Dirty Little Secrets: Confessions of a Public Speaking Coach

By Laurel Weber Snyder

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Dirty Little Secrets: Confessions of a Public Speaking Coach












“If speaking powerfully were easy, everyone would do it.”   Laurel Weber Snyder

I relished reading Kristi Hedges’ provocative 2012 Forbes article, “Confessions of a Former Public Speaking Trainer:  Don’t Waste Your Money”.  She argues that most public speaking trainers focus on “superficial attributes” like “‘correct’ postures, gestures, and speech effects,” rather than digging deeper to uncover and foster the development of leadership communication behaviors.  In addition, Hedges speculates that clients will “forget 90% of what (they’ve) learned after a few short months.”  It’s true. Backsliding is common when clients lack ongoing speaking opportunities. And, when they don’t commit to practice their new-found skills and speaking methods, improvements are fleeting.

Like Hedges, I experience discomfort when a returning client presents the same speaking challenges and levels year after year.  Some clients hire me for a small group of sessions (typically 3, 5 or 10) when they have an important yearly speech, and I do, indeed, give them the skills and practice to develop and enrich their content and “up their game” expressively. But, those improvements can be temporary.  Incorporating change and continuing to improve over time, requires consistent practice.


Growth requires motivation! Growth requires dedication! Growth is uncomfortable!

Reinforcing new behaviors and skills through ongoing practice is essential for growth. Athletes, artists, musicians and performers of all types understand the importance of training and practice.  Why don’t speakers? 


Just a Little Practice Creates Improvements

Many non-professional speakers become complacent with their habitual style of expression, speaking and moving, and can lack the motivation required to make permanent improvements.  But the benefits of committing to a consistent regimen of taking opportunities to speak and practicing exercises are extraordinary.  Results can be achieved with 20 – 30 minutes of focused practice two or three times a week. Working with a speaking coach to determine and set goals as well as target areas for improvement can help to accelerate growth.  Likewise a quarterly “check in” with your coach can ensure you are on the right path and your speaking exercises/goals can be refined and new ones added as you improve.

Depending on a speaker’s needed improvements, he or she can choose to focus on some of the following areas:

  • Vocal expression

Resonance, tone, tempo, variety, phrasing, pauses

  • Physical expression, Presence and Movement

Stance, gestures, attitude, energy, fluidity, decisiveness

  • Listening Skills

“Hearing” what is being said as well as understanding “intention”, responding appropriately, asking great “follow up” questions to continue the conversation when applicable

  • Facial expressiveness and Eye Focus

Mood, vitality, and focus

  • Demeanor

Respectful, confident, open, engaging, curious, enthusiastic


Not Just One Formula For Success

I am consistently asked this question:  “What makes someone a charismatic speaker?” It’s not easy to be a charismatic or powerful speaker.  To make matters more complicated, there is not one training device, style or trick that will get you there easily.  Consistent practice is key along with confidence in your message, passion, and inclusiveness, (the strong desire to share your message with others). These are 3 top qualities of powerful speakers and leaders.

Finding your confidence, owning the room and sharing your message with authenticity and passion will make you a powerful and memorable speaker.   You just need to commit to practicing. After all, if speaking powerfully were easy, everyone would do it.


Laurel Weber Snyder is a public speaking, media and job interview skills coach. Follow Laurel on Twitter @wellspokencoach or visit her website: www.wellspokencoaching.com



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