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Jo Farrell strides into her conference room with its crystal chandelier, sheer pink curtains, burn-siding paneling and framed papal blessings, looks around and asks, "So what's with the beard? Did you grow it to make yourself look older?"

The 32-year-old engineer looks perplexed, wondering if he should respond. For now, he chooses silence.

Welcome to Day One of Farrell's three-day Master Communication Seminar, taught in the suburban Littleton offices of The Farrell Group, her corporate communications and imaging company since 1994.

Her clientele reads like the Who's Who of Colorado politics, business, and legal circles -- everyone from governors and DAs to leaders of corporate dynamos -- Disney, US West. Vail Associates, Coors. Janus Capital, United Airlines, Ball Aerospace, Hewlett-Packard, Texaco, Cyprus Amax -- to name a few.

Even successful athletes such as former Denver Nugget Alex English and three-time Super Bowl champion David Stalls tackle Farrell's class. English reported back. "Her personal touch is what drew out my best from where it was buried."

It's a personal touch tat at first finds students quaking through the please-don't-call-on-me syndrome. Later it finds them revealing interesting pieces of themselves and thanking Farrell for her exhaustive journey toward effective communication.

"This class isn't just about speechmaking, but about communication. We all need to communicate. Yet, the communication skills of corporate America are bankrupt," explained the energetic Farrell, 68. "I help put the bubble and the sparkle and the refinement into what people say."

Her speechmaking techniques are remarkably basic -- drain the stress from your body, put your first words on the tip of your tongue, smile at two people in the audience while approaching the microphone, and stand in a relaxed position.

"The audience is with you; they want you to succeed, to receive this gift you are giving them." Farrell said. "It's 7% what you say and 93% the way you say it, and 55% of that is what you look like physically -- your facial and body expressions."

Class members learn much about themselves -- how to overcome fear of public speaking, dress and shake hands, think on your feet, deal with blunders, punch up words. They learn a lot about Farrell, too, as she details her colorful 26-year career.

"My background is the school of hard knocks," said Farrell, whose modeling and talent agency climbed to the top of the national entertainment scene following a tragedy that changed her life forever.

New Year's Eve 1967: Farrell's husband, psychiatrist Dr. Mark Farrell, flew solo across the Rockies to treat a patient on the Western Slope. On his return, he apparently suffered a heart attack and crashed. His body was found eight months later.

"When they found his body, it was like he died all over again," recalled Farrell of the tragedy that shattered her dream life as a size-6 model, mother of four, and wife of 13 years.

The young widow also faced a meandering trip through bankruptcy court over the debt-ridden

Columbine Airport she and her husband had opened in the southeast metro area.

"I had not one dime in the bank and the whole time they were looking for his body, the meter on the bankruptcy kept running," said Farrell. "All the insurance money got sucked away."

Admittedly "scared out of her wits," Farrell set out to find a job, rejecting offers from department stores and accepting an offer from Arapahoe Community College to create a fashion-merchandising department. She also founded J.F Talent, teaching school by day and building her talent agency by night.

By the 1980s, the "red-headed barracuda," as she had come to be known, was a model of success -- dinners in New York with Clint Eastwood, casting talent in Bruce Willis films, and putting Colorado on the filmmaking industry map.

"Because I was in the talent business, we dealt with every kind of business. We sold entertainers, mimes, speakers, voiceovers. We did movies and put on fashion shows," said Farrell.

So it was only natural that in 1994 Farrell turned J.F Images over to her daughter Kristine, and launched her seminar business with her daughter, Kathleen. J.F Images has since merged with Maximum Talent Agency.

"We never advertise, getting most of our clients through word of mouth," said Farrell. "I've had people come through the course up to four times because it's always different -- there are different people each time."

Farrell limits class size to eight, charging $2,000 for three days, including her specialty salads for lunch, a videotape to take home, and her vibrant presentations, which border on psychology as much as speaker training.

"It's a very expensive course but worth every penny of it," said John Hickenlooper, founder of the Wynkoop Brewing Co. "I've always been a bit of a harm, but she made me realize how important public speaking is in all aspects of life."

Farrell emphasizes telling stories, never reading from notes, and speaking in lay terms. She tells a vivid story about teaching 18 nuclear engineers in California to give convincing talks on nuclear safety. How? She got them to talk about their own families.

"Do you think these guys would let their own babies and families live there if it was dangerous?" Farrell asks.

"Since I have taken her class and given speeches I have never had so much fun in my life," said auto sales baron Mike Shaw. "It's fun and gives you real insight into your audience."

Tom Clark, president and CEO of the Jefferson Economic Council, has sent staff to Farrell's seminar from the Denver and Boulder chambers of commerce, where he previously worked.

"They all go in with trepidation but everybody comes back a better speaker," said Clark, who averages 100 speeches a year. "I do a lot of technical stuff, and I'm now able to give these speeches of up to 45 minutes, even without notes, while letting people see my fun side."

Day 3 of Farrell's seminar brings out the video camera as students give speeches, are peppered with more compliments than criticism, and, as Farrell puts it, "walk out to happier lives."

The bearded 32-year-old engineer is clean-shaven, and wearing contacts and a natty suit. Farrell beams.

"The joy is seeing that they have it," she said. "As long as my mouth works, I don't care if I'm on a walker crawling into this class, I'll be teaching it. I'm never going to quit."
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Date:Jun 1, 2000
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