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Shifting from Speaker-Judge to Speaker-Coach


by Claudia W. Brogan

One of the finest ways for us to keep polishing our speaking skills and learning new lessons is to pay very close attention to public speakers, wherever and whenever we happen upon them. Whether watching a keynote speech at a large conference or hearing a newly-published author at a forum, whether hearing a motivational speech or even a pastor delivering a sermon, there is a bounty of public-speaking for us to observe.

Each of these presentations offers a learning opportunity for us to refresh and polish our own speaking skills. Rather than zoning out during the next presentation you hear, or jumping too quickly into that facile, human knack for finding five flaws about the speaker, it helps to re-frame the experience. It is often so tempting to create a lengthy list of what a speaker has done wrong (quiet speaking voice, unfunny opening joke, unclear speech purpose, failure to clarify key points, or even making stilted gestures which take away from the presentation). Once a person starts down this road of judging the speaker, that very mentality causes the listener to drill down to petty mistakes, rather than remain engaged.

Instead of listening as a judge, listen as a coach

Instead of serving as “judge” for the next speaker you listen to, mentally try out the role of serving as that person’s Speaking-Coach. A coach is clear that they want the speaker to succeed; a coach captures quotes, word choices, and inflection-details in order to mirror them back to that speaker and reinforce what a speaker has done well. A coach focuses on what they enjoy and appreciate about that speaker’s presentation, as well as specific tips for behaviors they recommend the speaker use next time.

If we were to step into the shoes of a motivating coach for public speakers, what aspects might we focus on? As a coach for TED speakers, author Gina Barnett offers 3 gems that you might consider when coaching a speaker.

It’s about being you.

She urges all speakers to be their own authentic selves during presentations. No need to mimic Steve Jobs or try to adopt President Barack Obama’s styles; each speaker needs to select a topic and prepare a speech from the most natural and fitting aspect possible.

They don’t want a speaker to bomb.

Ms. Barnett repeatedly helps speakers remember that audience members do not want to see a speaker fail. Even if a listener disagrees with an opinion or doesn’t laugh at a speaker’s joke, audience members don’t want to watch a speaker have a miserable experience.

Leave the past in the past.

This TED speaker-coach exhorts us each to learn from our experiences, to prepare with gusto, and then move on ahead to the next opportunity, treating it like a fresh slate.

Learn to be your own best coach

One final note on this idea of moving from being a “speaker-judge” to being a “speaker-coach” is to actually use that adage for improving your own speaking skills. Rather than judge yourself and make a long list of the things you did ineffectively, or the long pause when you forgot your next point, or the joke you used which yielded silence from the audience, turn your capacity for coaching and encouraging and aim it at yourself as a speaker. Rather than make a long list of where things went wrong, learn to pay a mental-compliment to yourself: Be in the habit of asking “What was the one thing I did which was most effective in this presentation? What was one aspect of my speaking that I could further strengthen for my next presentation?”

In this clever, useful article, Lisa Marshall urges us as public speakers to frame the task as our being our own coaches. Her advice is to serve just as thoroughly as you would if a peer asked you for suggestions to improve. Focus first on how you look, including gestures, animation, facial expressions. Secondly, examine how you sound—whether excited about the topic, enthusiastic about its value, and even how encouraging you feel when addressing the action steps. Will the audience members feel the impetus and take positive action about your topic?

The camera cannot lie: rich coaching advice from video

The most potent, vivid and realistic feedback is to video yourself (either on your own smart phone if you are feeling camera shy or in your early practicing stages, or by someone who can track your motions and gestures).  Truthfully, the hardest part can be getting past the cringe factor of how awkward or funny it is to see oneself on video. After things get going, there is a bounty of rich and truth-telling information to be gleaned by watching oneself.


Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.