Get in the Game, but Not Without a Coach!

Get in the Game, but Not Without a Coach!

By Craig Valentine

Get a what?
Champions get coached. In 1999 I won the World Championship of Public Speaking for Toastmasters International and have been speaking regularly ever since. Several years later, after a disastrous speech in Montreal, I went back to my hotel room, threw my head on my pillow, and faced the following reality: I need a coach badly!

Although I had never had a public speaking coach to aid in my considerable success to that point, I knew I needed one to take my speaking to the next level. Therefore, I decided to call a person who is supposed to be one of the best public speaking coaches in the country. I said, “I would like to be coached by you.” She asked, “Are you sure?” I said, “Yes. I did my research and I know you are the one I want to coach me?” She said, “Do you know how much I charge?” I said, “At this point, it would cost me more not to get coached.” She said, “Great!” Then she quoted her daily fee and I thought to myself, “Well, I am pretty happy with the skills that I have.”

Then I thought, “Wait a minute. Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world and he has a coach. All sports teams have coaches, and every extremely successful speaker I have ever heard of has had a coach. Wake up Craig. You need a coach!” Despite my reluctance, I decided to go for it and it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. In fact, I signed up for two days! When you decide to get coached, you will find it to be one of your greatest decisions too as long as you follow these critical pieces of advice:

Seek Education not Validation
When I flew across country to work with my speech coach, she immediately questioned some of my longstanding strategies and practices I used as a speaker. She even physically slapped me on the hand at times to correct me on certain habits. While completely in shock, I remember looking at my ego and saying, “You might want to leave the room for the next two days, because I will not need you.” Fortunately I was able to remove my ego in time for this valuable education.

It always amazes me how every now and then an up-and-coming speaker contacts me for coaching and then, when his session begins, he does all of the talking. Somewhere I heard that learning is done with the mouth closed. Eventually I began to understand that these particular students do not want education, instead they want to validate that everything they are already doing is right. They come into coaching with their cups full with no room for additional information. That is the wrong reason to seek coaching. As a result, the first thing I ask each of my new students is, “Do you want education or validation?” Although it is not easy to face the reality of your current condition, it is absolutely necessary if you want to get to another place. Your coach will help you do that.

A legendary comedy writer once told me that he had an up-and-coming comedy writer call him and beg him to be his coach. Over time the legendary writer gave in and decided to coach the student. In their very first session, after the legend gave some advice, the student said, “You don’t know what’s funny. That will never work. That’s not good advice for me.” Needless to say that was their first and last coaching session together. Don’t get me wrong, you do not need to take everything a coach says and use it, but you do need to enter the sessions with an open mind looking through the lens of education not validation.

Hire the Right Coach
Before hiring my coach, I researched to find the person that would benefit me the most. How? I asked my friends in the speaking industry to provide names of the top coaches. I then purchased materials from several of them to get an understanding of what each one brings to the table. Then and only then did I call my prospective coach.

There are many views on this topic but I suggest finding a coach who is strong where you are weak. Some people believe in finding a coach that reflects their style, but I firmly believe in finding a coach whose style is different. If you get a mirror image of yourself, you will not learn much. Since my storytelling was strong, I did not seek a coach who only dealt with storytelling. However, since I needed work with my structure, I sought out a coach who was strong in that area and she has since given me a very strong structural foundation.

I suggest that you videotape your presentations, ask others for ways you can improve, and review your speeches objectively so that you can figure out where you may need a stronger foundation whether it is structure, content, delivery, etc. Next identify a pool of potential coaches and purchase some of their materials for review purposes. Finally, decide which one can most likely help you fill your needs. One last thought… it helps to hire a coach who has been where you are hoping to go.

Capture their Genius (and Yours)!
There is absolutely no way you will remember all of the valuable information you receive when being coached unless you record your sessions. If you find a coach that will not let you record your sessions, find another coach. It is that critical. After my two days with my coach, I had over 12 hours of audio. In fact, I still have it today. I even kept my mini-disc recorder turned on when we went to lunch and to dinner, because valuable information comes in all settings. The only time I turned it off was when we went to the Rich Little show because those were the rules and I did not want to get arrested. You want to squeeze every bit of value from your sessions. From these recordings I was able to return to my office and translate the most important points into 37 pages of notes that I carry around like a living breathing textbook.

In your sessions, your coach will have brilliant ideas and strategies for you, but guess what? So will you! Your inner genius will speak louder and louder as your session goes on and you need to capture it. Capture it now and replay it later. Soon, after consistent review of your audio recordings and your written notes, you will start incorporating these new ideas because they will become a part of you. Failure to record it is like purchasing a huge house and living in only one room. You will not get your value’s worth.

Go Back for Seconds
The same way a good meal inspires you to go back for seconds, so does a good training session. I was so impressed with my speech coach, I ended up going back across country one month later to do a group training session with her and about 50 people. When I entered the room I was not surprised to see some of the most accomplished speakers in our industry sitting in the chairs as students taking notes expectantly and feverishly. That’s what champions do. They get coached constantly and get swept away in an upward spiral of success and improvement. Any one who wants to propel his or her performance in any area needs a coach.

Sometimes when you go for seconds it will be with another coach. No problem. That is a great idea. You can get structure from one coach and then go to another for storytelling. You may seek advice on delivery from another, but it is critical to continue your education through coaching. It is simply the best form of tailored feedback you will ever receive. A good coach will bring out the best in you.

What is The Most Important Ingredient for Coaching?
Courage. Let’s face it, nobody loves to be slapped on the hand or told that the way they do things does not make sense. This fear, not the financial piece, is the number one reason many individuals do not get coached. It takes great courage.

I can remember my good friend and the 2001 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix telling me about a marketing boot camp he attended. Many of the attendees were reluctant to share their current marketing materials because of the feedback they might receive. On the other hand, Darren said, “Hurt me. That’s why I’m here.” As a result, he has made great strides in his business using his very effective marketing tools. It is no surprise he is a champion. That’s what champions do.

You may be wondering, “So Craig, how has being coached paid off for you?” More than the increased business and the drastically enhanced impact I am having on my audiences, I am filled with the excitement of knowing that I am squeezing every ounce of ability out of my potential. Why? That’s what champions do. Champions get coached. Are you a champion?

Craig Valentine, the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, is an internationally-known professional speaker, author, and speech coach. Do you want to increase your number of speaking opportunities, maximize each engagement, and become a speaker in high demand? Great! Visit and get a year’s worth of speaking lessons for free.