How did you become a coach?
In my first career, I wore a lot of hats. I led a professional development program for arts educators, produced the New York City Student Shakespeare Festival, and taught women’s studies and public speaking at several colleges. When my now-husband asked the question, Will you marry me?, I knew my answer was yes. And, I also knew that I needed an answer to a much more important question before I said I do. I needed to answer the question, Who do I want to be before I get married? I wanted to stop splitting myself in so many different directions –
despite how interesting each was. I wanted to stop under earning, and I wanted to be able to make more impact in people’s lives. Within one year of my engagement, I completed my coach training at Coach U, got certified through the ICF, and hung out my shingle as a coach.
Why did you decide to focus on coaching speakers?
When I started my coaching business, I was all over the place. With no business background and as a twenty-something, I constantly contorted myself into whomever I thought prospective clients wanted me to be. If I thought organizations would hire me to coach and train their young professionals, that’s how I positioned and marketed myself. If a company approached me to develop an onboarding program for their employees, I would quickly research that area of talent development so I could take the opportunity. I had been speaking professionally since I was in college, as a result of winning the Miss Junior America competition, and speaking quickly become one of the ways I grew my coaching business. Through a series of aha moments several years into coaching, I realized that my zone of genius was using speaking to grow my business – and showing other leaders, particularly in the coaching and training sectors, how to do the same.
Are you somebody who has always been confident speaking?
Absolutely not. For the first quarter of my life, I had a debilitating fear of public speaking. When I would get in front of an audience, my body would shake, my voice would quaver, I would sweat, and I would lose my words. It was awful. Even as a professional speaker, it took me a long time to recognize that I was self-sabotaging by buying into the story, Alexia, you are scared of public speaking. When really, the issue was, I didn’t know how to play nicely with the “sensation” that was coming up when I got (or thought about getting) visible.
What is the difference between “fear” and “sensation”?
If you are anything like me, or at least who I used to be, I suspect that when you are on the cusp of doing (and especially saying) something big, important, and paradigm shifting, you label what you are experiencing in your body “fear.” However, what you are feeling in these moments is your body acknowledging that you are on the cusp of something important. If you mine your life to uncover the moments when you felt like you busted through your own glass ceiling — when you spoke your truth, negotiated your worth, exceled during a sales call, or found the words to have a daring conversation — my hunch is you didn’t feel like you were on a beach vacation. Rather, you felt like a colony of butterflies had migrated for the winter into your chest. This is normal. This is you on the brink of stepping into your moxie. And the last thing you want to do is to shove that sensation back down or create a narrative around it that positions you as a victim or martyr rather than as a protagonist — which is what you are. If you want to be a confident speaker, you must learn how to get comfortable being uncomfortable when you present in front of an audience.
Do coaches make good speakers?
Yes, coaches are typically excellent speakers – even though many don’t realize this at first. Great speakers make their presentations one-hundred percent audience-centered – just like coaches make their work entirely about their clients’ transformation. Speakers may tell lots of relevant stories from their lives, but they then ask their audiences a question (or series of questions) in order for them to read themselves into the speaker’s journey and experience their own moments of discovery. In a great presentation, the majority of a speaker’s time is spent addressing the resistance their audience members are experiencing – and speaking to the conversation in their audience members’ heads and supporting them to get out of their own way. Then, just like in coaching, great speakers make big requests of their audience members. They ask them to take action on their ideas. They are also vulnerable, humble, and honest – even when, especially when, it’s difficult to be.
For a coach who wants to start speaking, what is the best place to start?
I encounter a lot of coaches in my training programs who will tell me, Alexia, I’ve done some speaking, but I haven’t seen it have a significant impact on my business. Whenever I hear this, I know that the person hasn’t identified how speaking aligns with her or his larger business goals. There are three primary reasons why coaches want to speak. First, they may want to speak to audiences of potential private clients. Second, coaches may want to speak to groups where organizational decision makers are. Third, coaches may want to speak in order to position themselves as trusted thought leaders in their space. Coaches can do one, two, and or three – but it’s important to pursue only one goal at a time. For example, let’s imagine that as a coach my area of expertise is leadership development. If I want private clients, I will create a presentation and book myself to speak before groups of leaders – and ensure that I have an offer that makes it easy for leaders to work with me after the presentation. If my goal is number two, I will want to book paid speaking and training opportunities within organizations. Now, if I don’t have strong C-suite or human resources contacts, I can speak to professional associations targeting these folks and use that initial speaking engagement as a way to get face time with organizational decision makers. If my goal is establishing myself as a thought leader, then I want to focus on speaking at the top leadership events – even if I’m forgoing a speaking fee. I recommend that coaches focus on one of these goals at a time in order to gain traction in their desired area.
What are your top three tips for coaches who want to use speaking to build their businesses?
First, create one signature presentation, with one specific idea that you are advancing, that you can give again and again. This will allow you to master your content, and make it easier for you to call your audience to take action in one key area. Second, don’t sit down at a computer screen, write out your speech, and then try to memorize it. Instead, develop your presentation by walking and talking your ideas. Then, you can sit down and take notes to support you when you practice your material aloud and commit it to memory. And third, when it comes to pitching yourself to speak, be sure you are pitching the right audiences based on the speaking goal you identified: private clients, organizations, or thought leadership. And, when sending your pitches, follow-up with event organizers. It may take five or six pitches to get a decision maker on the phone, just like it may take several emails back-and-forth with a prospective client before they decide to work with you, so don’t give up.