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Stand And Deliver!

Me, Talking While Someone Hands Me A Beer

If I asked you a question about our process, would you be ready to stand up and pronounce, right on the spot?

Talking in front of groups is so obviously part of coaching that it’s easy to underestimate its importance. If you’re going to be a great coach, you’re going to have to be a good off-the-cuff speaker.

The Basics: Practice Practice Practice

No matter what style of coach you are, there are a handful of basics that always apply:

  • Speak to everyone, one person at a time: make eye contact, one by one, with everyone you’re speaking to. Practice this until you do it without thinking.
  • Learn to pause without sound. Uhhs, ya knows, likes, and so on feel like they’re helping, but they’re not. People like that you take time to formulate your words, even before you say anything at all.
  • Punch the message. All of my worst speaking experiences have been when I lost my message, then dribbled off into pathetic uselessness. Outside the NBA, nobody likes a dribbler.
  • Master saying I don’t know. There are several different good ways to say this. Again, people like that you sometimes don’t know. It builds trust and confidence for when you do know.

If you’re just getting into this bizarre gig, and you don’t feel happy when you have to stand up and give talks, it’s easy to get basic training. I strongly recommend Toastmasters International. They will help enormously.

In any case, keep practicing. Study doesn’t really repay much when you’re just getting started. It’s the practice that counts.

Intermediate: Only Connect!

When E.M. Forster wrote Only connect!, he was talking about humans making contact with each other.

Yes, of course, connect with your audience. Use your empathy and your experience to feel your way into subtexts, fears, and so on.

Excellent talking includes another kind of connecting: the kind where you tie what you’re saying now to what you have already said, or better still, what the team has already done. I use the principles of agile development constantly when I coach, and I try to tie every idea or judgment back to them.

Perhaps the last intermediate skill would be the delicate demurral. It is the way of things that you will be asked as a coach to publicly evaluate baseless, bizarre, bogus, and bad proposals. Let ’em down easy. Kindness knows no shame.

Mastery: Watch, Study, Learn.

Some suggest that masters of public speaking have no fear. I doubt it. Masters have fear, but they harness it to help them deliver intensity and passion, and that’s a wonderful thing to see. Watch the best speakers around you.

Eventually, you may want to study rhetoric. I find that Silvia Rhetoricae is an awesome site for discovering the figures of speech. A figure of speech is a kind of language design pattern. Fascinating stuff

Read speeches. For an amazing read, try Gary Wills’s Lincoln at Gettysburg. His analysis of the Gettysburg Address will make you hunger for more.

One More Thing:

Use This Power For Good

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