Surveys list communication skills in the top 5 essential skills for leaders, and high on the list for most other professional fields. If you want to improve your skills or those of your employees, how do you choose an appropriate coach and what happens during speech or communication skills coaching?
First, decide on the specific skills you want to improve, such as public speaking (which may include making product pitches or speaking to the media), pronunciation improvement (which includes regional or foreign accent modification), and learning to speak slower. Skills may also include conversational skills, such as making small talk. Sales and leadership skills may include meeting management, listening, questioning, reading body language, how to run effective innovation-strategy meetings (using a research-based modern method, not brainstorming), and executive function skills (such as planning and implementing ideas).
To find a speech or communication coach, use your desired skills you wish to learn as key words on a search engine, such as "communication coach + public speaking + your city/state". Many communication (or speech) coaches work virtually, too.
Explore the prospective coach's website to learn about his or her background, both in terms of education and experience. A person with a CCC-SLP has the professional credentials of a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology. This requires a minimum of a master's degree in speech-language pathology plus an internship + a lengthy examination. These coaches know about speech anatomy, acoustics, physiology and much more. Only a few certified speech-language pathologists work in the new sub-specialty of corporate speech pathology. Ask how much experience the person has, if any, in working on your desired skill with professionals in business and industry. How did the person learn business communication skills, through reading, courses, experience or some other method? Is the person state licensed or nationally certified in providing some form of speech assistance? Does the communication coach use apps, virtual reality, special books or pre-recorded materials to help you practice during and between sessions? How many sessions does the coach expect you will need?
Before your first session, record yourself using your desired skill. Read or say the same passage each time. Do this every 1-2 months so you can assess your progress.
During your first session, your coach should ask about your goals and time-frame, such as "I have to give a major speech in 1 month", or "I want listeners to be able to easily understand my pronunciation in a conversation in 3 months" as well as your past experiences in using the desired skill. There may be questions about your background, such as coming from another culture which has different ways of doing public speaking or conversation (especially for women), being a first-time public speaker or leader, attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, learning disability, a fear of public speaking, a hearing loss, a traumatic brain injury or other conditions. There may be a formal skills assessment, or the coach may be assessing your skills while asking you general questions, depending on the topic.
Expect assignments between sessions. If your coach does not offer this, ask for it to maximize your progress. Assignments should be practical and relevant to your specific skills and work environment. In other words, if you interview people for work, see if at least some of your assignments focus on this. If you are working on pronunciation skills, some of the words you practice might be professional terms you use. (You would have to supply them to the communication coach.)
By the end of the first session, your coach may summarize what you worked on and review your assignment to be done before the next session.
Great speech makes business and career development sense. If you are concerned about your communication skills, invest in speech or communication coaching for expert assistance.
Katie Schwartz, CCC-SLP is the director of Business Speech Improvement in Durham, North Carolina (USA).