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The Difference Between a Great Speaker and a Great Speaker Coach


by Natalie Gallagher

A friend of mine recently worked with a new speaker coach to get her ready for a big work presentation in front of a room of over 500 people. She was disappointed after the first session because she didn’t feel like she’d gotten what she needed. She noticed her coach struggled to translate his skills as a wonderful speaker into helping her with her presentation. “He didn’t seem to understand I was giving a corporate presentation, not a motivational speech.” She lamented. “And he’s such a great speaker, so I thought he’d be a great coach!”

Remember that old adage “Those who can’t do, teach?” Well, I think that’s backwards (and also total hogwash, but let’s save that for another post). More often, it goes like this: “Those who do, often can’t teach.”

Teaching, coaching, training, etc. take a special set of skills that are quite different from the skills needed to be great at something. In fact, sometimes experts in the field make the worst teachers and coaches because they don’t remember what it’s like to be a beginner, and they don’t know how to teach their skills in a way someone else can learn from them. That’s not to say great speakers can’t be great coaches (in fact, if your speaker coach is a terrible speaker, then that’s a whole different set of skills they’re missing). It is to say that being a great speaker doesn’t always translate into being a great coach.

So what’s the difference between a great speaker and a great speaker coach? Here’s what to look for:

A great speaker coach is a teacher at heart

Think about the best teachers you’ve had in your life. What were some of their common characteristics? Most likely you learned a lot from them because they were very good at explaining things, and they helped you work through challenging problems and tasks. That’s what a great speaker coach does: they help the speaker work through tough material, overcome bad speaking habits, and push them to be the best speaker they can be by teaching them new skills and habits. A great speaker coach knows how to explain, in an accessible way, what the speaker needs to do to improve.

A great speaker coach works with the speaker’s unique style

Every experienced speaker has a unique, signature style that works well for them. A great coach works with the speaker to bring out the best in their style, rather than try to shoehorn them into a style that doesn’t work. For instance, I have a friend who is a brilliant storyteller, and her style is nuanced and delicate. Trying to get her to be loud and bombastic (a style that works well for other speakers) would mean at best she comes across as inauthentic, and at worst she would struggle mightily with the material. A great coach knows how to identify their speaker’s style, and works with them to cultivate it into something marvelous.

Additionally, a great speaker coach understands the difference in content and style for different types of presentations. Giving a keynote at a conference is quite a bit different than giving a TEDx Talk, giving a motivational speech, or leading a training. A great coach knows each type of presentation well, and will help the speaker develop their unique style to thrive in whatever setting they’re speaking.

A great speaker coach isn’t afraid to give tough, honest feedback

Feedback is hard to hear, even if you’re used to it and open to receiving it. As a result, I know of several instances where the speaker coach chose to gloss over some glaring problems their speaker was having, rather than risk hurting their feelings. But people work with a speaker coach specifically to get that tough feedback (even if they’re not fully ready to hear it yet), so they can improve their speaking skills. As a coach, it’s your responsibility to be honest with your speaker because it’s the only way they’ll get better. Failing to give the tough feedback isn’t kind at all; it’s like not telling your friend they have spinach in their teeth, and then letting them walk into a big meeting like that! Wouldn’t you want to know?

A great speaker coach listens more than they speak

How do you know if your client is making improvements, implementing what you taught them, and feeling good about the material if you’re always talking? As public speaking experts it’s tempting to fall into the pattern of letting our speaker know just how expert we are by telling them about all of the things we know, for a very long time. After all, isn’t “coaching” simply telling the speaker all of the things and then hoping they put it to use when they get on stage? A great speaking coach lets their speaker speak (imagine that), and they offer guidance and feedback along the way. They give the speaker room to practice, experiment, and work on their skills because this is the only way to get better at public speaking.

Ultimately, a great speaker coach is in it for the speaker’s success and will work with them until they achieve their goals. Just like speakers, coaches have their own style too. Regardless, these characteristics will transcend individual style because it means the coach is in it to help you be the best speaker you can be.

See Natalie’s original post here.

Natalie Gallagher is an experienced educator who is dedicated to helping her clients become phenomenal speakers, writers, and trainers. You can reach her at ngallagher @ sociallinus.com or by visiting her website www.nataliemgallagher.com