Client Testimonials

We are passionate about helping leaders reach the next level. Read what our clients are saying.

Mercantile Bank

Tara Randall - SVP, Retail Administration Manager

This training gave me an incredible opportunity to self-reflect on the leader I currently am and the leader I want to be. Jennifer, Sarah and Mike take a personal approach to mentoring participants through the self-discovery and planning process, using real-life examples and creating a collaborative environment for mentors and participants to ask questions and share ideas with one another. This is best training I have attended on the topic of leadership and I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned into my leadership style. The relationships I formed with the other class participants were also impactful and I hope that we can stay in touch regularly.

Lacks Enterprises, Inc.

Shawn Sandner -

“The program offered the time and tools to reflect on the type of leader I wanted to be and develop the path to get there. The coaches created a comfortable environment for sharing ideas and authentic conversation. I definitely completed the course with a clearer understanding of my opportunities and more confidence in my leadership capability.”


Shelly Piotrowski - Manager, Beauty & Program Management

“As a leader that had recently transitioned into a new role, I found both the “Work of Leaders” book and the associated training and tools that Varnum brought to life during our classroom training extremely relevant and impactful. I have taken other classes through Varnum and I greatly appreciate their approach to training. They are masterful when it comes to balancing the theoretical learning with disciplined efforts to put the training and tools into practice. In my opinion, this is a key differentiator for them vs. other training organizations that I have used in the past.”

Priority Health

Nathan Foco - Director - Market Intelligence

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL program helped me to improve my leadership by emphasizing my DiSC style. The program took me through a number of exercises where I was able to reflect on my personal DiSC style and assess how my particular style can be used to enhance my interactions with other leaders, teams and members of my own team.

Yanfeng Global Automotive Interiors

Joe Buonodono - Continuous Improvement Manager

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL program helped me to understand my skills and strengths. I gained valuable insight on how to improve and grow. The real world examples and leadership advice in this series will benefit me for years to come.


Jamie Wilcox - Associate Director - Product Marketing

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL provides an invaluable opportunity to step away from day-to-day business challenges and refocus on becoming a great leader. It breaks down what seem like lofty, far-reaching goals into simple, manageable steps. It provides easy-to-use frameworks for setting, aligning to and executing a vision, driving change and balancing being a manager AND a leader. The coaches are wonderful and the learning and networking you get from your peers is just as valuable as the class materials themselves. This class is definitely a great choice for new leaders, soon-to-be leaders or those just wanting to brush up their skills.

Lacks Enterprises

Jeff Cowdry - Plant Manager

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL course provided me an opportunity to truly discover who I am as a leader. What you learn not only about yourself, but how to build and guide your team, is invaluable.

Yanfeng Global Automotive Interiors

Greg Pothoff - Senior Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL course was a reintroduction/reinforcement of leadership qualities & strategies. It would be beneficial to both ingrained leaders who strive to improve themselves as well as people new to leadership roles who are simple trying to figure out how to succeed.

Arbor Research Collaborative for Health

David Dickinson - VP, Information & Operations

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL program introduced me to both people and techniques that directly improved my leadership ability. Starting after the first class, my colleagues noticed a sharpening of my ability to articulate, motivate, and carry forward both small and large initiatives. The collective experience of the coaches and a diverse group of classmates was not only inspiring, but provided many helpful examples to learn from.

Priority Health

Carrie Kincaid - Director - Product Management

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL program helped break down large business problems into smaller more manageable chunks. We were given tools like DiSC and planning to use along the way. The program showed why spending time setting a vision and creating a strategy was so important to the alignment and execution phase. It's like the "measure twice, cut once" process for leaders.

YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids

Bev Thiel - Executive Director - Spartan Stores YMCA

It is always beneficial to take time to learn more about who you are and how your leadership affects those around you. After completing The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL program, not only do I understand myself better, but I understand the impact I have on those around me and how to best use my leadership style. As a mentor, this will help me to lead my staff team more effectively.

Michigan State University Federal Credit Union

Sonya Edmond - Branch Manager

The Exceptional Leader™-EXCEL Program helped me to enhance my outlook on leadership and realize that being a leader is more than managing the day to day activities. Being a leader is knowing what you have to offer and using the tools available to you to have a positive impact on the lives of others!

