THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Really connect: Tips for giving good speeches

I just spent two days getting coached in speaking. I was snippy about the prospect. I believed there was no way I could learn enough to justify two days of not answering my email.

Every day I'd see "cancel coaching lessons" on my to-do list, but I didn't cancel. You can learn a lot about yourself by looking at the stuff you don't do on your to-do list. But I know that if I want to have a job where I connect with people, I have to be good at doing it. So I went.

The first day, I was still snippy. Having lingered too long over breakfast, I was late. There were eight of us. Gifford, the facilitator, told us to write for 10 minutes describing our best speaking experience. "If you finish early, just keep writing," he said. 

I was relieved. I wrote for about six seconds about my best speaking experience and then I wrote stream of consciousness. 

I didn't realize we'd have to read what we'd written. At first I thought I could quickly rewrite something before it was my turn. But I was totally captivated as Gifford helped the speakers before me.

Each person who spoke was a little bit terrible. We're talking about stuff that's not that interesting, and we don't even know the others. But Gifford found a way to make small changes that transformed us all into engaging speakers. It was fascinating to watch this happen.

He changed one person's tone of voice by having him do ape calls, one's body language by having him hold his hands behind his back, and one's eye contact by having him play catch with the audience while he spoke. You'd think each of these things would make a person look insane, but Gifford knew the perfect thing for someone to do to learn how to connect.

When it was my turn, I read what I wrote. I described my favorite speaking experience: my stepmother's funeral. 

Then I stopped.

Gifford said, "Did you write any more?"

So I read my stream-of-consciousness stuff about how I don't want to be in the room and I hate group activities and I wish I were blogging. Then Gifford showed me how to make my speech about how I don't want to be learning to give a speech engaging. If I admit my feelings and say them honestly, people will actually like it– all this in the first hour of a two-day course.

We spent a lot of those two days "learning to land." Everyone in the room knew we're supposed to look at the audience when we talk. But most people look without connecting. They don't actually talk with a person because landing your eyes on someone and really talking to them is hard.

You'd think that if you're talking with just one person, the rest of the audience feels left out. But in fact, the audience feels more connected to you if you're connecting with someone in the audience. One of the most valuable things about this coaching is that you understand what people do as an audience member so that you're better able to read an audience.

My favorite part of the class is that the room was full of important people, yet they were doing difficult things– like giving a speech about a boring topic and making it meaningful. Everyone looks awkward learning something new. 

I'm a much better speaker after this course. And, because the course focuses on authentic communication, I'm better at talking with people one on one, too; I notice the times I'm talking with someone but not totally engaged.

I learned one more thing from this experience. We need to make time in our life for coaching. Mentoring is one of the big differentiators between people who get what they want and people who don't. And coaching is mentoring on steroids– very specialized and very effective. It makes a huge difference.

So focus on the big-picture goals in your life, and get coaching to meet them faster and better than you could do on your own.