Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Coaching to Perfect vs. Coaching to Performance

If you are in charge of coaching speakers, trainers or facilitators, you need to consider your approach. Are your strategies designed to get them ready for perfect or for performance?

Coaching to perfect means getting them to talk and look exactly how you want them to today.
Coaching to performance means getting them to master the most important elements to use tomorrow.

Coaching to perfect is judging readiness based on a rigid metric.
Coaching to performance is judging readiness based on moving targets.

Coaching to perfect is easier on the coach because the target is the same all the time.
Coaching to performance is more difficult for the coach because it involves making judgement calls based on each presenter and their target performance, audience, content, personality and experience level.

If the presenters are going to be delivering in unpredictable environments (which every presentation is except those where the speaker simply walks on stage, talks at the audience and sits down), then coaching to perfection is actually doing more harm than good. Primarily because time is wasted in practice working on things that aren't going to significantly make a difference in the actual presentation.

A prime example of this is some of the national and state student organizations I work with and their facilitation coaching strategy for elected student leaders or in-house presenters. There is too much time invested trying to get their presenters to eradicate every filler word (uh, um, etc.), saying a phrase an exact way, standing in a certain place, etc. These techniques are valuable to understand, but not critical to their end goal - the future audiences having a great experience and learning important information.

Let's use filler words for example - they are a natural part of human dialect. A presenter should certainly be aware of any they overuse, but time doesn't need to be spent coaching these entirely out of a speaker's cadence. There are two primary reasons:

1. Just because I say them less in a sterile, environment-controlled practice room doesn't mean I won't say them in the real world. It just means I'm not saying them today.

2. That time in the coaching room should be spent on items more important to good facilitation that will transfer better to the real world: content flow, great questioning, how to handle off-plan moments, debriefing, etc. Even 20-minutes spent on each of these would prove more valuable later than spending 60-minutes counting how many times someone says um.

Point two follows the thinking of a coach interested in coaching to performance. Ask yourself this question when preparing your development game plan, "Will this strategy, learning point, tip or technique significantly improve their ability to perform or is it just simple to coach?" To aid in shaping your thinking, here are a few key elements great presenters and facilitators consider paramount to a successful performance:

• Tight content flow. This includes the first few seconds, how points connect, how much time is spent on a point or activity, the length of time until the audience changes the way they input information, a tight connection between activity/story - point - personal application, the closing, etc.

• Great questioning. If your presentation includes any calls to action, you must include great questions to lead the audience where you want them to go. Great questions result in a challenge, context setting, creating a gap for the audience to fill with future behavior or information and personal application.

• Strong material. It is true that how you look and how you talk are important, but strong material is very compelling. Great content is fresh, creative, story-based, true (or truth glorified), personal, and joined at the hip with your key points.

• Content knowledge. Great presenters know their material top to bottom. The key understanding is that you have to practice to be natural. You can only hold one thought in your head at any given time. This one thought cannot be what to say next. This is also one of the key challenges with many coaching environments I have seen - trying to coach delivery when the speaker doesn't know the material top to bottom. You can't work on body language or even demonstrate your true speaking ability if you are preoccupied with remembering what to say.

• Positive and flexible frame of mind. This is the key value point between coaching to perfect and coaching to performance. The real world of presenting is unpredictable and messy. Your best laid plans are going to get dominated by an angry audience member, an AV glitch, having less time to present, etc. The best presenters cultivate a mindset that is naturally positive and upbeat and is spontaneously pliable. When things go off-course, they go with it. Literally!

Great presentation coaching is based on two premises:

1. Future success is the ultimate goal, not in-the-moment success

2. In-the-moment success does not directly coorelate to future success because of the unpredictable nature of the work.

All strategies and techniques should be built around this philosophy and prepare presenters to perform with excellence, not practice with perfection.

* Hat tip to Dr. Bill Moore and his concepts on coaching in the sports and music fields for inspiring this post.

No comments: