Expert Spotlight: Kari Knutson

Kari Knutson and 3 smiling participants holding little signs that say motivation

Kari Knutson, a fellow Chai lover and anti-bullying crusader, has a dynamic, compassionate, and cheerful style that is contagious and ever-present in all interactions with her. An expert on interpersonal skills and teaching people how to bridge cultural and communication divides, Kari currently runs the schoolwide anti-bully program at Crown Pointe Academy in Westminster where she also works as a counselor and teaches middle school character education. She also serves as the anti-bully consultant to the City of Westminster where she gives presentations to parents, conducts workshops with staff, and serves as the intervention specialist.

I asked Kari if she would like to answer some of our interview questions, and not only did she offer to participate, she delightfully answered each and every one!

What's your favorite topic(s) to present on? Why?

Emotional Intelligence is my favorite topic because it is so intriguing, motivating, and fun.  Many people know the term Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) but don't really understand what it means or how they could use it to benefit them.  This topic is incredibly useful both personally and professionally. The presentation is full of interesting insights into the human psyche and behavior and has lots of strategies for how to improve and leverage your EQ in a variety of situations.  I love how people respond to the presentation; there is always lots of laughter. 

Three words that describe your presentation style:

Engaging, fun, authentic 

What are your favorite groups of people to work with?

I love all kinds of people and it's funny that sometimes the groups that start out the hardest (it is mandatory that they be there and they are not happy) end up being the most fun.  

My favorite groups are people that are interested in the information for their jobs but are willing to take it a step further and look at their personal lives.

What's the most unusual location (or circumstances) you've presented in?

I was at maintenance facility at an electric company and I went to use the restroom located in a small room in the back of the training room.  While I was there I could hear someone start to introduce me.  There was no graceful way to make an entrance so I just burst out of the bathroom when it was time to speak and made my grand entrance.  Some of the feedback from that presentation was that it "was the best entrance ever!"  I would agree.

What are some things that surprise you or inspire you about your interactions with clients/participants?

Sometimes the people I think are the least impacted (because of their body language or energy) come up and tell me how impactful the presentation was and that they loved it!

I love to see people truly respond to something that touches their heart.  It's not uncommon that someone will tear up and I love that they feel safe to do that.

I love to see the human element unfold in a training.  This means that despite al the societal trappings that make us seem different - our job titles, our educational backgrounds, our interests, etc. - that people are just people in the end. We are all so human and our struggles, our hopes, and the things that inspire us may take different forms but we all struggle, and hope, and want to be inspired.  I've given my EQ talk to a huge variety of organizations and I am struck by how everyone can relate. 

When people want to stay after a presentation and share a handshake, a hug, or a story, I just light up! I love making a personal connection.

Tell us about a presentation experience that went wrong:

I was at a big conference speaking to 150 people in an enclosed room with no natural light.  About 5 minutes into my presentation the power went out at the conference center.  I had no screen, no computer, no nothing.  At first I was panicked about what to do.  I was just going to stop and tell everyone to seek light but then something shifted in me and I decided to continue.  I told people that if they stayed it would be the best presentation they had never seen.  Someone passed me a phone with a light on it.  I gave the rest of the 2-hour talk by the light of the flashlight on the phone.  It turned out to be one of the best presentations I have ever given.  It taught me a lot about what I thought I needed to be a successful speaker and what it really means to be a successful speaker.

What are your most popular presentation topics?

Emotional Intelligence, Beyond Bullying, Cultural Competency, and Demystifying Deafness

Why did you become a speaker/trainer?

When I found out there was a job where I could incorporate counseling, teaching, improv and theatrics, I jumped at it.  I love all of those things and I love to be connecting to people...all kinds of people. 

What was your first paid speaking gig?

Cafe Connections at Park Hill United Methodist Church.  I spoke about Bullying for 45 minutes.  About 15 people showed up.  I was nervous and elated at the same time.

Are you involved in any community projects/issues?

I am involved in the Deaf community as an ally and am very passionate about communication access for Deaf and hard of hearing people.

Do you have any pets? Kids? Unusual hobbies?

I have two cats - Trex and Molly Brown.

I have two daughters who keep me busy and so happy, and a wonderful husband.

I do something called shadow interpreting.  Shadow interpreting is different from platform interpreting because when you shadow you are on the stage with an actor interpreting everything they say into American Sign Language and following along with their staging, it is like you are their shadow.  If they jump, you jump, etc.

Do you have a favorite quote? What/why?

Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

I have loved this quote ever since high school and I still have it up on my wall. It fits me and it embodies the way I want to live my life - all the parts of my life with my family, my friends, with my passions and interests, with my gifts.

Tell us a recent book you've read and would recommend:

"The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin.  Fascinating, well-written, can't-stop-reading kind of novel.  Complex characters intertwined in a unique but at the same time very human story of love, loss and of course literature. 

"Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline.  Amazing TRUE story about a part of American history I never knew about.  Touching, insightful, lovely.

What are you most grateful for in life?

The love of my husband and our two daughters.  I am lucky to be married to someone who truly gets me, loves all of me, supports my dreams, and keeps on making my heart leap.  I've known him for 25 years and I'm still smitten.

What's one thing on your "bucket list" you hope to do in the next year?

Travel internationally with my children.  I would love to give them the thrilling experience that only international travel can provide.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

Enjoying every minute with my friends and family, teaching my then 16-year-old daughter how to drive and marveling at the time, happily pursuing my dreams, and planning our next adventure as a family.

Standard Starbucks order:

Much to everyone's disbelief, I don't drink coffee; I love the smell but can't stand the taste. I do love chai tea - hot, cold, small, medium, large, vente, etc.  Bring on the chai.