An Interview with Matz Skoog

Updated: Oct 21, 2018



This week's interview is with Matz Skoog - High Performance Coach. Following a successful career as a ballet dancer and then in leadership roles within the dance world, Matz is now taking his unique perspective and providing coaching - high performance coaching.

In the interview, Matz and I talk about his career, how we are all performing - particularly when there are changes taking place in our lives and his tips on finding clients.



Summary Transcript of Matz's Interview

A summarised transcript of the interview is below. This is not a word for word transcription. Approximate timings of each topic are in brackets after the headings.

What do you do? (00:45)

I come from a performing arts background from dancing particularly and I've always been interested in Leadership Development and in coaching. Especially since I myself, have been in leadership positions in my career. I've understood that having coaching support is tremendously important and what it can add when you're facing challenges and of course coming from the performing arts background and that adds a perspective that I now can apply into my coaching, which is I think a little bit unusual perhaps in our business.

Who do you work with? (02:02)

I do have a lot of clients from that world [dance], but I also have other clients that come from other walks of life. And to be honest with you, I find that in a way more interesting and more challenging to work with people that are not from the theatre partly because I find myself when, especially if I work with a dancer, which is my own background, I find myself wanting to become an advisor and the teacher rather than a coach. And of course, when I work with people that come from a completely different professional background it becomes much more of a pure coaching relationship, which is very satisfying.

Do you find that people have the same challenges no matter their environment? (03:20)

I think the challenges are remarkably similar wherever you come from and in whatever profession you're in.

It has often to do with personal presentation, personal performance and stepping forward and a sense of confidence. Stage anxiety, performance anxiety and lack of confidence is very common amongst performers. You would have thought that someone who walks out on stage in front of 2,000 people is tremendously confident but they are not necessarily that confident.

So confidence is something that seems to, to go across the board - confidence, presentation and just stepping up to the mark.

Facing change is similar to facing a performance (04:34)

Anyone who's facing changes is also in a sense facing a performance because it's also putting yourself out there. You are entering into the unknown just as you do when you present yourself in front of an audience.

You're taking a risk.

You're taking a chance.

You're stepping into an environment which is unfamiliar, even the small change is challenging and uncomfortable and even if it's good change, it's still uncomfortable because it involves putting yourself forward, stepping up and stepping forward.

Are there any quick tips on how to improve your presentation? (06:08)

There are some very simple little tricks or skills that you can learn that will immediately enhance your presentation. Things about:

  • posture

  • eye contact

  • a sense of moving your arms

  • your hand gestures as you're speaking to a group of people

They are little things that will enhance and improve your show and perhaps help you communicate better, but also make it more enjoyable for an audience too. And more easy to take on board the message that you've communicated.

Do we sometimes give the wrong message without realising it? (07:26)

Indeed. It might be, for instance, if you're walking up to a lectern. There's a way approaching the podium that will immediately communicate a sense of certainty, a sense of authority. If you're shuffling forward with a hunched back and staring into the floor and and looking at your notes, then you're not going to communicate a sense of confidence to your audience.

Simple things like how are you going to approach the podium from your position in the room where you were previously can impact the message you give.

O course, we communicate continuously with people around us and to some degree, this communication is outside of our control. But if you're at least aware of those aspects of your communication that you can control, such as your posture and your way of moving and the tonality of your voice and so on, at least those things that you can control, the you have a much better chance of coming across better.

How would you describe your coaching? (09:47)

Well the term high performance has come, I have taken that as my field because I come from a high performance background. Having been a ballet dancer and performed at a very high level, I understand performing under pressure and being ready when the curtain goes up, so to speak. I have felt that those insights I have gained can be applied in any sort of circumstance.

Life is a like a performance

It's not only about presenting yourself in front of the group of people at public speaking, it's also performing for yourself. Perhaps you have ambitions that you want to realize and goals in life you want to achieve. That's also, in a sense, a performance. So the term high performance as I apply it has quite a broad application. So it's not just like I'm coaching people into being fabulous and stepping up. Of course I'd like to do that too! It's also about coaching people with their own personal challenges in life and just feeling more comfortable about themselves in times of change or helping with planning and so on. So there is a rather broad application of what I do,

So it's people who want to make a change? (11:29)

That's right.

The high performance aspect coming from performing arts and when you start looking at people's issues through that paradigm, that's when I feel that I can provide something which perhaps might be different and perhaps lend a different kind of facility to someone that they may otherwise not have been aware of.

The high performance catch phrase as it were, is to reflect both my background and what I can contribute from there and also the kind of people I'd like to work with. I like to work with intelligent, clever, successful, motivated people that are already high performers. It also means that I want to work with you because you are a high performer.

What is your aim? (13:01)

To take people from good to great.

Do you find your clients have any challenges around productivity and planning? (13:33)

I think that's almost always an element of coaching, planning, because I think we all, to be honest, suffer from a degree of procrastination, you know, we all have a tendency to give in to that. So planning/project management is a natural part of the coaching process. You're looking at creating smart goals and that sort of thing and yeah, you could say that this project planning is as simple as that sometimes, But yeah, it's always part of coaching. I have found.

