Build Your Skills

How to Find the Right Speaking Coach For You

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How on earth do you find the presentation coach you really need; the presentation coach who is going to really understand you and will help you be the presenter you always wanted to be?

As the saying goes, “Recognising you have a problem can be the hardest part” but admitting to it is just the first step. Breaking through self deception can be very difficult but, once you have, the next step can be just as hard. Sims Wyeth believes that your career depends on how you speak, write and think – in that order – and has helped many professionals over the years by understanding the unique challenges each individual was facing and developing personalised strategies for each presenter. Who better to highlight the factors you should consider and the questions you should ask when selecting the right presentation coach for you?


Admitting you should hire a presentation coach is like a confession – an acknowledgement that you need help with a specific set of skills. Some of us will struggle on our own for years rather than surrender to some presentation coach who’s going to tell us things we don’t want to hear. It’s like driving in circles instead of stopping to ask for directions when we’re lost.

But confessing is a smart choice. Professionals, like athletes, need someone who’s on their side; who understands which issues need attention; and recognises the shortest distance from here to there.

Here are 11 factors to consider when selecting the best coach for you:

1. Public speaking and presenting challenges everyone on multiple levels

Some coaches are intellectual; some psychological; others focus on the physical; and some are highly imaginative. Ask questions to figure out who they are, how they work, and what will work for you.

2. Do they have expertise in your specific area of need?

For instance, you may need to improve the expressive power of your speaking voice. Do they have professional experience as a voice instructor?

3. Ask them if they’d be willing to sell by doing, instead of by telling?

In other words, would they be willing to set up the sales call as a coaching session, so you could take their coaching skills for a test drive?

4. Is industry knowledge one of the criteria you will use to assess them?

Or will you be satisfied with a coach who simply addresses style issues?

5. Find out if any of them have a developmental process that they use in a flexible manner to assist you

You don’t want a coach to walk you from “A to B” when you’re already up and running from “L to M to O.”

6. Do they know how to listen?

Coaching is more about listening and observing than talking.

7. Is your executive coach capable of giving negative feedback in a positive way?

Using harsh words to characterise less than optimal performance can derail your trust in them and their effectiveness with you.

8. Can the speech coach be flexible in terms of the format of the engagement?

Or are they dogmatic in their insistence that the job can only be done one way?

9. Find out if they have a background or education in rhetoric, which is the DNA of public speaking and presenting

Rhetoric is essentially the art and science of influencing others through the effective use of language. Delivery is important, but only as a support to highly effective messaging.

10. Some speech coaches work for larger firms

They are given a fixed program to deliver, and have limited ability to improvise or meet your distinct needs. Find out if your speech coach is reading from the script, or ready for prime time.

11. Are they strong enough to push you through your resistance to change?

Or will they back off, fearing they will be out of a job if they push too hard?


There are millions of speech coaches because there is very little barrier to entry in the field. Few of us can start manufacturing automobiles when we get laid off from a job, but many of us can hang a shingle out on the internet and launch a coaching business.

As usual, your network is the place to look. Word of mouth trumps the unknown company that manages to get the top spot in a Google search. After all, that number one ranking indicates they have great SEO, but it does not necessarily indicate they provide great speech coaching services.

Bottom line? Ask a ton of questions. Find the person that feels right, and then put your trust in the process. You’ll come out of it a better speaker and presenter.

Sims Wyeth is the president of Sims Wyeth & Co., an executive development firm devoted to the art and science of speaking persuasively. Sims specializes in 1:1 coaching and small group workshops. He believes that while the delivery of a presentation is key, the structure of it is often more important. Sims is also the author of The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.

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