was so much fun, and then one day a man named Howard Wolf said, “We have architects who need to be better at presenting their work. Do you think that you could help them?” And I said, “I don’t know. I, I don’t know a thing about architecture. Let’s give it a try.” So we had one pilot class with twelve people, and I talked to them about body language, voice, words and image, and they loved it. So they hired me for several more classes, and that was the beginning of my career.

 

Did it grow because you got feedback and then you would change and evolve?

 

Yes, I always, I always listen. Sometimes I get feedback that’s painful. Oh my goodness, I, I don’t love critical feedback any more than anyone else does, but sometimes I get it. And I vow, ‘let me not make the same mistake twice.’ I got feedback about handling my lei too many times. A woman in the audience counted the number of times –

 

You’re right. you are judged, aren’t you, when you’re speaking?

 

Oh, yeah. She said, “I thought you might want to know that you handled your lei thirty-seven times.” And that is the moment I decided to say to people, “If you plan to give me a lei, which is lovely, I would prefer to have it when I’m done speaking,” because I know myself. I know that I’ll be handling it.

 

This is a really interesting subject because we know that public speaking is the, is probably the number one fear, right, that people have.

 

Right.

 

And um, and so just, just, um, being there for lessons is probably pretty daunting.

 

Yes, it takes a lot of work for me to fill a class. It is a very hard sell. People will go to Toastmasters because that’s very, very easy, and very safe, and they’re not gonna get the level of feedback that they’re afraid they’re gonna get from me. I have a reputation of being, “She leaves no stone unturned.” And that’s not true. I don’t turn over stones that can’t be fixed.

 

Well it is very personal.

 

It is.

 

Even if it’s not – I mean, what’s personal to one is, you know, no big deal to another.

 

Right, that’s right. One man came into my classroom and he sat down and spread his arms; his tall and long arms. He spread his arms. He took a lot of space, and after about forty-five minutes when enough rapport was there among all of us, I said, “I want to give you some feedback about your body language.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “Just freeze. Freeze just as you are.” I said, “Notice how much space you’re taking. Notice that you’re encroaching on the space of the people to either side of you.” And he pulled his arms in, and he said, “Thank you. No one has told me that before.” And I said, “I know. That’s why we’re here.”

 

Because sometimes people just don’t know.

 

They don’t know.

 

And, and it may be obvious to everybody else.

 

They don’t know what they don’t know. And they’re usually very grateful that someone finally told them about something that they can easily fix. Now the voice, that’s not easy. But pulling your arms in, that’s easy.

 

You know, I thought that most people would know, ‘I, I don’t like to speak. I’m fearful.’ But it turns out that some people don’t know they’re bad speakers, and you have to tell them. And, and you’re considered an expert in this area because you, you have to identify, and give them feedback, and get them to change. I, that’s, I, that’s, that’s pretty sensitive stuff.

 

I could laugh for an hour about this, but I won’t. Uh, yes, there’s one woman who I have to break it to her that she talks like Minnie Mouse. She, or a chipmunk. She has a, has a very nasal, up here way, nasal high voice and she does up talk, and so she sounds like a eight-year-old.

 

What’s up talk? Oh, you end up at the sentence.

 

You end with a – with a question. “So like I was at the mall and I met this really cute guy, and like, I wanted to go up to him.” That’s up talk. And she does that, plus she’s nasal, plus her voice is high, and –

 

And she doesn’t know this?

 

I don’t know if she knows it. I, that, that’s something I need to find out. I need to say to her, “So what kinds of feedback have you gotten about your communication skills?” And if she says, “Well, I’m told that I fidget too much.” Then I’ll say, “Okay we can work on body language. Have you ever had any feedback about your voice?”

 

And she says? What if she says, “No, no, not at all” ?

 

Then if she says no, then I’ll say, “Well I am going to give you feedback about your voice, because your voice is one of your four instruments. We have our body language, our voice, our words, and the way we look, and I’m going to be giving you feedback about all of those.”

