In the development phase, it was probably the additional training that I had taken along the way, theatre school, modeling, voice coaching, Toastmasters, and I had done a fair amount of professional theatre. It all helped in stage blocking and movement, in learning to fill a room, of creating a more powerful presence. The various coaches I have used for speaking have been tremendously helpful, at least when I could accept their feedback! Speaking is a performing art, where one constantly needs to improve, clarify, and enhance.
Developing your own unique style through coaching is much like watching a master sculptor in action. By chipping away at the stone that shouldn't be there, a sculptor creates his or her own unique design. Almost all of the presenters we interviewed had worked, either formally or informally, with one or more coaches or mentors who helped them chip away at the extraneous, irrelevant, and superfluous to unleash their own unique potential. Excellent coaches use all of their expertise to help you develop your own style; egocentric coaches work to develop clones of themselves. Excellent coaches can accelerate your learning and your career; egocentric coaches, ironically, can hold you back. Excellent coaches help to raise your self-confidence; egocentric coaches cause you to doubt yourself and your abilities. Excellent coaches give you options and the confidence to try them; egocentric coaches demand that you do your presentation their way and only their way.
In relation to her own coaching and the development of her style, Janet Laap says:
I got rid of everything I copied from other people—it is a process of becoming more and more of who you are, of deciding and making choices of who you are. It is like the story of Ghandi and sugar. A woman came to Ghandi and asked him how she should treat her son who was becoming obese. Ghandi asked her to come back in two weeks. At their second meeting, he suggested the boy stop eating sugar. The woman asked Ghandi why he didn't tell her that at their first meeting. Ghandi replied, "Because at that time I was still eating sugar." We need to use the same process in regard to the development of our style. We need to decide at a very fundamental level what to keep and what to eliminate or let go.
Almost every great athlete will tell you about the coaches who helped him or her develop his or her talents. Finding coaches who can help you move to the next level is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your career.
There are two ways to find a coach: on purpose or by accident. The first way is to look for someone who has the skills and abilities to be an excellent coach and then ask him or her to coach you. Brad was going to give a showcase presentation in front of his peers at the annual convention of CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers).
Brad: I practiced and practiced; worked over the content and delivery, in addition to audio and videotaping the presentation. It was good, but not the excellent presentation that I wanted. I had the foresight to hire one of Canada's best speaking coaches, Frazier McAllen, to coach me. We spent two hours together. I was surprised that Fraser suggested very few changes to the content. The main focus of his suggestions was to increase the frequency of my dramatic use of hand gestures to help me tell the stories that I used to illustrate my points. My first reaction was that I wasn't comfortable with his suggestions and that I couldn't do them. Fraser suggested that I try them and eliminate them if I didn't like them. I had also brought along my video camera so we could see what they looked like. Although this was way out of my comfort zone, I agreed to give it a try. I had to admit that the gestures increased drama and poignancy of the story and made the point I was trying to make much more impactful and memorable. I would also like to point out that Fraser, unlike some of the other coaches I have had, puts equal emphasis on telling me the things that I do well in addition to targets for improvement.
The result was that the added hand gestures and more dramatic body language increased the effectiveness of my presentation by 100 percent. Not only that, but I learned to use gestures more effectively in all of my presentations and the coaching I had continues to help me teach my presentations course. All in all, it produced a huge payoff.
Whenever I am coached, I ask if I can video the session. There is simply too much feedback and this feedback is too valuable to risk not being able to remember it all. I also like to compare the "before coaching" version with the "after coaching" version.
The second way to find a coach is by chance. You may not be looking for a coach when you accidentally discover someone whose talents match your needs. The key to this approach is being alert to opportunities when they present themselves. Chris Beckett is the manager of a television studio at a local university. Brad hired Chris to produce his first video and audio demos, and subsequently, a two-hour DVD program.
Brad: While I hired Chris to produce my audio programs, what I didn't plan on was finding a voice coach at the same time. Chris has a naturally deep baritone voice, the kind of person who sounds like they were born to be on radio. What I didn't realize was how much voice training Chris had had, and he was willing to pass this knowledge on to us. I also learned a great deal about audio and video production, all of which will be immeasurably helpful to me in further developing my platform skills.
A good coach's talent can best be described as being like a highly focused laser. He or she will hone in on the first part of your presentation and help you develop a "hook" to grab your audience's attention. An excellent coach should also have the ability to help you gain crystal clear clarity on what they are saying and on how to say it, in addition to focusing on vocal variety and projecting one's voice, when to stand still and when and how to move. Lastly, some coaches will gladly give you some time at no charge, but others who do this professionally will charge for their services. Coaching is worth paying for if you want to become an expert presenter. If your coach is able to bring you from average to good, or from good to great, the cost for his or her advice is worth every penny.
Don't expect a coach, no matter how good he or she is, to transform you. The coach is not supposed to be a Henry Higgins, taking an Eliza Doolittle and molding her into something she was not. A good coach will help you identify the strengths you have and enhance them incrementally. But most importantly, a good coach will show you how to teach yourself.
In addition to using live coaches, consider getting podcasts and videos of some of the best presentations. One of our favorites is Gene Griessman's presentation, Lincoln on Communication. Gene Griessman is probably the best character speaker in the business and his video Lincoln on Communication is perfectly organized by topic. When we play parts of the video to our audiences, they usual want to see all of it. Another jewel are the videos of Les Brown from a National Speakers Association's Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. We don't think we ever heard a speaker speak with more intentionality. Mr. Brown told us exactly what he was doing as well as why he was doing it.