Many of you know my background. I didn't set out to be a presentation skills coach. I was just a guy who had a challenge with public speaking. I studied and practiced for years, and I figured out a few secrets that make presenting much easier. I spent the first 10 years of my career learning everything I could about public speaking. I spent the next five years training thousands of people in the skill. Eventually, though, I got to a point where I didn't have any more time. So, I began to train other trainers. In fact, for the last decade or so, I've done very few public speaking classes myself. I've spent those years doing train-the-trainer presentation skills sessions.
Below are a few things that I've learned along the way that may help if you are wanting to be a public speaking coach or if you are training others to be teachers.
Train-the-Trainer Presentation Skills-How to Train a Public Speaking Coach
People Who Used to Have Public Speaking Fear Tend to Be Better Coaches than Polished Speakers.
This is just from my personal experience. However, I have trained dozens and dozens of public speaking coaches. The ones who were professional speakers before becoming a coach tend to struggle more. In fact, I have had the most challenges with college or university presentation skills teachers. As a result, most of the certified Fearless Presentations ® coaches come from our classes. A majority of them are people who were nervous about speaking and came through the class. The program was such a life-changing experience for them, that they decided to help others have the same result.
The first trainer that I ever trained was my wife. She and I had been dating a year or so, before I began learning to teach classes. I was always so excited when I learned something new, that I wanted to share it with her. Her response was always, "You will never get me up in front of a group like that." However, she saw how this skill that I was developing was changing my life in a positive way. Eventually, she came to me and asked if she could sit through one of my classes. Still being a new presentation coach, I suggested that she sit in on a class taught by the woman who was training me to be a coach.
At the time, my wife was a bakery manager. In the year after she went through the class, she was able to transform her newly assigned bakery from the lowest in revenue to the highest in revenue in the company. Her boss transferred her to the new lowest revenue bakery. In less than a year, she did the same thing in that bakery. Two years later, she was a public speaking coach herself. She was so good as a coach because she had empathy for every person who came through her class. She knew what they were going through, because she was there just a few years before.
Experienced Presenters are Sometimes Harder to Train-the-Trainer.
In contrast, one of my first coaches for The Leader's Institute ® was a professional speaker out of Orlando. As I was training him to do what I do, he was much more resistant. He had been a coach for almost 25 years, and what I was doing was often a stark contrast to what he would have done. However, he couldn't argue with my success. So, for about five years, he was one of the most popular trainers in the company. Eventually, though, I started getting strange complaints from his students. I sent one of my other instructors to a session of his class just to see what he was doing. I remember the call from my spy. The instructor said, "Doug, I'm not sure what this guy is teaching but I know for sure it is NOT the Fearless Presentations ® class."
It turned out that this trainer's 25 years of experience came with a bunch of ingrained habits. So, the farther he got from my train-the-trainer sessions, the more he drifted back to what he used to do versus what I had trained him to do.
A good analogy is someone practicing golf. A good golf pro would rather have someone who has never picked up a club in his life than someone who has been hacking around for 25 years. The novice is trainable. The novice has no ingrained bad habits.
That is not to say, by the way, that experienced speakers or presenters can't be public speaking coaches. It really depends on the habits that the person has acquired. A few of the best public speaking instructors in our company were speaking coaches before joining us. Before you decide who you want to train as a speaking coach, go through the rest of the list below.
The Biggest Mistakes that Most Public Speaking Coaches Make.
Wait for Failure then Critique Method.
When I was in college, I had to take a Business Communications class. My grade was based on scores that I received for each of three presentations in the semester. The teacher was a Teaching Assistant, so she was just a couple years older than I was at the time. She used a method that many presentation skills facilitators use. She would critique each presentation. More specifically, she used what is known as the Sandwich method of critiquing. Basically, you sandwich the critique between two compliments. You would give a compliment. Then give the critique. Finally, you give a second compliment. This technique sounds good, but it doesn't actually work. No one remembers the compliments. They do remember the criticism, though.
