In meeting with clients, I’m hearing more concern about the “softer” skills critical to leadership and business development. The impression individuals make when interacting with colleagues, managers, and clients can greatly accelerate their career success…or leave them stalled or sidelined in the workplace. That’s where tailored coaching comes in.
I recently met with two of Springboards’ coaches, Dave Demke and Dev Luthra, to understand how they draw on their training as actors and speech coaches to help executives give more effective presentations and develop confident, compelling communication styles.
Nadia: Why would a busy professional invest time in this kind of training? What’s the value?
Dave: For many individuals, the early stages of their career are all about mastering technical and job-specific skills, and executing with accuracy. But to move up professionally, you need to develop a whole new set of softer skills – relational skills and leadership qualities – that are not intrinsic to many of us. Your presence – the impression you make on people – is a huge factor in your success.
Dev: Busy professionals often do worry about making time for this kind of training. Many work in such outcomes-oriented environments that they want to quantify the coaching process: “Give me a list of 5 do’s and don’ts, and I can do this.” My goal is to help them understand that the ability to communicate well is power. And achieving that power requires a sense of responsibility and sustained commitment.
Dave: In my coaching, I help individuals figure out how to translate their personal characteristics into leadership energy. That’s the value: leaders know when to connect with people on an emotional level, not just an informational level. For example, in response to a question from a junior colleague, a new manager might provide accurate and useful information. But maybe the questioner was really looking for reassurance from a senior person, for a more emotionally helpful response, not just for information.
Nadia: How do you make the best use of the client’s time, to ensure impact?
Dave: I start with analysis and diagnosis – identifying what’s getting in the way of clear, dynamic communications, then trying out strategies to get that barrier out of the way. For example, I coached a group of law students who were, thanks to the internet, able to access tremendous amounts of factual information to shape their arguments. But they became so focused on the logical aspects of their research that they overlooked the emotional dimensions involved in a trial, especially with juries. That barrier had to be addressed if they were going to succeed.
Dev: In addition, what I feel is most critical is creating trust. The client needs to trust me, to feel supported enough to venture into “the unknown” as we explore approaches and techniques.
Nadia: What does your acting background bring to the coaching experience?
Dev: Well, as an actor, you have a script, and your job is to persuade your audience that what you say has weight, value and, importance – it has power. And it’s exactly the same in other settings, whether a conference room, boardroom, or courtroom.
Dave: You know, we live in such a visual culture, people sometimes forget that we get a great deal of information from what we hear – and how we hear it – not just from what we see. Our voice is connected directly to our psychology, and trained speakers know how to align the quality of their voice to their rhetoric.
Dev: Absolutely – I focus first on language: the weight and meanings of words, and the pitch and tone of your voice. You also need to be aware of your physical expression, what your body language is saying. And I always draw my client’s attention to their breathing—is it shallow, deep, fast? This all comes together in how you connect to the audience and make what you’re saying matter to every one of them.
Nadia: How does your approach to speech and performance coaching differ from typical presentation training?
Dev: In a typical presentation, the skills and format required to interact with the audience are very specific and particular; there is a certain process and structure you follow. But in my work with senior executives, we focus less on the presentation’s facts and content, and more on relationships – how do you connect with and inspire people? How do you create a compelling atmosphere? That’s where my performance training comes in. I’ll ask a client “When you approach someone in a room, how do you stand? How do you establish a welcoming relationship with people in the audience? Can you interrupt someone thoughtfully?”
Nadia: Clients often ask about measurable progress. How do you gauge success?
Dev: Well, in our results-based culture, people are not rewarded enough for the ability to connect with others, to have presence, to collaborate effectively. These are complex skills that can take a long time to develop, and their impact is hard to measure. That said, in the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve been told repeatedly that clients feel a tangible benefit, and a sense of improvement in their self-confidence, in their interactions, and in their careers as a result.
“Leadership Lessons from the Theater,” by Laura Dunham and R. Edward Freeman, Organizational Dynamics, vol. 29, no. 2, 2000
“Leadership That Gets Results,” by Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, Mar-Apr. 2000
Could communications coaching benefit you or your employees? Springboards offers individual coaching and group workshops in communications and cross-cultural development, delivered by a team of top-rate coaches. Learn more about the Springboards Coaching team.