Speech Coaching Made Easy

In a “Wizard of Id” cartoon, the first scene shows the king finishing a speech to his people. As the king leaves, his assistant says to the audience, “If you would like a copy of the king’s speech, you should probably seek psychiatric help.”  The final scene shows the assistant being carried off to prison saying, “I couldn’t help it.”

I imagine we have all identified with the king’s assistant’s response to a speech, and as speakers at times we need someone to help us improve our presentation skills. I have a plan for you that requires no cost—except your time.

I hesitate to share this approach to coaching, because a major part of what I do as a professional speaker is to coach clients one-on-one to become better presenters. I may be talking myself out of a job! But here is a simple and relatively easy way to improve your own speaking:  become a “selfie coach.”  Instead of photographing yourself, coach yourself. Here are some ways to use your own coaching skills for yourself.

Ask a colleague to use your cell phone to video your next speech. Since these phones are a part of our normal personal items we carry with us to meetings, this would not be distracting to others around you. Take notes as you play it back. Make two columns. In one column identify what you did well and in the other column what you might do to improve.

Make a deal with a co-worker:  you will be in the audience of each other’s next speech to critique it and provide notes for him or her. Follow up with that person and discuss the speaking experience. The person does not have to be an expert in public speaking to give you good feedback. Just ask them to share with you what was appealing and what you could do to improve or clarify.

Practice all or part of your next presentation in front of a mirror. This may seem awkward at first, but once you get used to watching yourself in the mirror, you’ll find it helpful. You can easily make immediate corrections as you pick up on delivery mannerisms or facial features that may not match your content.

The final way to coach yourself is to listen to the video without looking at it. This allows you to evaluate the way you use your voice. You are not distracted by visual aspects and you can concentrate on your rate, vocal variety, and punching out key words. You can also pick up easily on words you overuse or sentences which are not instantly clear. Grammar mistakes can also be identified this way.

A couple of caveats in coaching yourself:  Don’t be too hard on yourself and be honest and fair in your dealings with yourself. Whether you are looking at public speaking or other aspects of life, I agree with famous basketball coach, John Wooden, who said, “Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.”

It may be uncomfortable and you may feel ill at ease in self-critiquing, but remember Alan Alda’s challenge: “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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