Yanfeng Automotive Interiors

Tammy Quinn - Advanced Quality Manager

I recently attended the Exceptional Leader program. I was very impressed with both the program and the coach, Mike Bivens. Mike was informative and engaging while guiding the group through the Leader Model. The material was presented in a logical and concise manner that was easy to comprehend. Assignments and interactions with the other participants helped to increase the understanding of the concepts being presented and gave me the confidence to apply the techniques learned to improve my leadership skills.

Bethany Christian Services

Ken Kirkendall - Marketing Director

The Exceptional Leader was an excellent training in leading a team and a project. I really valued looking at the different qualities of management vs. leadership and evaluating my own skills. I also appreciated having a chance to work with others in the program, from a variety of industries, to get their insight and feedback. Mike Bivens was an outstanding coach that brought real life examples from his impressive career.


Melissa Troost - Sr. Manager – Supplier Accounts

The Exceptional Leader program introduced me to the Manager-Leader concept and helped me to understand where I am strong and what areas I need to focus on for improvement. The class was the right size and pace to work through examples and start to develop a plan for my own leadership roadmap. I highly recommend this course for anyone who is looking to further enhance their leadership skills.

Grand Rapids African American Health Institute (GRAAHI)

Stephanie Pierce - Education Coordinator

I had the opportunity to attend a two day session of The Exceptional Leader™. The two day session connected leaders from different organizations, and allowed insight into challenges we all face on a daily basis. Day one included an intense yet interesting exploration on ways to cultivate and improve leadership skills through strategy and innovation. I believe my leadership abilities were enhanced and I took away a magnitude of knowledge that will not only benefit me as an individual, but will add value to my organization.

Service Express Inc

Michelle Palma - Corporate Controller

The Speak Up & Be Effective program was phenomenal for these three reasons: coaching in an intimate setting with immediate one-one-one feedback, content was relevant and presented at the right pace, and continued opportunities to grow after the class.


Patrick Alyward - Senior Vice President

The “Speak Up & Be Effective™-Momentum program” in March exceeded my expectations and I would highly recommend to others. The comprehensive 2 day program focused on my personal development and helped me be more engaging in my communications – it has already worked in action and delivered results! The informative coaches were “hands on” and provided thoughtful & personal guidance along the way which helped for my self-awareness. I would highly recommend this program which can apply to any professional that would like to enhance their communication skills whether you are speaking in front of a large audience or any intimate meeting(s) with customers or co-workers.

Michigan Women's Foundation

Elly Drain - Youth Development Program Manager

Before the Speak Up & Be Effective – Advanced Program, I was unaware that some of the body language habits I’d developed were potentially harming my credibility as a communicator. Thanks to the expertise and instruction from the very knowledgeable coaches, I now have several tools to help craft and effectively deliver an activating message. Watching and critiquing myself on camera was uncomfortable, but it was definitely worth the end result. I would highly recommend this program to any young professional.

Mercantile Bank

Robert Staley - Vice President

My objective in attending was to make my speaking more concise in small and large group settings. The program is well done from start to finish. Pre-work is brief but very effective in setting up an impactful 2-day session. Instructors are knowledgeable, confident and personal. Opportunities to practice speaking in session are valuable. Immediate visual and verbal feedback is priceless in generating effective speaking habits. I love this program and those that make it a wonderful learning experience.

EQI Ltd.

Dave Bell - Chief Financial Officer

The Speak Up and Be Effective - Advanced program is outstanding. The coaches put together two solid days of extremely valuable information using a real life approach that works. The strategies they provide to “connect” with your audience will make your next presentation a hit, as well as help you navigate the stage without the normal anxiety. This class is essential for leaders/presenters at all levels of your organization!!


Kaylee Betzinger - Business Systems Analyst

The Speak Up and Be Effective-Advanced course was so much more than I expected. Sarah and Amy are extremely knowledgeable and were so helpful throughout the training and are really just a joy to learn from. The materials presented will stay with me for the rest of my life and are so useful on a daily basis. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in improving their communication skills.

Wolverine Group

Ted Bergin -

I was encouraged by my employer to attend this class. They believed that I could improve upon my presentation style with it. Since I had been watching myself on video periodically (we tape certain safety sessions) I knew they were right. I have always believed that you get out in proportion to what you are able to put in and this was especially true for this program. The number of trainees was small so we were all able to get the hands on experience with each other and with our coaches. The peer and professional feedback was very insightful and has significantly altered how I present in front of small and large groups. I have been able to immediately implement many of the strategies and am working on others that were presented to me. This is an excellent course for anyone.

