Tuesday, June 25, 2013

When you're coaching experts, can you get out of the way and let them be authentic?

One of the nicest reviews of my recent workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, said, "I particularly appreciated her emphasis on understanding a speaker's needs and motivations in order to help them deliver the best possible presentation."

Asking about motivation and preferences is a standard part of what I do when I'm coaching experts and executives for speeches and interviews, and it should be what you do, too. Do it before you offer the tactics and talking points. Do it before you smooth out those seemingly rough edges. Your sandpaper--your unwillingness to let them risk being themselves--may be scrubbing out the one thing that will let them connect with the audience in any medium: Authenticity.

Jim Garrow of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health says you just have to get out of the way. He pokes at public information officers who populate organization blogs with corporate posts, rather than let the subject-matter experts in the organization blog on a regular basis:
...And then something newsworthy happens and you ask a subject-matter expert to write about it. In a format that they’re not familiar or comfortable with, under a deadline that they feel stressed about, and to readers who don’t know this lady from a hole in the wall. This is supposed to be helpful?...[W]e need to get the hell out of the way. Let your agency shine through every day. Give your experts the podium they deserve. Build them a following (or let them build a following).
It's tough to get more authentic than AthenaHealth CEO Jonathan Bush, one of the speakers I worked with at TEDMED this year. If you think he's overly energetic in this TEDMED talk on the Kennedy Center stage, embedded below, you should see him in an office, just as exuberant and passionate and ready to storm the battlements--in this case, of a lopsided market in which nonprofit health institutions are making corporate-style profits.

Is this a popular stance? No. Was there likely some cringing as he named companies, universities and nonprofits? You bet. Did he tell every corner of the health care industry how to upend itself? No question. Was it boring? Not for a nanosecond. Would you have been tempted to put him in a suit jacket, tell him to gesture and jump around less, modulate his voice, mention his own company more (or at all), work in the corporate message points?

That might well be your first impulse, and it would be 8,000 kinds of wrong. It also wouldn't work as a TEDMED talk. Bush held this audience in the palm of his hand. He connected, again and again. He left it all on stage. You can hear the cheers, applause and whistles from the crowd at the end, as it audibly reflects his passion and energy. Most important: He delivered the message he wanted to deliver, the one he cares about. That's authentic. Try not to get in the way of it when you see it.



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