 

Are people threatened, or do they say, “Oh good, help me.”

 

Yes, most people love feedback because I’m gentle but clear when I give it, and I never give feedback about something they can’t change, and I tell them the benefit to them of changing this.

 

Can you change a nasally voice?

 

Yes.

 

How do you do that?

 

You – it takes a lot of work, but you can do it. I mean, why are there vocal coaches if we can’t change our voice. There, there wouldn’t be vocal coaches if our voice weren’t changeable.

 

You can know you’re not doing well, but you don’t know how to change it.

 

Right. Well, luckily for me, I’ve been in business helping people who want to be helped for thirty four years, and it’s really astonishing because Hawai‘i is, is a place where we’re kind of not supposed to stand out a lot, but those who want to get somewhere in their career, if they realize that there are things that they’re doing in their communication that are holding them back, they want to know what that is and they want to move it out of the way. Resistant people are defensive people, so if people are defensive, they’re most likely to be resistant to any new idea that comes their way about what they could be doing different. So, so resistant people…I don’t get a lot of those in my public classes because usually those are people who chose to be there.

 

It is really, um, I mean, it seems like in most jobs you would have to – even if it’s to ask for a raise, you need to, you know – any, any…it could be a small, seemingly small human interaction with just another person, but it’s still a presentation skill.

 

Yeah, it is.

 

And you still have to tell a story, and, and, and uh, and be able to present.

 

Right. and I tell people if you’re shy and you’re like the way I was, if you don’t want to speak out, at every single meeting, do three things: ask a question, make a suggestion, and offer your opinion. You don’t have to be an expert to do any of those things, but slowly but surely you will be perceived as a participant, not a wallflower. So, do those three things and then be silent if you want, and if you do those everywhere you go, you’re gonna gain confidence. You’ll, you’ll – you won’t mind the sound of your own voice entering.

 

What’s the, the most, uh, startling transformation you’ve been part of?

 

Startling, what a great word. Okay, the one that comes to mind was a woman who was, still is, the CEO of her own company, and she looked like she ran a plant nursery. That’s what she looked like, and when it came time – one of my sessions is about image only, session two. I always ask them, “On a scale of one to ten, how much feedback do you want?” And I tell them what a five would sound like, and I tell them what a ten would sound like, and everyone chooses the ten.

 

They want to hear it all.

 

They want it, ‘cause they realize the ten isn’t unsafe, it’s more complete. So I said to her, “If I had to guess what profession you’re in, I would say you either work at a preschool or you work at a nursery. Maybe the nursery in Kailua.” And she said, “Really? Why?” And I said, “You don’t look like a CEO.”

 

So did you, did you give her styling tips?

 

Yes. She – actually, she asked me to take her shopping, and, and I did. I recommended a hair stylist to her. Here’s the sad part: her husband didn’t like it.

 

Her hair or her new image?

 

Her whole new beautiful, powerful, leader-like image. He said, “I thought you were fine the way you were.” And he was a chauvinistic, sexist, old-fashioned guy that didn’t want a woman who turned heads.

 

What’d she do?

 

She stayed good. And they’re still married.

 

Very good.

 

Yeah.

 

What about a, a man’s transformation?

 

A man – there was a man, also a CEO dressed very poorly: shabby, sloppy, pants too long, unshined shoes. Just, just a wreck. And his HR person, it was, said, “I’d like you to clean up your image, and there’s someone in town who can help you.” And we met, and I said, “I want to take you shopping.” And, oh, it was so much fun because he was so open. I said, “Wear – get this pink shirt. This pink shirt. Not fuchsia, the pale Ralph Lauren pink shirt. Women love it. Get this shirt. Here’s the tie to go with it. Get these pants.” And he put them on in the dressing room and he stood taller and he was so proud of himself, and he, he…those changes stayed. He didn’t go sliding back.