Eli Lilly

Randy P Prescilla - Medical Advisor

I loved the small-group setting, which allowed for individualized and personal attention. Our group had a wide range of work background (from construction to non-profit), yet our experienced and talented coaches were able to highlight and focus on the essentials in our respective fields. Amy and Sarah even took the time to provide written detailed advice related to our stated goals on our posters. I am confident that the lessons that I have learned will translate to greater productivity in my workplace. Thank you, Jennifer Maxson & Associates for the life-long tools!

Helen DeVos Children's Hospital

Leslie M. Jurecko, M.D. - Medical Director

“I found the Speak Up & Be Effective - Advanced" course to be very valuable. The small class size kept the atmosphere friendly and not at all intimidating. The teachers were fantastic and engaging. This class challenged me in many ways and I have been using the tools I learned ever since…almost on a daily basis!”


Kendra Lisak - Indirect Procurement

Speak Up and Be Effective- Advanced was the single most impactful training program that I have participated in to date. I went into the training very skeptical about how this two-day session might help me, and I came out with very targeted and impactful feedback, specific to my speaking style and how to make improvements. The course also helped me have the tools to provide suggestions to others on their presentations, so that they can become more effective and grow the impact of their communication as well. The instructors were excellent and clearly had numerous real-life examples to help drive the content home. I would recommend this session to absolutely everyone - even if you feel as though you are a great speaker already and are skeptical of how much more you can learn.

Bluewater Advisory

Mark Debinski - Founder and President

As my firm has grown so requests for speaking engagements in the US and abroad. While I considered myself a fairly competent public speaker, Jennifer Maxson & Associates' two-day program was the perfect fit for me to polish my skills. I found that my delivery was not quite as impactful as I had previously thought, and Jenifer Maxson & Associates' respectful hands-on training brought me to the professional level which I sought.


Sherrie Wilson - Enterprise Content Management

I’ve participated in the Speak Up & Be Effective™-Advanced seminar and follow-up workshops, and I've found them to be tremendously valuable. The small size of the group and the 1:1 interactions with the consultants meant the feedback I received was specific and helpful in a way that other seminars just can’t match. I've also been impressed by the group’s professionalism, experience, and topics. I feel like I have personal image and presentation consultants available to me anytime I need them!

Chemical Bank

Gina Ruhlig - Assistant VP, Retirement Plan Services Officer

I had a great experience in my Speak Up & Be Effective course. The prospect of speaking in front of strangers and being videotaped can be very intimidating. However, our instructor made the experience tolerable. There are always positive things to share about everyone’s presentations and she helped us identify specific ways to improve. I do presentations in group settings for my job and I felt comfortable doing it. However, I knew I must have things I needed to work on and this course helped me identify them. I was also working during the course as I developed and presented on a topic specific to my job during the course. I have already recommended this to my co-workers who present on the job.

Plante Moran

Alexandra Colletti - Manager

In one day of training Speak Up & Be Effective taught me how to be confident in my presentation delivery. I learned tips to increasing my awareness when in-front of a crowd and saw results immediately. The intimate size of the program helped to solicit useful feedback and encourage growth. A must take course for professionals wanting to make an impact.

Grand Haven Chamber of Commerce

Mary Sherman - Director of Community Events & Programs

The Speak Up & Be Effective program really opened my eyes to a whole new layer of public speaking. This program and my coach, Amy, created a sense of self-awareness that I didn’t have before. I will definitely take what I’ve learned and apply it to public speaking, but also apply it to general communications with staff, friends and family.

University of Michigan - Sanger Leadership Institute

Evan Marie Allison - Associate Director

What makes the Speak Up & Be Effective program so valuable is the action based format. You dive right in and immediately jump into exercises the really hold the mirror up to where you are as a presenter. But don't be intimidated, the small group size and thoughtful facilitator make the process as pain free as possible. It's incredible the amount of growth you witness over the course of one day. I left feeling proud of the individual progress of our cohort!