How do you ensure you aren't procrastinating and remain productive? (15:02)

Well, I guess on a personal level I face the same challenges as everybody in that respect. I have to sometimes knuckle down, make my to-do lists and look at the priorities and decide what I should be doing now and what I should be doing tomorrow.

So on a personal level, I use the same tools and the same techniques and tricks that I then try to communicate to the people I work with.

Most of all, I have found when it comes to planning or change, there is basically only three things that you need:

  1. you need to know what you want

  2. you need to know what you need to do to get what you want

  3. you need to do what you know you need to do in number two

So it's knowing what you want, knowing how to get that and then to do it. Those are basically the three elements that we come up against all the time.

It sounds terribly simplistic, but I think it probably is that simple. But then as all great things in life, simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve. Like all great art is basically very, very simple. We look at it highly, infinitely deep, but basically very simple when we see some of the great art works of history.

Change is Creativity (17:02) There's another aspect of the artistic creative process which is relevant to coaching and why I think coming from the arts background helps me as a coach because the artistic creative process is basically dealing with change, but also it's dealing with the unknown, it's entering into the unknown, the unfamiliar, creating that which has never been created before because that's one of the marks of great art is that it is something that no one thought of before. And of course that's the fundamental object of coaching.

So again, there is that connection between the two, which I find fascinating and which I've, one of the reasons why I, why I really love what I'm doing. Because I still feel, as a coach, I'm still in a creative environment. I'm enabling people to enter into the unknown, to do the new, the different. Something which they've never done before. And that is of course the artistic, fundamentally the artistic creative process.

Is a ballet dancer enacting someone else's creativity? (18:31)

Up to a point - you're absolutely right. But there is a creative artist and then there's the interpretive artist. So what you're describing is an interpretive artist, someone who is interpreting the work of someone else. And, and of course you're right as, as a member of the corps de ballet, yes, you are interpreting the work as you've been instructed to do, but even within that interpretation, there is an element of creation that, that you contribute. So even at that level, even at sort of a simple corps de ballet level, there is an element of creation, creativity that is required from you, so you're not in that position necessarily excluded from creativity and being part of the process.

Have you found that your creativity or your approaches have shifted as your career progressed? (20:24)

My own path to my career and through life was it starting as an eight year old in full time training to learn to dance and to learn a profession because I was in a very old fashioned school where you were put there to learn the job, not just because it was an afternoon activity. I was in full time training from when I was eight years old until I was 18.

Then I was within the profession. Actually at some point in my mid teens, they started to pay me for what I was doing. I progressed through the corps de ballet to soloists positions to principal positions and then into leadership positions and artistic director and so on. And most of that, it was just sort of, you bumbled on from one, one area to the next.

I must say, had I had access or had even personal coaching been even invented at that time, I'm sure I would have, could have possibly had a more productive. And probably certainly a more enjoyable time because whilst a lot of my performance career was very successful I'm very pleased to say. Some of it was quite tough and hard work and I think had had that I had access to personal coaching, uh, in the sense of life coaching, or performance coaching.

When I transitioned from, from my dancing career into my teaching and leadership career, I think I would have been able to progress much quicker and in a much more comfortable and in a happy environment. I mean it worked out very well as it were, but at the same time, and that's one of the reasons why I looked into coaching myself, when I was just standing at the top of my, of my field I suppose as artistic director of a national ballet company, English National Ballet at the time. I thought, wow, here I am, I'm kind of on top of the mountain here. How can I use this now in order to help other people too that are going to come up to the same career path which I have had. So that's when I came into contact with coaching in the first place or when I became aware of coaching because up until that point I didn't even know it existed.

Are you trying to encourage the dance industry to recognise the benefits of life coaching? (23:38)

It is definitely something which I'm trying to encourage my personal network of professional contacts and colleagues to see that they can actually add to what they do today.

Some of the performing arts, I can't speak for all the various art forms, but certainly in dance, it is still in some degrees, a little bit old fashioned and still very hierarchical. So the idea of coaching, which is starting to enter in to the profession, can be a transition when, for instance, a dancer goes from an active dancing career. Most dancers finish early to mid thirties. They finished with their dancing career because it's an athletic activity. A lot of dancers, I think, seek coaching from that point onwards. Now I believe that if you could provide coaching from the beginning of a dancing career, even then you would have coming towards the end, you would have a much more prepared person.

So that's one of the things that I'm trying to introduce into the ballet world, particularly ballet, more so than the contemporary dance world. That insight and understanding that coaching is something we can use for personal and professional developments throughout a career. It's not just at one point in your life you need it, you can have it throughout your working life. So that's within the performing arts.

But also I think that the same can be said in any professional sort of circumstances. You can actually provide coaching throughout anyone's career path. You have a chance, better chances of success, better chances of personal and professional satisfaction and better chances of a happy retirement when that day comes.

That's why I didn't have a plan until I started with coaching and now then it became a plan. So here I am finally, aged 60, I've got a plan!

Artists are Entrepreneurs (28:41)

That's right when I was a dancer or an artistic director [I was employed], but essentially I suppose in the performing arts you're always working for yourself to some extent. So on and off throughout my entire career, I've always also worked freelance.

