Last week an article in the Wall Street Journal, "Improving Your, Um, You Know, Public Speaking,” caught my eye. Several speech coaches/consultants were interviewed on how to improve one's presentation skills, making excellent suggestions. One method not mentioned is coaching for a specific presentation.
In my thirty years of coaching/consulting one-on-one, one of the most effective and challenging situations is the executive who comes to me for help on a specific presentation he/she is delivering within a few weeks or days. This session is effective because with the presentation so close at hand the client has great motivation to practice. The coaching is challenging because of the urgency to be excellent both in delivery and content. Usually a part of the content does not fit or sound right; if so, I can give an objective reaction to the speaking situation since I am responding for the first time. I put myself in the audience and provide input that can be implemented immediately.
One executive whom I have met with several times over the past decade is an excellent speaker, but he feels that one coaching session a couple of weeks ahead of a specific speaking occasion gives him an edge. He realizes that one tip or an addition or omission of one sentence can make the difference in a good presentation and an excellent one.
Today's technology allows high-quality filming and minimal equipment for the one-on-one session. I use a flip camera and a small tripod and then play it back on my laptop. I often email the piece to the client to watch the clips several times before the speaking engagement.
This coaching session just prior to the engagement gives realism to the situation that allows me to suggest a current event that might give the content more relevance. The speaker is often aware of a less than interesting section that must be included and seeks help on a story or one liner to give the point a little "oomph."
Sometimes we may go over one section several times and play back each time to see places to improve or change content. The client is very willing to do this because of the importance of the material and the upcoming event.
Usually by this time the client knows what proceeds or follows his/her presentation so we can work on ways to transition to the presentation or to have a stronger ending because of what follows the presentation. For example, if the speech is just before lunch, you might have an ending that easily transitions into lunch. If the speech is first on the agenda after lunch, you might want to have more punch in the opening ten minutes because the audience may be a little lethargic after eating a full meal.
Any coaching session is going to be useful. However, a coaching session in preparation for a specific occasion gives the coach and client opportunities to improve that are not afforded when you are working on presentation skills in general.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively and coaches local executives. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.