Former leading lady Shawn Judge has charisma, passion and candor to spare. All that has served her well as she made the leap from the Guthrie stage to the corporate world, where she coaches Fortune 500 executive on the art of public speaking.
“Actor training teaches you to define what you want, develop a plan to get it and to stay flexible,” she said. “Sometimes something doesn’t work, and you feel out the audience and try something else. Sometimes you have to adjust the message or the delivery, or the physical presentation. Clear, effective communication is the key to everything in this world.”
A native New Yorker, Judge, 57, did not picture herself as an actor while growing up. “I knew I wanted to be Diana Ross,” she said. “But she filled that spot, so I had to try something else.”
She thought about becoming a mathematician but also liked communication. She studied acting at the State University of New York at Purchase, then moved to the Twin Cities in 1991 to be one of the stars of “The Screens,” director JoAnne Akalaitis’ legendary five-hour epic that also brought Joe Haj, now the Guthrie’s artistic director, to town for the first time. (Judge met her husband, veteran stage star Steve Yoakam, in that production.)
Judge had many high-profile roles at the Guthrie — in such plays as “The Winter’s Tale,” “Racing Demon” and “Black No More” — and at regional companies across the country. She decided to leave the dramatic stage in 1999 not because she lacked for work but because she wanted to use her skill set and passions, which include math and mysteries, to help others. She often witnessed businesspeople struggling at the podium.
“I’m a creative problem solver, and it’s in everything I do, whether it’s acting, working with clients, designing jewelry or solving math problems,” she said. Thus was born her company, the Speaker’s Edge, which helps executives “feel confident about standing in front of a crowd.”
“I provide presentation and communication skills training so that it’s aligned with an organization’s strategic plan, mission and vision,” she said. “That sounds a little dry, but it’s anything but. I help my people enjoy the spotlight.”
Judge’s highly successful work has allowed her and her family to have choices about work and travel, another of her passions. Her family also has been collecting art.
“To be able to support artists is one of the most gratifying things we do,” she said. □