I gave my first presentation, and I got a 94% -- an A grade. It has been years, but the critique sounded something like this... "Doug, that was a great presentation. You had a very fluid delivery. However, you said 'uhm' seven times, and you kept sticking your hands in your pants pockets. You should work on that next time. Again though. Very good presentation."
Three weeks later I gave my second presentation. I said "uhm" 14 times, and I didn't stick my hands in my pockets. However, I did catch myself a few times starting to put my hands in my pockets and abruptly stopping. I got an 84% on that presentation. I got a 74% on the third. I got worse after each presentation. I also left that class with a tremendous amount of nervousness. I'm not the only one who has an experience like this. One of the most common places that people acquire public speaking fear is from presentations given in school growing up.
This technique DOES NOT WORK!
Overteaching and Underpracticing.
"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." - Aristotle
In many presentation skills classes, the instructor will give a series of teaching items or lessons. Then, the facilitator will expect everyone to retain all of the information without practice. This happens a lot in a seminar style of class. This type of deliver is a one-way communication. The trainer speaks. The audience listens. By the way, people who have a significant amount of stage fright love this style of teaching. (It doesn't work well, though.) They love it because it is passive. The person with fear can go through the whole class without ever having to confront that fear. As a result, the fear or nervousness actually increases.
I recently did a series of sessions on webinars. In the session called 7 Important Things that You Need to Know about Webinars, I talked extensively about this. If the person you are doing the train-the-trainer presentation skills for could deliver his or her presentation in a webinar, the person is making this big mistake.
Providing a Cookie-Cutter, Good for Every Presentation Structure.
I have to admit, I was guilty of this mistake for years. When I first started teaching the Fearless Presentations ® classes, I needed an structure that would fit most every situation. I started teaching Three-Point-Talk Format. (Follow the link to Podcast 3 for more details.) This format is so flexible that, with a few minor adjustments, it fits almost any type of presentation. We had so much success, that I began to see this type of format as the ideal structure. So, over the years, class members would come through my classes and say, "I don't have the luxury of being able to change my presentations. My company gives us standard slide decks." Others would say, "I have to give very technical presentations that have a lot of data." Another example was, "I have to teach a 10 step process, and all of the steps are critical."
I found myself sticking with the structure, even though the structure didn't fit every single situation. (It fit 90%, but not all.) On rare occasions, I was trying fit the proverbial square peg into the round hole. It took me years to come to this realization. Eventually, though, I realized that a good presentation skills coach has to be able to adapt to the specific needs of each class member. By the way, when I did this, I went to an entirely new level of coaching.
Five Key Ideas for Great Train-the-Trainer Presentation Skills Sessions
The Example Teaches
"It is difficult to bring people to goodness with lessons, but it is easy to do so by example." - Seneca
When I begin to train a new instructor, the instructor candidates always want to start by learning the "content". They want to learn what to teach. In reality, though, the examples are WAY more important. In fact, I can do a terrible job teaching content, but if I give a good example, the class will still understand what I want them to do. However, if I am very clear and understandable in my instruction, but then I give a bad example, the audience will be confused. Your class members are always more likely to do what you do rather than what you say.
When I have an instructor candidate who is trying to learn how to teach a Fearless Presentations ® class, I often have them go through an entire class as a student first. This has two advantages. First, if the candidate is already a good speaker and the class makes them better, it just reinforces to the candidate how good the class really is. In addition, though, it allows the person going through the train-the-trainer process to develop real examples that he or she can use to help teach the class later. In fact, I often have a candidate go through this process two or three times. The examples are that important to the success of the train-the-trainer candidate.
Going back the golf analogy from earlier, it is much easier for a golf pro to show a student how to swing than it is to tell the student how to swing.
Deliver Content to Students in Bite-Sized Pieces.