Plante Moran

Ashley Dempsey - Experienced Hire Recruiting Coordinator

The Speak Up and Be Effective program far exceeded my expectations. I have never been comfortable with public speaking and was nervous even going into the session, but the program is set up in a way that put me at ease and allowed me to get the most out of the feedback from other participants. Amy was very helpful with the feedback she gave, and I have a new awareness of my natural tendencies along with how to build credibility with an audience.

University of Michigan - Ross School of Business

Jeff Domagala - Associate Director

Speak Up and Be Effective is one of the most eye-opening experiences I have had as a professional. The personalized feedback I received from my coach and my peers that day will serve as constant reminders for improvement each and every time I begin to prepare any presentation. Our coach Amy energized the group and prepared the content in a way that was applicable across all disciplines. I left the session feeling excited about my next presentation having gained a set of tools to put into practice with a newfound confidence.

University of Michigan - Ross School of Business

Nathan Dewey - Program Coordinator

Amy was a great instructor. I received personalized, specific feedback and expert coaching on how to connect with an audience, deliver my message with poise, and improve my overall public speaking skills. I highly recommend this program.

Arbor Research

Kaden Milkovich - Project Manager

I attended Varnum Consulting’s single-day Speak out and be Effective training and can truthfully say it has been one of the most useful and engaging professional development opportunities that I have had the privilege of attending. The training focused on crafting and delivering clear and credible professional communications placing particular emphasis on presenter delivery. As a project manager, I found the subject matter extremely relevant to my specific job duties working with a diverse constituent of organizational stakeholders and Amy, our facilitator, did a truly outstanding job translating the skills across our group’s varied professional backgrounds. The recorded training exercises where we were asked to present on several different subjects were prescient, well-timed in duration, very engaging, and highly informative. Watching my presentations truly brought to light some unconscious behaviors I fell back on during public presentations, and Amy again did a remarkable job of providing supportive feedback and suggestions for improvement. As a facilitator, Amy was remarkable and truly an exemplary model of effective communication skills. Not a phrase or communication gesture was ill-timed or out of place. The small cohort size was very inviting, and I felt relaxed and comfortable working on some of my “tics” in an environment devoid of judgment. I left the training with a multitude of skills and activities to work on to further improve my communication effectiveness and highly recommend participating in this training. From this experience I have learned that there is something to improve at every level of professional speaking—no matter if you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out in your career.

Mercy Health Physicians Partners

Matt Ruffino - Regional Project Manager

I found Speak Up & Be Effective™ to be a great 1-day course for all levels of professionals, especially those who present to groups on a regular basis. The small class size allows you to collaborate with your classmates and get immediate feedback from your instructor. The instructor made the class fun and interactive. Immediate improvements are seen at the end of the day. I recommend this session for leaders who are serious about improving their public speaking and communication skills!

Johnson Controls, Inc.

Seth Booker - Product Engineer

The “Speak Up & Be Effective Training” greatly helped me improve my public speaking skills and confidence. One simple 8-hour session helped equip me with the skills I needed to be much more effective and efficient when speaking. I will use these skills on an almost daily basis for probably the remainder of my professional career, and I am extremely thankful for this program that Jennifer Maxson & Associates puts on. My coach, Amy, did an excellent job evaluating our skills when we started the class, helped us evaluate our weaknesses, and gave us the skills we needed to improve those weaknesses, all in a single day. All in all, an excellent training that I would recommend to any professional who ever has to speak publicly.

Aspen Surgical

Duke Miller - Production Planner

Speak Up and Be Effective was a valuable tool for assessing my verbal and non-verbal communication strengths and weaknesses. The quick and easy improvement techniques were visible within the first hour of class. The video play back and constant feedback from my peers helped pin point improvement needs. I have already begun applying the techniques daily in my profession.

Plante Moran

Jen Hopp -

I really enjoyed my learning experience at Speak Up and Be Effective. I have several colleagues who have taken this course and so I generally knew what to expect. I liked that the class size was small so the feedback was instant, direct and really geared to my needs. I also liked that it was so accessible and was easily broken down into manageable parts. The topic ‘public speaking’ is huge, and could be so overwhelming. But in this course, I improved my skills in such a short time. And I have great takeaways to continue to practice and improve!

