Supercompetent Speaking: Do You Need a Speaking Coach?
By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP
Professional speakers who’ve been on the beat for a while generally think of speaking coaches as guides and mentors for those new to the business. And, yes, a coach can prove especially valuable when you’re first getting started. But even the most experienced speakers can use the occasional refresher course, just to make sure their skills haven’t gotten rusty and to continually up their game. I’ve benefitted from the help of MANY speaking coaches in my 20-plus-year speaking career and would recommend: Dianna Booher, Mark Sanborn, Lou Heckler, Patricia Fripp, Tim Gard, Bill Stainton, Jeff Justice, Ed Tate, Ron Culberson, David Glickman, Max Dixon, and Ron Arden.
But why should you bother to hire an actual coach, when you can head for the local library and check out a dozen books on the subject, or buy a DVD to watch on TV in the comfort of your den? Books deprive you of the greatest benefits of a speaking coach: one-on-one, personalized interaction, and feedback on your specific speech and style. Books and DVDs can provide nuts-and-bolts theory, but not the personal touch and input offered by a flesh-and-blood coach.
Among other things, a speaking coach can evaluate your performance, teaching you how to:
- Overcome shyness
- Deal with nervousness
- Build your confidence
- Speak like a leader
- Make better use of your time on stage
- Control your body language, gestures, and facial expressions
- Correct your pronunciation and diction
- Project your voice properly
- Be funnier
- Tell better and more concise stories
- Identify and eliminate your use of filler words
- Differentiate yourself from everyone else
- Outline and prepare your speeches
- Refine your openings and closings
- State your benefits and call to action more clearly
- Segue into your message more smoothly
- And, ultimately, appeal to your audiences more
Affordability vs. Effectiveness
Joining a Toastmasters International group in your area will be cheaper than hiring a speaking coach and will give you practice speaking in front of groups. While you won’t get the specific personal attention you’d enjoy from a private coach, you willreceive personal attention to your speaking skills, and the price is right: about $36 every six months. Furthermore, working with a group can help tame the twin beasts of nervousness and shyness. You learn by doing in a no-pressure atmosphere...but it can take a while.
On the other hand, a private coach is especially useful if you prefer to work one on one, intensely, and in private, focusing 100 percent on developing your skills without having to split your attention with others in a group. Personal coaches also tend to be more flexible in terms of where you meet, and with modern communications technology, you don’t even have to meet face to face. If you live in Los Angeles, your coach can live in Miami...or anywhere using Skype or a Webinar platform with Webcam. The downside? A decent coach can cost you hundreds of dollars per session or thousands of dollars per day—though it’s worth the investment if you really need the help. They’re ideal for crash courses before a big speech and brush-up sessions when you need to up your game.
Here’s what to look for in a speaking coach:
- Flexibility. How, when, and where will they instruct you? What is included with the program, and will they modify it to meet your needs?
- Experience and expertise. How long have they been in the business? Are they on the speaking circuit now? Do not hire coaches who haven’t been speakers themselves. Have they written speeches for others, or published articles on the topic?
- A busy coaching practice. If they’re popular and booked, they’re probably pretty good if they’re in high demand.
- Style.You may do best with a gentle persuader, or perhaps a firm taskmaster may be more your style; regardless, you should decide this beforehand. You might discover you were wrong when you actually experience the coaching. It’s never too late to change directions.
- Testimonials. Happy customers are always a good sign. You should call two or three of them and ask questions about their experiences.
- Cost. First, have a budget in mind before you research, so you know how much you can afford and don’t get caught up in something you can’t handle. Does the coach charge a flat rate, or a per-hour amount? Live or virtual? How much follow-up? Length of the coaching? Find out what’s included in the fees and see if you can customize the package to meet your needs. See if you can go in with another colleague and split the time and costs. Regardless, make sure you have a clear understanding about what’s included. You should both sign an agreement to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
- Sound judgment. While previous clients can provide some clues here, you’ll largely have to make the final determination yourself, based on their references, promotional materials, and your personal experience and gut feeling.
Being a good presenter is a developed skill, not an inborn talent, so a private coach may provide the edge you’ve been looking for—especially for newer presenters. However, even experienced speakers should work with a speaking coach to help iron out any wrinkles in your presentation style—especially if audience response has been lackluster lately or you’re bored.
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is an expert in productivity. For more than 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe that help attendeesachieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time. An expert in the field of performance and workplace issues, Stack is theauthor or co-author of 10 books, most recently “What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do.” Connect with her at http://www.TheProductivityPro.com; http://www.facebook.com/productivitypro; or twitter.com/laurastack.