September 24, 2016

I want to see the speaker, not the coaching

I recently attended an event with a long lineup of speakers. I'm like a kid in a candy store at events with lots of speakers!

As a speaking coach, I always learn something from watching others present, and of course, I analyze everything about their approach to see what I can pass along to my community. There's a lesson in every presentation, and this particular event had one overarching message that I must share.

About 80% of the speakers looked like they had been over-coached. There's a reason for this: They all worked with the same coach, and it showed.

What do I mean by over-coached?

1. They appeared "stagey," like they were acting, rather than using natural movements.

2. Almost every presentation had the same structure and trajectory.

3. Their vocal inflections lacked authenticity and sounded over-rehearsed, not how people speak in "real life."

When I see over-coaching, I see a lack of trust in the speakers' abilities to bring forth their own unique power of expression. I see an over-reliance on technique and an under-reliance on the speaker's ability to connect in a human, genuine way.

Now, please don't interpret what I'm saying to mean that this was a "bad" coach. Every coach has her or his own style, own beliefs and practices, and unique training and experience.

However, speaking is not "one-size-fits-all," and there is no one method that works for every speaker. When I see a whole bunch of speakers in a row who've been coached by the same person, it's easy to spot the use of a cookie-cutter approach.

Coaching requires an personalized process, not a formulaic one. There is no "system" that I can apply to every one of my clients that will give individualized results. Coaching has to be tailored to each person's needs based on individual strengths, individual personality and style, and desired result.

Coaching should help the speaker find the best of what's already within him or her. Coaching is not about covering up the speaker with techniques and mannerisms, it's about revealing what's inside, using what's already there and building on it, allowing it to blossom. As Michelangelo said, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

The 20% of the speakers at this event who did not appear over-coached either already had a lot of experience as speakers and already knew how to own the stage, or had strong personalities that managed to override the "formula" that had been applied to them. These are the speakers who stood out to me for their truth, honesty, power, and compelling stories and delivery.

Coaching is a powerful tool, and every day we see athletes, executives, politicians and speakers who've made excellent use of excellent coaches. You see the improvement, the growth, the maturity, the confidence, the higher level of performance. You see someone striving for excellence while staying in alignment with who they really are at their core. You see someone blossoming, revealing what's already inside in new and exciting ways.

What you don't see is the coaching behind the growth. And that's the way it should be.

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