 

Pam Chambers of Honolulu conducts workplace training, holds her own classes, does individual coaching, and writes books on self-improvement. She’s operated her own business for more than three decades and has always done everything herself.

 

You prefer to be solo?

 

Yeah, I really like it. I really like being single and solo and making my own decisions. I am considered – I’m a polite, very polite person, but I don’t want to have to compromise on how I live my life. I think I’ve witnessed many, many people not being able to do what they want because their boss wouldn’t let them. For example, there is someone who wants to come to my class but his boss won’t let him. And I don’t want to have a life like that, so I don’t have a paycheck, I don’t have a pension, but I have freedom. And I just, I value it more than anything else.

 

That is a hard way to live, though. I mean, it, it really takes enormous, uh, uh, I mean you’re always thinking…you, you not only have to plan your content, but you’ve got to get your own business, take care of your own finances.

 

Oh, I know. I have to do my marketing. I have to do my own social media. I have to make my own nametags. I mean, I could probably hire someone to help me, but it would take more time to train them to – than to do it myself. So yes, I do do it all.

 

Really, what you do is a lot because you’re doing different subjects and you’re doing very different groupings.

 

Yeah.

 

And they come to you different ways.

 

Yes. Yes. I love it.

 

May, maybe that’s why you like being solo because you have so much interaction and stimulation in your, in your job.

 

That’s true. I love living alone. I, I love my alone time and I give myself a lot of it. A lot of it, and I, I’m sure it’s because of all that I put out.

 

Right, because you’re…essentially, you’re teaching people how to be more social.

 

More social, more considerate, more aware of others. I teach them don’t be walking down the sidewalk and stop smack in the middle of the sidewalk. Do you think that you’re the only one on the street? Or I’ll say, “Do – are you aware that you just interrupted her when she was trying to give you helpful feedback?” There’s no – nothing that I won’t say if it can be changed.

 

So, I do think that comes from a place of abundance because you’re, you know, you’ll share it, but on the other hand, it’s, it’s expertise that you, you know, that you take a lifetime to build up to get.

 

I – It took me thirty-four years to know what I know now. So, so if you think I’m charging too much for an hour, you’re not paying me for that hour; you’re paying me for all the blood, sweat, and tears I suffered learning how to do this.

 

You like to fly solo and, and you’ve, you built this incredible business, um, and, and basically, you’ve done it a long time so you could retire –

 

I could.

 

But you, but you keep working. What is it that – what is it that’s special to you about Hawai‘i?

 

Oh, so many things, but mainly the diversity: the languages that we hear, the different cultures, the different values. I love it! And, and when I have someone in my class who is fretting because she has an accent, I say, “No, I am not helping you get rid of that accent. We like it. We like to hear something that’s different.” The weather, except it’s been too hot lately. The, the plumerias; the, the weather, the seasons that we have…the roots I have here, the people I know. I know thousands of people, and, and I feel like I belong here. And you’re right, I could retire, but I don’t want to. I want to do what I’m doing.

 

Mahalo to Pam Chambers of Kaka’ako, Honolulu for sharing your stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

You’re known for wearing hats. I wonder, I mean, and all kinds of hats for lots of variety, which is not common in Hawaii nei, so tell me about that.

 

Well, I have a – I sent your staff a picture of me at the age of three wearing a beret. Somehow my mom, or maybe my grandmother, put that beret on me, and I always liked that picture. But I didn’t wear hats my whole life. I started wearing hats probably about twenty years ago, and I don’t…I think, oh I, I do know why: because I was really into vintage at that time. I still am. And I bought vintage hats, and I liked wearing them because they got so many comments. “Oh, your vintage hat. I always wonder what hat you’re gonna wear.” Well, I got out of the vintage stage, but I got in the habit of wanting something on my head, so if it’s not a hat, it might be a scarf. If it’s not a scarf, it might be a bandana. There needs – I need something on my head.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit pbshawaii.org.

 

 

 

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