On Coaching Speakers

This month I’ve been asked twice to orient / train / tell / brief people on how to coach speakers inside their companies.  I’ve struggled with responding as I never like to say no, but in this case, it’s the only answer. I came to appreciate that I haven’t clearly articulated (pun intended) why I coach, how I coach and why I’m not ready to train others to do so – yet.

So let’s start here: I LOVE to coach speakers. It is my happy place, sweet spot and I’m in a professional nirvana when I get to do it.  I was a speech communication major in college, I was a speechwriter for five or so years out of college, and my favorite moments since then have been when I’ve helped my associates and clients find their voice and tell their story. I also watch graduation speeches for fun demonstrating that I’m a true geek about it all.

That’s why I love to coach speakers. It’s who I am.

When I started to think about how WOULD I tell a client how to coach their own speakers, I started getting a pit in my stomach, clammy hands and a lump in my throat. Was it because I didn’t want to give up trade secrets? Or that I don’t want to give up the special relationship I get to have with every speaker – listening to vulnerabilities, coaching to strengths, celebrating the standing ovation. Maybe.

But as a professional communication trainer as well, I truly appreciate the diligence and discipline in developing the right curriculum for training someone to learn a new craft, like being a coach to speakers.  Giving someone some basic feedback on how they delivered a talk that someone else wrote is one thing (i.e. look at the audience, talk slower, don’t pace). But taking that same person on a journey from not knowing what they are going to talk about, to developing a talk, supporting stories, working through the messes of revisions, getting them to practice and rehearse and at the end of it all – not letting them have a single note and no podium – is a different training. One I’ve not yet built out.

When I coach it is at the intersection of teaching, hand-holding, counseling, editing, criticizing, cheerleading, time-keeping, task-mastering, emotional modulating (my own!), re-directing and hours of pure authentic listening.
And I am working at a different intersection of their work demands, travel schedules, family commitments, confidence, content, delivery, expectations (their own and others), history of speaking, event theme, and well, idiosyncrasies.
Maybe it isn’t rocket science, but every time I have a new speaker, I’m challenged to pull the right tools together from that tool kit I’ve assembled and hope and pray they are the right ones for that speaker, for that event, for that audience, for that topic, for that level of confidence and most importantly, for that reputation on the line.

And I believe that my five years of working one-on-one with over 200 speakers has taught me that I’ve only just begun to understand what it takes to be a great coach. Let alone one that can turn over all of that experience and knowledge and in an hour or event afternoon, to teach someone else how to do it.  In time, I’ll decide if I can translate the learning to a train-the-coach world-class training. In the meantime, the answer is sadly no.