What is the Speech Coach Genie’s Top Wish?
The first question a speech coach asks starts with the end in mind. As kids, dreaming and wishing were part of our daily ritual. Whether it was trying to put ourselves into a fantasy world with a Disney character, imagining greatness in the sporting arena, creating and playing with imaginary friends, or trying to picture life without our nemesis, we spent a lot of time dreaming. I can remember as a kid being asked regularly, “If you had only one wish, what would it be?” We soon figured out the best answer was “I’d wish for more wishes!” as our desires were insatiable.
I was asked by a client recently what my Genie wish would be for his presentation. We were in the middle of his preparation – there was still work to do, but he was solidly on his way. Enough, at least, that I was confident he would do a great job. He asked, “Knowing the condition I’m in for this speech, what would be the best outcome you would hope for?” I thought back to the childhood answer. Just one?! More time to practice the eye contact you can’t seem to master? A magic cure for that tic, annoying phrase, or brain lock? That the heckler wouldn’t show up? That you’d magically become the funniest man ever?
I gave an answer I was mostly happy with, but the past few weeks have made it rocket up the list. I’ve watched a lot of presentations lately. Some are by my clients – those are always strange to view, having been part of their preparation. But many have been just as a normal audience member. On most occasions, I have the nagging thought, “I wish they had called me. I could really have helped them.” Just last week, I had that thought and asked myself an offshoot of my client’s question: “What one thing would I want to fix?”
I record and listen to myself regularly (almost weekly – probably pushing 50 times a year). Every time I do, I am surprised at the little things I wish or hoped I would fix. The run-on sentences. The short pauses. The repeated words and phrases (I used “problematic” in a speech three times a few weeks ago. I think that that much repetition is problematic). The drumming of hands or chasing of rabbits or the… I’ve never given (or coached, for that matter) the perfect speech.
It feels like I’m on a rabbit trail… where were we? Oh yeah, the holy grail of speech coaching. The one thing I would fix.
I think I’ve finally settled on my Speech Coach Genie’s Wish (the SCGW?). I’ll overlook ridiculous acronyms, however witty they may be. I’ll sacrifice the non-words. Ums and Ahs are not the unforgivable sin of speaking (although they are trivially easy to fix). I’ll give up on the engaging opening. People can and do recover all the time from lame starts. I’ll even choose to pass by the terrible slides and even reading the slides (although, again, it’s an easy fix, and hard to overlook).
But my wish for your speech is that you have a repeatable, core message that every audience member “caught.” Which means the message resonated and was worth remembering… to them (remember Rule #1–it’s not about you!).
It seems so obvious. But I’ve given (and heard, and coached) so many speeches that struggled to find that core message. You can be funny, but not have a message. You can be clear, but not have a point. You can be articulate, easy to follow, a great story-teller, animated, confident, engaging, flexible, organized, prepared, and a national expert in your field. And you can still give a clunker of a speech/proposal/presentation/update/talk if you don’t nail the core message.
As a speech coach, the first question I ask starts like this: Tell me what you want to say in one sentence. Until you can tell me that one sentence… You don’t have a message. You are just getting up to talk.
Find your core, essential, one-sentence message. Everything else is supporting material.
Communication matters. What are you saying?
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This article was published in the March 2017 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.