The phone call came in July 2010 and was uncharacteristically last minute for such a high-profile event.
The very next Sunday evening I found myself standing on the big stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco waiting to prepare a senior executive for his big moment in front of a worldwide audience the next morning. The stakes don’t get much higher.
That evening before, the setting was pretty chaotic. Production people with headsets scurried around like ants on a mission. Lights and sound techs made their final tweaks before run-throughs. But then precisely at 6pm, the huge ballroom instantly cleared out as the entire crew headed off to dinner. It was just me and Doug.
I’ve been a speaker coach for a lot of truly amazing people over the last 20 years. Some you’ll never hear about and others you might see on the evening news. And like most senior-level people, they’re pretty used to being one of the smarter people in a room. They’re also comfortable being the focal point of attention around a boardroom table and they all know with certainty where the buck stops.
But that’s where the common ground with many other leaders seems to end.
It takes a certain kind of person to place themselves in the hands of speaker coach. It takes the ability to extend trust to someone they may not know because time is of the essence. (Trust doesn’t come easy for many these days) The moment also requires a certain level of vulnerability. And as far as their egos go, they get checked at the door for a greater good. And if all those things don’t create enough obstacles, the process also submits them to a video camera that will never be a “yes man”. Bottom line…you’ve got to want it.
I guess that’s what I truly love about these moments. The executive wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be. And down deep they understand the stakes are too high for them and their organizations not to be there with me.
Unfortunately, for every leader who will place themselves in the hands of a presentation coach, there are 20 who would never consider it. It’s just not on their radar screens or in their DNA.
Here are three reasons why that happens and how you can nudge your leaders towards coaching in one of the most essential leadership skills they’ll need for a successful future.
They’re good enough.
20 years ago that may have been true. We just wanted our leaders to be really smart people and if they weren’t good in front of people, it seemed ok at the time. Fast forward to today and social media is filled with smart phone videos of unsuspecting executives. Uncomfortable moments during Q&A or passionless leaders face down at a podium hoping to inspire a decidedly disengaged audience.
Being a good enough presenter isn’t good enough anymore.
Insight: You’ll never hear us talk about the process in remedial terms. For coaching to be meaningful, it must always be about getting to the ‘next level’. Everyone has one – even the very best speakers. Leaders who are in touch with the stakes of their presentations want to find that next level if for no other reason than to ensure they meet their goals. They just need others to introduce them to resources to make that happen. That may be where you come in.
They have zero time on their calendar for non-essentials
No one will debate the fact all of us have insanely busy calendars. And that’s especially true of those in senior leadership. But the operative word here is non-essential. I suppose compared with nailing monthly financial metrics, cementing a big partnership or finalizing a merger, being a stronger communicator may seem way down the priority list – on the surface.
But if we step back, we see that these critical management activities have something in common. Did you catch it? Every one of them requires that the leader effectively communicate the outcomes to shareholders, articulate the benefits of partnering or motivate a potential acquisition company to engage. Inspire. Motivate. Challenge… all “how” words.
Leaders who are ‘highly effective’ communicators had 47% higher total returns
to shareholders over the previous five years.
2011-12 Change and Communication ROI Study Towers Watson
Insight: Leaders are greatly influenced by other successful leaders. Through your network, identify other respected leaders who have embraced presentation coaching for themselves and their teams. They’re out there. Find ways of providing that insight to your executive and consider group coaching at leadership retreats. The buzz created by their team may motivate them to not be left behind.
The bar needs to be raised and it can all start there.
Big egos or hidden insecurities just can’t handle the coaching lens.
Lest you think videotaped coaching is easy, it’s incredibly humbling. Try it sometime.
Yes, there are large egos to navigate in senior leadership but I’ve worked with very confidently appearing senior leaders who had insecurities hiding just beneath the surface forged through years of bad experiences or the relationship with a critical parent.
We’re complex human beings.
These may be the toughest extremes to work with because there’s most often no convincing the voice in their head that their too good for this or perhaps not good enough. If some in your C-suite fall into one of these camps, here’s what you can do to start the process of change.
Insight: Use the context of an upcoming major event to provide speaker coaching for ‘other leaders’ and while the coach is there, see if the executive would like a few minutes ‘for a quick tune-up’. Events create a unique and collective focus for leaders for a fleeting window of time. Take advantage of that.
I can’t tell you how many times once the reluctant leader saw how rapidly change can happen and the difference it made in how they were perceived, they tell me they wished they had done this 30 years ago.
After my evening coaching session with Doug on the Moscone center stage, his stock went way up in my eyes.
He didn’t have to be there but he was. He also had more natural instincts than he gave himself credit for. And his presentation… he knocked it out of the park the next morning. But it also reinforced an observation I’ve had for a very long time. Really senior executives are more like you and me than we give them credit for.
Down deep, they want to be better tomorrow than they are today. They want their lives to count for something and be respected and make a difference. They’re just not always quite sure how to get there.