Thursday, September 12, 2013

Getting coaching for yourself, minus cookie cutters: A communicator's dilemma

Communications pros, you know the truth: You can only go to so many brown-bag lunches with guest speakers or annual conference panel discussions before you run out of suitable professional development opportunities for yourself. There are plenty of cookie-cutter options, but you yearn for something different. You may be in charge of cooking up training opps for your board of directors, CEO, or volunteers, but find yourself in the training version of a food desert when it comes to your own progress.

I've been on both sides of this dilemma, in search of challenging training opportunities for myself as well as creating them for the clients I coach. Here are some training opps that don't come out of a cookie cutter:

  1. Get coaching for a specific task or event: As a coach, I've helped many clients prepare for specific tasks that range from TED talks and emceeing events to testifying before Congress or appearing on television with an aggressive interviewer. I've been getting ready to chair an international conference, and sought coaching for that demanding role myself. This approach focuses both trainer and trainee. You don't have to cover every eventuality under the sun, and you'll see results quickly. I recommend this type of coaching when you assume a new role--say, president of your professional society or a management promotion--as well as for specific events.
  2. Get an observer for your work: Once in a while, I'll ask a coach or colleague to observe me in action, usually while I am speaking or training, so they can share what they see. This takes a bit of nerve, but can be among the most rewarding forms of coaching. I guarantee you'll learn a lot from a different set of eyes. Try asking a coach to observe you in meetings, while managing a project, or during presentations.
  3. Ask about a custom option: Potential clients are always calling to say "I need training geared for an introvert" or "a scientist" or "women," all specialties of mine as a Washington, DC-based coach of speakers and presenters. But some take it further, creating truly customized options. That introvert might want coaching to be more effective in networking during a busy season of conferences. The woman might want to be heard during business meetings, and the scientist might want to better reach a non-technical audience, like the guys down the hall in marketing. You'll never know what a coach can do for you until you ask for what you really want--and I'm always open to hearing your ideas.
  4. Look for training sessions in your niche: One reason I created the Be an Expert on Working with Experts workshop was to share the insights I wish I'd had earlier in my career about working with scientists, engineers, policy wonks and subject-matter experts. There's another experts workshop coming up October 8 if you want to check it out, and I also bring the workshop to professional conferences of communicators, like the National Cancer Institute's Public Affairs and Marketing Network conference next April in Columbus, Ohio. Use your networks to ask about good training opportunities geared toward your niche.
  5. Break the challenge into smaller bites: Maybe you want to become a better public speaker, but need to get over that first hurdle by building confidence in public speaking situations and learning how to manage your nervousness. Or you'd like to start a blog but want to figure out a planning process and editorial calendar first. Breaking your training goals into smaller components may help you tackle the task and find appropriate training. 
  6. Go outside your own profession: I sought training in negotiation, a legal specialty, to do a better job coaching and managing, and in visual art, to build creativity and a different way of seeing. In my own work, I work with scientists learning how to reach public audiences, something outside their box. Finding training from a relevant profession beyond your own can help you expand your range of skills and your perspective.
  7. Get out of the country: I had the chance to keynote the spring conference of the European Speechwriters Network and UK Speechwriters Guild, and am going back this month to chair the next session--and I'm so glad I pushed out of my geographic box to do that. Hands down, that conference is among the most productive I've ever attended, expanding my networking, letting me discover new collaborators, and pushing my thinking on my own work. We've all been to conferences we go to year after year, complaining about the content and talking to the same 10 people. Why not try something new, somewhere new? It makes sense for communicators in an increasingly global economy.
Please do let me know if you're a communicator in search of more challenging coaching and training for yourself. Just email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to get started.

(Photo from the ambientoasis photostream on Flickr)

I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall: Be an Expert on Working with Experts on October 8, or The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!

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