Back in the day, I studied briefly with a piano teacher named Margaret Chaloff.
Madame Chaloff (as she preferred to be called) was a brilliant musician, a legendary teacher, and completely wrong for me. She used to complain, not without cause, that I was “Jez-Rebelling” against her, and after several lessons spent painstakingly adjusting the position of my fingers on the keyboard (she never let me play an actual note), I chose a teacher whose style was more suited to my very modest piano-playing goals.
What I learned from this is: When you put yourself in a coach or teacher’s hands, it helps a lot if you like their touch!
Do You Have to Work with a Public Speaking Coach?
Many people have taught themselves these skills — and if you’re a confirmed do-it-yourself-er, a good place to begin this project is with the 5 Best Books on Public Speaking.
But most of you will want a speaker coach for the same reason you may have hired a car mechanic, a personal trainer, or a tax preparer: It’s quicker, easier, and often more effective to put yourself in the hands of an expert who knows how to get the job done.
If you like the sound of that, these tips will help you find the right public speaking coach for you:
How Do You Know if Your Public Speaking Coach Knows Their Stuff?
Since you’re not a public speaking expert (yet!), how do you evaluate the skill level of someone who claims to be one?
It’s always wise to start with a referral, and if someone you trust raves about their speaker coach, check that person out. But what if you’re the first person in your circles to choose this type of professional?
Here are some questions to think about as you review the web sites, books, articles, or social media posts of potential public speaking coaches:
- Does this person seem experienced and credible?
- Do they have glowing references, and a solid list of clients?
- Does their coaching expertise include the specific skills that I need (for instance, have they helped other clients deliver TED talks, update shareholders, speak at scientific conferences, or give wedding toasts)?
- Do they seem to have an approach (or personal style) that will bring out the best in me?
If they lack any of these items, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker: You might, for example, find a talented novice coach who’s perfect for you, and who charges less than a 20-year veteran.
Or you might decide that working with someone of a different style will be a productive challenge.
Whatever you decide to do can work, as long as you are committed to the process.
Your Public Speaking Coach Should Be Candid and Truthful
Former White House speechwriter and Pfizer Communications Head Ken Askew once gave me this advice for working with executives:
Always tell them the truth. Top executives haven’t heard the truth for years, so when you tell it, you stand out from all the other people who don’t, and you’ll win their trust.
I’ve tried to live by that advice ever since, and while it’s led to one lost job and a few moments of drama, the upside has been fantastic!
To be clear, “telling the truth” does not mean being cruel, condescending, or impossible to please. It means being frank, firm, and committed to helping you give your best performance.
Whoever You Choose, Enjoy the Journey
In my public speaking workbook, Speak Like Yourself… No, Really! Follow Your Strengths and Skills to Great Public Speaking, I say that a good public speaker is like a wilderness guide, leading his audience across uncharted terrain toward a thought-provoking destination.
The same thing is true for a public speaking coach.
Like every road, the path to public speaking mastery has hills and valleys, slippery twists and hairpin turns.
So hold out for a coach who inspires you and earns your trust — with their skills, with their style, and most of all, with their vision of the powerful, successful, and confident public speaker that you will grow to be!
Then trust your judgment, and go for it!