Before you begin, you probably want to know where you’ll end. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but I have to inform you that there is no end point. There is no final result that I can identify for you and tell you that you are finished with your speech improvement. It doesn’t exist for anyone, not just you. Take a look around at all the information and education possibilities for improvement of presentation skills, effective speaking, persuasive speaking, leadership communication, overcoming fear of speaking in public, storytelling, salesmanship, and so forth. These exist because there is a desire and motivation for improving speaking skills. These all offer opportunities for people to focus on something that many of us assume comes naturally to others. This is rather unique to the area of speaking though. The thought of sitting down to write a book then becoming frustrated if it doesn’t happen easily doesn’t go through many people’s heads. Yet, people write every day, so why doesn’t writing a compelling book come naturally? People speak every day. So why doesn’t effective and clear speech come naturally? Doing something often and doing something well aren’t the same things. Focused, purposeful practice yields results. Persisting despite making mistakes yields results.
Coaching vs Teaching
I have a been a student and I have been a teacher. I have had coaches and I have been a coach. I made the most progress with a coach and I know you will, too. Teachers have a set plan that often includes material and requirements that they don’t have control of. They may not get to choose the book that you’re using or the assessments that measure your progress. Your progress is evaluated in relation to the other students, you may be ranked among them. Your feelings about your progress may be influenced by those around you who are making progress faster than you or that it seems to come more easily to than to you. Or, you could feel bored and unmotivated when you are the one who is ready to move on before those around you. Either way, your progress and development is contained within the group you’re in.
Coaches focus on the individual qualities of each person. They develop a plan that takes into consideration your current status, your goal, and the steps between that will mark your progress. Assessment is based on these individual goals and at intervals that are determined by your own pace. Your feelings about your progress are determined by your own dedication and self-discipline because there is no one else to compare yourself to except your own expectations. There is no end-point except your own satisfaction. That is why it is so important to consider and define your goals before you begin and as you progress.
In my experience, being a student in a class with a teacher was easier than being an individual learner with a coach. In a class, I could put off my homework until the last minute, come to class half-awake, not answer questions, borrow notes from others, pass the tests, and coast to the finish line at the end of the course. As an individual working with a coach, there’s no coasting, no hiding from being held accountable for the work I obviously didn’t do between our meetings. I knew the coach wouldn’t be personally affected by my not doing the work because they were already good at what they were teaching me. It was myself that I disappointed and really affected by my actions or inaction. On the positive side, I had someone to share my successes with who recognized the effort I put into my achievements.
Having a coach is like having a magnifying glass on your own self-discipline and performance, it can be uncomfortable to see up close, but there’s no better way to see the details you can improve upon. Most importantly, a coach sees your imperfections and progress much more objectively than you do so they are able to assess your changes from a perspective that you can’t get from within yourself. You need both external and internal perspectives, assessments, and motivation. This is what a coach can provide.
Since I work with many people in technical areas like software development and engineering, I have learned to communicate information about speech and language in terms that are familiar to them. The agile methodology is a helpful way to think about how people make progress with changing their speech.
Changing speech isn't a series of isolated tasks to be completed before moving on to the next one.
It's about adding new concepts gradually and constantly checking on how well they are being integrated before moving on to the next one and making adjustments as necessary.
This kind of flexibility is possible with private coaching, not with classroom teaching. You make progress at your own pace, spend longer on one speech feature than another, and receive continuous feedback so you know how you're progressing.
Thinking in terms of cycles is very effective. The concepts I've added to the graph below are in most people's Top 5 Goals: Intonation, Syllables, Schwa, Sound Processes, Sound-Spelling Relationships.
I have gained so much from the people I've worked with. I have learned about different methods of communicating while I was teaching communication skills. As long as you're open to new ideas and methods, you're sure to make progress in the direction you choose.
Dr. Christi Barb's Blog:
Thinking About Speaking