The technique that we use in the Fearless Presentations ® classes is to give the student one simple thing at a time. We allow the participants to master each component part. Once they have a success, we add something to what was already learned. We let them practice and master that component as well. Then, we add something new. We don't give a new student a long series of items. Just a little at a time.
We often use the example of driving a car or learning to ride a bicycle. If we are teaching a teenager to drive a car, we wouldn't give the person a long list of items to learn. We'd start in a parking lot and teach the student how to park. For a child learning to ride a bike, we'd let the kid master balance first, then teach the kid how to steer. Then add in starting and stopping. The more content that we deliver in a single setting, the less likely the person will be to apply it. This sounds like a very slow process, but the opposite is actually true. Students learn at an accelerated rate when they learn using this technique. They are also more confident in their delivery.
Give Students Time to Practice.
When you deliver train-the-trainer presentation skills lessons, make sure to reinforce to the trainers that practice time for their students is vital. The more that the trainer talks, the less impact the content will have for the student. In our sessions, we tend to stick with a goal of having the teacher speak for less than 25% of each session. Public speaking classes are much different than other types of training sessions. The only way to get really good at speaking is to do it. So, the more that the trainer talks, the less opportunity each student has to talk.
In most Fearless Presentations ® sessions, we have the teacher give instructions, give an example, let the students design a presentation, and practice with a partner. The students do all this before getting up in front of the group. This technique gives our coaches a number of opportunities to coach the student. It also gives each student more opportunity to improve at each stage.
Coaching Skills are More Important than Critiques.
I mentioned earlier how poor presentation skill trainers will wait for the student to fail, and then critique the person afterward. One of the truly bad outcomes of this still of teaching is that if you don't see a flaw, you will likely still critique something. (Nobody is ever perfect.) A good presentation skills trainer will make sure that the person doesn't fail in the first place. As a coach, I can actually help the speaker improve WHILE he or she is actually speaking. So, basically, instead of looking for the flaws and pointing them out after the fact, I will look for the flaws and help the person fix those flaws during the presentation. By the way, most of the coaching is so subtle that it is not noticed by the rest of the class.
Ways to Coach a Student that Helps Him/Her Improve During a Presentations
- Give a good example that the students can use as a guide.
- Have the students practice with a partner before speaking to the entire group. This gives the trainer a chance to look for flaws in the deliver and coach before the person gets in front of the group.
- Get the speaker started well. A good coach will introduce the speaker and start a round of applause.
- Mirror the student from the back of the room. A good coach will model the behavior from the back of the room that he/she wants the student to do in front of the room. Be the anchor that helps the student.
- Give "Attaboys". With each of these coaching techniques, once the student does what you want him or her to do, reinforce the behavior with an "attaboy". A simple, "good" or "perfect" from the coach as the person presents will help the person gain confidence.
Each of these subtle coaching techniques will allow the student to present in a more fluid and confident way. That way, the student sits down having succeeded.
Compliment Every Success.
"I can live for two months on a good compliment." ― Mark Twain
One of the big mistakes that I didn't mention above is to compliment someone who did a terrible job speaking. That sounds very cold, I know. However, when I was training a speaking coach, I was taught to compliment everyone -- no matter what they did. However, the other class members are always watching. If one of the class members did the opposite of what I was teaching or just didn't even try, and I complimented the person, every other compliment that I had given in sincerity will have been lessened as a result.
That is why the previous couple of items in this list are so critical. If we give a good, solid example, the student is more likely to succeed. If we coach the person as he/she give the speech, he or she is more likely to succeed. As a result, it is much easier to give sincere compliments if we give good example and we coach well.
If we give bad examples and don't coach, giving sincere compliments can often be challenging.
With all that being said, the compliment after a person speaks is CRITICAL to helping the person increase his or her confidence. They are actually one of the easiest parts of teach if we are doing the earlier items effectively.
Just a Few of These Tips will Make You a Better Coach.
Just like I've explained in this session, focus on improvement in bite-sized pieces. Don't try to apply everything all at once. Small improvements will make you a better presentation skills coach.