I think that's the other thing that you bring coming from the performing arts background is that artists, successful artists, are generally quite entrepreneurial because it's just not enough to be good at your craft. There was a time in the past when that was sufficient. You were good at your craft and you could live a happy life doing your job.

Today, especially with society as it is, even if you're the best at what you're doing, you also have to be an entrepreneur and sell yourself and continue with your marketing. That's something which artists do all the time without realizing it, that they actually being entrepreneur, they think they're just doing their job as artists, but actually they're being entrepreneurs.

What guidance or tips do you have for those in business? (30:57)

Well there is the analogy of ']the curtain must go up on the first night'.

You can look at any arts project, theatre project and you can bet your bottom dollar that on the first night the curtain will go up. There might have been chaos up until that moment, but the curtain will go up because there is a systematic or sometimes chaotic, systematic chaos. It can be chaos, but there is always, you know, you're always arrive at your destination.

I find that sometimes in business it is not always necessarily the case because there isn't that sense of performance and that there is an audience out there waiting for you. One of the fundamental differences between the arts and business is that in business, the ultimate objective of business is profitability, is profit, and of course the ultimate objective in the arts is the product. Of course it has to be a profitable product, but the object, the object of any artistic endeavor is, is the actual product before profit.

So there are those things that you you can use as analogies when you're speaking to someone who comes from another walk of life.

Does creativity trump profitability? (33:21)

Well it depends what level you are. Certainly if you're artistic director of an arts company, then you are very aware of that. Profit is indeed an essential requirement for ongoing business. But I think even at that level you are focusing on your product and that's one of the challenges of being in leadership positions within the arts - finding that balance between knowing that that profit is essential, but also that you have to produce the goods and you have to produce quality.

Ultimately, quality drives the arts more than profit. If you produce mediocrity, it's just not going to be successful. You can produce work that is not necessarily of everybody's taste, but you cannot produce mediocrity and expect to be successful.

How do you balance the profitable with the experimental? (34:27)

Well that's a matter of programming and you'll find if you want to have one risky project, then you need to do another project which has less risk, less for say for instance, you want to produce a program of new experimental work, you know, that's not going to necessarily be commercially eh, highly successful - it can be successful, but it may not be.

On the other hand, you probably stage, I don't know, Swan Lake. Swan Lake is the best selling ballet of old time. You can put on at any time, and you will always fill a theater is amazing. It's a, is a fantastic ballet, beautiful ballet in it. There's a reason why it's successful because it's a great work of art.

You use this or use those sort of ballets, in the dance world you could use the swan lakes and the Nutcrackers and so on in order to also be able to present work that has more risk and might require a different type of investment.

What do you do to relax and maintain your well-being? (37:32)

No triathlons! I must say no regardless of my dancing background I'm not particularly athletic person any more, but I'm fairly ordinary when it comes to the interest. I mean, I do DIY for example, I'm quite good at it actually, you know, that's um, that's actually fairly ordinary pursued.

How do you build your client base? (37:57)

At the moment? I employ a range of strategies. I mean obviously I leverage off of my professional network within the performing arts to access people in that area naturally, you know, as you would, as a solo operator, you have to just use all the avenues you can.

I'm trying now to introduce myself in new environments using my performing arts background as my USP (Unique Selling Point). That is also proving to be interesting I think to people it's something which, as a coach, because there's a lot of them out there, some of them very good, some of them less good.

So it's important to have something which you can say, this is my USP, this is what I, where I come from and this is where I can offer a difference. And I think in my case I have that and I'm very fortunate to have almost five decades behind me of working in the theater that not many people that can say that.

On Selling... (40:20)

Well, if you're selling yourself, It is the key thing to know is, is not what you can contribute but what people want because people buy what they want, not what you can offer necessarily.

It's about knowing what do people want as people buy what they want, not what they need. I can have as many ideas as I want about what other people need. You know, I'm sure you need this and I can do this for you, but if that's not what they want, they not going to buy it are they?

It's about knowing what your potential customer may want to have and then being able to provide that. There's more about learning about your target group, your target clientele, your target market and understand them and be able to step into their world and feel what they're feeling.

Then you have a chance and that's something which I've learned now through my coaching. An asset as a coach is that you get to know a lot about other people because they tell you. They tell you what they want. So because the thing is with coaching, which is also important to realize that no one needs coaching. It's not something that you need is something that you have it, because you get it because you want it. It's something that you've. If you've want coaching, then you go get coaching. If you need coaching, you probably need something else.

You have to want change to embrace it (42:30)

Want something in your life to change. You want change, you want to do something different, and that's when you go, OK, coaching can help me achieve that which I want. It's not that I'm going to go to coaching because I want coaching. you go to coaching because there's something out there that you want. And coaching can help you get there.

Next Podcast

The next podcast will be available 1st April (and I promise, there will be no April Fool's tricks!)

If you are interested in working with Matz, you can reach him at matz.skoog@gmail.com.

I work with people to improve the productivity, planning and to regain control so that you can stop stressing and start earning. Contact me at debra@bridginggaps.uk if you'd like to know more.


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