Wednesday, August 6, 2014

For better results in speaker coaching, think 'gain' not 'pain'

I always ask some version of the question, "What prompts the need for coaching?" when you come to me for help with a speaking task. The answers are as different as the speakers. Speaking and presenting may have come up in a negative performance review, or the boss wants you to speak more like he does. You might have an overwhelming nervousness about an upcoming talk, or just the high stakes invitation. The coaching session that inspired this blog began with a woman client who was told, in her otherwise perfect performance review, that "your presentations aren't sexy enough."

But if you're choosing coaching, you might want a more creative structure for your speech, more invitations for keynotes rather than panels, or to look presidential as you assume a high office in your professional society or that new CEO job. Maybe you want to move beyond the typical presentation and find a style of your own that's more dynamic and true to you.

The way you answer the question tells me a lot about how well you'll do in the weeks to come. Starting from a desire to gain, rather than prevent pain--like nerves, another bad review, messing up a big speech--can set the stage for a successful experience. In Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress, and Lead by Example, Steve McClatchy expresses it simply:
Tasks that you are driven toward by Gain produce more significant positive results in your life and your business than tasks that you are driven toward by Prevent Pain.
The difference lies between what you desire, and what you must do--in McClatchy's book, it might be the choice between completing a marathon or taking out the trash. In public speaking, it's the difference between giving a TED-quality talk and getting through a speech without fainting. There's a big gap in intention, and result.

As he notes, "there is no 'have to' with a Gain task, because there are no consequences if you choose not to pursue Gain in your life." It's not at all urgent. It can't be delegated in any way. Pursuing improvement at a time and for reasons of your own choosing makes the gain principle work--and worth more in the end. All those factors are important, and keep this from being merely a "think positive" construct.

But for many speakers, the open-ended nature of gain means they never try, or never seek out the coaching that could take them from good to great faster and with better results. The pain-prevention tasks seem much more concrete and immediate, are sometimes urgent and, to some extent, can be delegated. No wonder people reach for them first.

Here's what I know: Backstage at TEDMED, where I do on-the-spot coaching for any speaker on the agenda, some come to me only for last-minute encouragement and tactics for reducing their nervousness. Others say, "I have two hours. Can we work on something that will really make this stand out?" And so we do. In everyday coaching, the speaker who can envision a big gain will go further, faster than one who views speaker coaching as taking out the trash with help. Managers who hire me to train teams and individuals, here's a hint for you: If you can state the coaching need by envisioning a big gain--"I want Fred to be able to present for the team at the board of directors meeting"--rather than see it as an unpleasant course-correction for a sinking ship, your employee will do much better in the coaching process.

It's possible, by the way, to get to gain even when you begin by seeing your speaker coaching sessions as pain prevention. I certainly work hard to make that happen, and the speakers I coach often are surprised by what they can do. My litmus test is the nervous speaker who can say "I'm excited!" at the prospect of speaking. That's a gain in itself. The speaker who sought me out after that "presentations aren't sexy enough" review worked hard, and came to tears of relief when she realized our work together would pay off while allowing her to be proud of the result. But it's much easier if we start, rather than just end, that way.

The very good Farnam Street blog takes a good look at this concept, if you want further reading. How do you approach your public speaking and coaching for it? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to explore coaching for your public speaking or presentations.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Jeff Jackowski)

I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. And here's a new discount for Americans who are traveling from the U.S. to the conference: Take a €200 discount when you register with code "eloquentwoman" at the link above. Please join me!