Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

Coaching others on how to make positive changes

By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer

When Pam Chambers walks into a room, people notice. On this particular day, for a luncheon presentation about business etiquette to the Building Owners and Managers Association Hawaii, she wears black pants and a papaya-colored silk jacket that highlights her stylishly short auburn hair. Black leather boots and trim legs carry her purposefully to greet people as they arrive. An aura of vivacity radiates from her, making her look a decade younger than her 50 years, and giving the sense that she is meant to be no place else but here. Her confidence is so apparent that few might believe she was self-conscious and shy until the age of 27.

For the past 16 years, Chambers has coached thousands of people on presenting themselves in public. She offers 11 seminars.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

An acquaintance approaches and says, "I saw you on television last night." Chambers rolls her eyes and grimaces. "Oh, it was-" She stops herself, smiles and says, "Thank you." Later, she confides to a reporter: "I looked hideous."

In her presentation classes, "Just say thank you" is a ritualized response that she adopted from her sons’ karate dojo, who taught his pupils to say thank you after getting knocked down. But she admitted that even she has to catch herself at times. "When people get input, whether it’s a compliment or a criticism, their first knee-jerk reaction is to deflect the feedback," she said. "It could be that the feedback might have made a valuable difference." Her advice: Accept the comments so you can sift through them later and determine their worth.

For the past 16 years, Chambers has coached thousands of people on presenting themselves in public. She offers 11 seminars. Some examples are "Seven ways that women throw their power away," "A room full of strangers: 17 networking tips," "How to give a presentation tomorrow and sleep well tonight" and "What is your body language saying?" She shows up. She is put together. She engages the crowd.

But it wasn’t always that way.

"When we were teens, she was almost meek," said Pam’s sister, Julie Chambers, 49, an acupuncturist in Santa Monica, Calif. In time, Julie observed that as Pam’s self-assertion grew, her need to please everyone subsided. "Now, wherever Pam is, there’s always something going on. She’s a catalyst for things to happen among people, interactions that maybe wouldn’t happen unless she were there."

Acting as a catalyst demands honesty — for which Pam is famous. But wielding diplomacy with that authenticity, and sounding helpful rather than critical, are her talents. "I no longer believe telling the whole truth and being totally honest is necessarily helpful," she said. "Now I try to tell the truth as I see it, if telling it could be constructive and not destructive."

In the middle of a conversation at the lunch table before her speech, her head tilts. "I hear cell phones ringing," she says. To Chambers, cell phones chirping at any presentation is a breach of etiquette. Others at the table take note. Every cell phone is quickly turned off.

The daughter of a still-teaching University of California, Los Angeles classics professor and an artist, stay-at-home mother who died three years ago, Chambers was born in England, where her father was studying as a Rhodes scholar. After growing up in west Los Angeles with her younger sister and brother, she earned her bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State in English and communications disorders, both of which she believes have served her well in her current profession. San Francisco remained her home for 13 years during college and the beginnings of a master’s program that she thought would lead to a career in speech pathology — until she took a seminar called "Actualizations."

This self-improvement program "taught people to recognize the truth about the direction their lives were meant to take," said Chambers, "which is what it did for me." It was a turning point. At 27, she had found her place in the world, and her self-confidence began to blossom.

Her enthusiasm for Actualizations led to a job. "And unbeknownst to me," said Chambers, "I was expected to stand up in front of groups (up to 300 people) and sell the seminar." This proved agonizing. "I literally would shake like a leaf before any presentations. I lost sleep, punished myself afterward. So I decided that I needed to overcome this fear." With much effort, she did, and in the process, prevailed over her shyness as well.

"After each brief appearance on stage introducing a workshop leader, I quivered in the back of the room and analyzed my feelings," she said. But as her opportunities to speak became more frequent, she learned to get "into a groove" with the audience, watching what worked and what didn’t.

Actualizations sent Chambers to Honolulu on a business trip to start seminars here. "It didn’t take," she said. "But I did." Four months later, she moved to Hawaii permanently. That was 21 years ago.

For nine years she served as director and master of ceremonies for the Winners’ Circle Breakfast Club, a seminar open to the public on Oahu each week. In 1985 her then-husband, Doug Toomey, suggested that she groom others to share her role as emcee. "What’s next?" participants asked when the four-week training session ended. Jokingly, she replied, "We could do it again!" To her amazement, half the people did, in fact, return.

"That’s when I realized I had a niche," she said.

From there, people began asking if she could do something similar for their staff, or coach them on a talk they were giving, or put together handouts in a booklet. "I’m not much of a marketer," said Chambers. "Everything I’ve developed came from someone’s appetite, someone’s idea."

This marketing strategy continues; people who hire Chambers tend to invite her back repeatedly. Warren Haruki, president of Verizon Hawaii since 1992, guessed that Chambers has conducted seminars for his company "maybe 50 times." Said Haruki: "In all these situations, she’s done her homework and adapted the class to suit the needs of our employees. The fact that we’ve used her for so many different types of trainings is a real testament to how effective she is."

Twice divorced and the mother of two sons,Tim, 18, a senior at Hilo High School, and Michael,19, a rapper and skater who works at Moku Hawaii, Chambers relishes life on her own. "Every day is different," she said. After waking at 6 a.m. to walk two miles with ankle weights from her Niu Valley home, her day might involve any number of tasks related to seminar preparation or private coaching, which can range from a "closet consultation," where she will "literally go through each item hanging in the closet" to make sure it matches the image the client wants to convey, to crafting a presentation the person is giving.

An unvarying part of her routine is a daily respite when she does absolutely nothing. "I give myself a lot of daydream time," she said. "Contrary to what people might think of me because of my energy level, I don’t feel it’s necessary o fill every single minute with activity."

When she’s not daydreaming or reading the classics, Chambers spends her free time crafting; her home is filled with vintage collectibles, decorative florals and her own artwork.

For more information

To reach Pam Chambers to find out about seminars, private sessions, books, videos and tapes, check her Web site at

In front of the crowd, the subject shifts from exchanging business cards to shaking hands. "Everyone shake hands with the person next to you," she instructs. "Match the pressure. Don’t offer just the fingers; go all the way. It shows equality, confidence and sincerity.

"No," she tells someone, "that’s not all the way."

Her counsel is direct. "I’m criticized sometimes for my clarity," she said. "I think people would like to be clear and know where their boundaries are, and what’s OK with them, and what isn’t. I’m good at that, which I’m told can be intimidating."

Delorese Gregoire, founding director of Winners’ Camp for teenagers, wasn’t sent to Chambers’ seminar by management, but she was a reluctant participant.

Initially, Gregoire had wanted to hire Chambers to do the speaking. "I had a great vision, but I didn’t know how to express myself," said Gregoire. "(Pam) is successful, but she doesn’t hoard her success. She empowers others."

Gregoire should know. With 15 years, 8,000 graduates, and the fear of public speaking behind her, she has addressed a group of 3,000 students at Aloha Stadium since Chambers helped her reach her potential.

Gregoire embodies the element that attracted Chambers to the seminar business in the first place: "The process of individual transformation just excited me more than anything else," said Chambers. "And it still does. When someone takes my advice, and they come in and they’re walking differently, and their voice is a little more audible, that’s just so thrilling."

She laughs, illuminating her entire face. "I like to have impact. I like to make a splash. But none of that would mean anything to me if I didn’t feel like I was making a difference."


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