MMM 139: On Choosing the Right Presentation Coach

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How do you choose the right presentation coach? Good question.

For me, my first big gig coaching as a consultant - outside of the years working within an organization with dozens of speakers - was attained like this: 

  1.  Friend of a friend heard this group was looking for a new coach. They didn’t like their corporate guy. They sent a mutual email, introducing me to them.  
  2. We sat down and had coffee. I had a really really bad “brochure” I pulled together to make it seem like I was a bigger deal than I was. (I should show it to you. It’s bad. So bad it’s funny!) 
  3. We talked for 30 minutes. I asked a lot of questions. We talked about life a little bit, too. Then she had to run off to a meeting.
  4. A few weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything. I started to worry. 
  5. Then I got an email asking about time I had available to come in. They wanted to work with me!

Years later, after totally transforming their approach as presenters and speakers, helping them land pitches that led to millions of dollars in sales, I asked them: Why did you choose me, way back then? Before I had proved to you that I could handle it? - that I had what it takes? You had this more experienced corporate guy who you didn’t have to pay for - why not stick with him?

And she said, “We didn’t like him. He didn’t get us. We liked you. You felt like someone we could trust and work well with.”

(Turns out my bad brochure was of no consequence.) 

Several years later, we still work together - which means so much to me. To be asked back consistently for several years means that it went beyond them just ‘liking’ me - but, it started there. 

And I’m afraid many people will write that off and instead use a more logical approach: look at their past clients - and make some assumptions based on how much they charge - and get referrals from the ‘big leagues’ - and only use people who look the part… 

You can do that. You will probably get great technical advice. 

But, here’s the deal:

Assuming they know a modicum of what they need to know in order to help you, the question you should ask yourself is: Do I feel like I could fall on my face in front of this person, and get up with some sense of dignity? 

One of my biggest moments as a coach was when a client said to me, “I felt so safe failing with you!” That meant the world to me. 

The process of creating and delivering a talk is a personal process. And if it isn’t - or you don’t want it to be - then you’ll only go so far. And that might be just fine. Most people take that approach and do just fine. 

But if you want to do transformative work - to move your audience - and yourself in the process - then you need to find a coach who places emotional safety above technical skill. 

Because emotional safety makes the technical skills possible. 

If I can’t get my speakers to take a risk with me - we’ll go nowhere. 

If I can’t get my speakers to face what’s *really* keeping them from letting go of their script, we’ll get stuck. 

If I can’t get my speakers to share what they’re battling in their brain, then we’ll bump against those walls and not break through them. 

To do transformative work, we start with relationship. 

(Please note: some of my “relationships” are forged virtually. And some in-person connections haven’t really worked at all. It’s more about that instant sense that ’this person gets me.’)  

So, when you are looking for your coach - 

1 - Is there a technical fit? Make sure they have the necessary skills. Read their stuff, make sure their philosophy makes sense and connects with you. Listen to what their clients say. Not every coach is great at every aspect of this world. Some coaches may be great with getting your speaking business off the ground; others might focus on slide design and content creation; some might focus on events, or entrepreneurs, or the nonprofit or corporate sector. There’s a coach for everybody! 

2 - Is there an emotional fit? Can you trust then? Then decide if you could fall on your face in front of this person, and make sure they will cheer you on. Do not underestimate the power of their influence in helping you own your voice in a new way. If you think you could walk with this person into a scary situation, that’s your coach.  

3 - And finally - is it an accountability fit? Ask yourself this: Will this person hold you accountable to the process? An investment into a coach also moves this up the back burner from ’someday maybe’ to ’now’ - and that can be worth thousands of dollars.  Because whether this is a short or long-term coaching partnership, it’s a lot about time. Time away from other things - other things that might be more fun that doing the hard and creative work of developing a talk. 

Is it a technical fit?

And will they hold you accountable? Can you take the time? And will you?

And if so... the last and most importantly... Is is an emotional fit? 

And if so - then I think you've found your coach!