Giving a speech is both a craft and an art.
As with any craft, giving a speech or a presentation follows certain rules, guidelines, and principles. They’re not absolute laws, never to be violated, mind you. Some are more important than others. But you need to learn them, even if you choose to break them from time to time.
And as with any craft, the more you practice in the right manner, the better you’ll get. (Practicing in the right manner is important, because you don’t want to reinforce bad habits.)
As with any art, there’s an element of creativity, inspiration, and — for lack of a better word — artistry that can’t be mastered simply by hard work and will power. Almost everyone — with study, practice, and guidance — can become a better speaker. But that’s not to say that everyone can become a great speaker.
Coaching can help. But not all coaching is created equal. And bad coaching — like bad psychotherapy or bad teaching or doctoring — can make things worse.
Here are Three Mistakes Speech Coaches Most Commonly Make
1. Treating Everyone the Same (the Cookie Cutter Approach)
Good coaching helps you appreciate and capitalize on your uniqueness. The first and most important element of a speech is you, the speaker. That doesn’t mean that the speech is about you or your agenda or your ego. On the contrary, a good speech is always about your audience and how your idea will benefit them.
But a speech isn’t a disembodied idea or message. A speech is one person — one unique individual — communicating with a group of people. Your thoughts and feelings, your values and experience, your character and personality, your voice and body are so bound up with your speech that you are the message.
Any time a coach says, “Here’s what I would do,” stop listening. It’s bad advice. The point isn’t what they would do, but what you can do: what you’re capable of doing, what works for you.
2. Nitpicking and Negativity
You improve by focusing on your strengths and developing them, not by becoming hyperaware of your foibles and inadequacies and trying to eradicate them.
Being made aware of what you’re doing wrong only makes you more insecure, more self-conscious, and, therefore, more likely to fail.
I’m swimming against the tide here, I know, but my experience convinces me that you’ll make lasting improvements more easily and faster by discovering and reinforcing what you do well.
As a coach, I occasionally need to point out what someone is doing wrong or poorly, especially when they’re sabotaging themselves. But most of the time I can help them make the necessary self-corrections by bringing them back to their strengths.
If coaching makes you feel worse about your speaking or undermines your confidence, suspect that you’re being coached poorly.
3. Taking One Approach
You know the old saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Just as there’s no one way of giving a speech, there’s no one way of helping someone give a speech. Some coaches believe that projecting an “executive presence” or being authentic or crafting the most compelling message is the sine qua non of speaking, so — guess what? — that’s what they’re going to drill you on.
Giving a speech or a presentation involves a whole slew of issues, and good coaching is able to identify the challenges and opportunities you face, whether it’s a question of strategy, preparation, message creation, confidence, delivery, the use of audio-visuals.
Beware of single-issue coaching.
There are other mistakes speech coaches make. But these are the three ones that I most commonly see and most commonly object to. Which speech coaching mistakes would you list?