Plante Moran

Joanna Fee - CPA

I have always been extremely nervous and have lacked confidence while doing presentations. Jennifer Maxson & Associates' Speak Up & Be Effective program provided practical ways to not only reduce nerves, but to be able to speak with credibility and confidence. The coach was very insightful in providing immediate and meaningful feedback and guidance during our practice presentations. I have already incorporated some of the tips from the program in my workplace and highly recommend this interactive program to others!

Grand Valley State University

Colette Cascarilla - Student

Speak Up & Be Effective was a unique and engaging crash-course on public speaking and presentation skills. The session was small allowing for optimum interaction with the instructor and other attendees. From the very start we began absorbing Amy's expertise as we were challenged, encouraged, constantly pushed out of our comfort zones. The skill-set acquired as Speak Up & Be Effective can be translated to any industry, and has already shaped the way I communicate.

Grand Valley State University

Liz Collver - Assistant Director of Giving

Speak Up and Be Effective™ was one of the most useful workshops I’ve attended in my career. The format of the day allowed for plenty of practice and feedback, so I was able to immediately put what we learned into action. I left the session feeling more confident in my abilities and with an action plan of where I wanted to focus in the coming months. While there is still room for improvement, it was exciting to see instant changes in my public speaking.

Johnson Controls

Melissa Fernandez Guerra - Business Transformation Financial Manager

The Speak Up & Be Effective™ program allowed the participant to acquire concepts for an effective communication. Exercises can be applied in life and business presentations. Throughout the session the message, posture and gestures are reinforced, allowing the member to include them in his/her speech in a step by step process. For all that, this is a program I recommend in leadership development.

Grand Valley State University

Carolyn Clayton - Director of Annual Giving

I had a very positive experience attending the Speak Up & Be Effective™ training. I have done a considerable amount of public speaking and present regularly on the job – this training assisted me in honing and refining my skills for both personal and professional use. I found the small group experience to be very enriching and benefited from watching others as much I did from practicing my own skills!

Grand Valley State University

Maria Beelen - Student

I have always been very comfortable in my public speaking. Speak Up and Be Effective™ really made me look at the features of a great public speaker and then helped me implement them into everyday speaking. This program helped immensely, providing techniques, pointing out what comes naturally to me, what doesn't, and breaking the bad habits. Speak Up and Be Effective™ has made me a better, and more comfortable public speaker. I highly recommend the this program.

Experience Grand Rapids

Nichole Steele - National Sales Director

In my position I speak to groups of people ranging from two to thirty.Sometimes I don’t know anyone in the crowd and other times, I know everyone. This one-day class gave me a set of skills I can continue to use and practice to improve my public speaking. By the end of the day I felt so confident in what I had learned and I was excited to start using my new skills. I highly recommend taking this program! It was a fun and educational class that really benefited me personally and professionally.

Kent District Library

Lance M. Werner - Director

I consider myself an engaging, experienced public speaker and I was unsure if attending Speak Up and Be Effective™ would be useful. After participating in the program, there is no doubt in my mind that it was. The Speak Up and Be Effective™ program helped me take my presentation skills to a new level. It enabled me to identify weaknesses in my style and furnished tools to address my communications shortcomings. I emerged a stronger communicator than ever and am only sorry I didn’t attend earlier in my career.

Grand Valley State University

Katelyn Semelbauer - Assistant Director of Annual Giving

Speak Up & Be Effective™ is a fantastic program! In the course of one day, I was able to see my presentation skills develop significantly. The information provided was practical and applicable with the opportunity to put new skills into practice as they were learned. I highly recommend this program to anyone who would like to gain confidence in their public speaking abilities.

Grand Valley State University

Nicole M. Horne - Cook Leadership Academy Fellow, Ralph Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies

The Speak Up & Be Effective™ program literally breathed life back into my public speaking endeavors and overall professional development. I was amazed at how I immediately noticed positive constructive changes, such as calmness and clarity, in my countenance and delivery as I practiced the different exercises throughout the extent of the class. Now this, of course, could not have been accomplished without a great coaching staff! Amy was very encouraging, as she maintained a "safe" atmosphere in which I could relax, speak, and ultimately grow. Thank you Jennifer Maxson & Associates!

Experience Grand Rapids

George Helmstead - Executive Vice President

We have sent our entire sales team through Speak Up and Be Effective™ classes. We found them to be invaluable as a sales tool. We would recommend them to anyone looking to improve their sales team’s effectiveness.


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