Be a Sponge: The Biggest Mistake of My Speaking Career | Darren LaCroix

Be a Sponge: The Biggest Mistake of My Speaking Career

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

This article is important for three reasons, first, because this perspective is rarely shared. Secondly, because I think it is crucial to understand if you care about your audience impact when speaking or presenting. Finally, it is simply the biggest mistake of my speaking career. By the end of this article, I’ll explain specifically what the biggest mistake of my career was, but first you need to understand a coach’s perspective on this concept.

This is a crucial question to ask yourself before we dive in. Do you want to give a great speech, or truly impact the lives of the people in your audience? Get clear, because they are actually two different results with two different paths. I’ve seen many technically flawless speeches that had zero audience impact. They made no connection and no true difference other than wasting the audience’s time. I’ve also seen many speeches that miss some of the marks on a coach’s checklist, that still move an audience to tears and action. I’ve also seen many enthusiastic, confident and passionate presenters who may be interesting to watch, but in the end made no difference in the lives of their audience. For seven years, that was me. Guilty.

In this article we are going to focus on audience impact. Let’s dive into a statement that breaks my heart when I hear it said. It kills me when I hear a presenter say, “I want to make my speech better first and then I’ll get a coach.” I want to scream, “NO!” I understand the statement, but that is a rookie mistake for sure.

First understand the skill sets of a qualified coach. A great coach will help you with:

  • YOUR DIG: Mining the right stories to consider from your life.
  • YOUR STRUCTURE: The best order and framework for the goal of your speech.
  • YOUR BOUNCE: Bouncing ideas around to get clear on your message.
  • WHAT TO LET GO: They point out what you need to let go of that’s not working.
  • WHAT TO KEEP: What is gold that you must keep.
  • YOUR SIFT: They help sift through the overwhelming feedback you get.
  • YOUR CHEERLEADER: They know in the final hours, it is about encouragement.

Know that all coaches are not created equal. Not even close. Even certified coaches have varying degrees of abilities, knowledge and caring. When you look at great coaches, they each also have their very own skill set. Some are better at digging out your message and the powerful stories that are laying dormant in your life. Some shine when it comes to perfecting a powerful story, and others, like myself, have the ninja skill in delivery and stage use. If you came to me for help digging out your content, I’m OK at it, but the best guidance I can give you is to refer you to Mark Brown or Jennifer Leone. That is their specialty.

Consider this, time is actually our biggest challenge perfecting a new speech. What? Great speeches aren’t written; they are rewritten. If you had a couple years to work and focus on one speech, you could do pretty well in terms of creating audience impact. Most won’t work that long, have that long to prepare, or are unwilling to focus on one speech. Getting a qualified coach is like a time warp.

Understanding all of this, you can start to see the reason my heart breaks over hearing the statement,  “I want to make my speech better first and then I’ll get a coach.” I care about the impact you will have on the audience. I’m rooting for them to walk away with your message.

If you look at Graph A, you’ll see that over repetitively giving your speech and improving it, your audience impact should steadily grow. If you look at Graph B, you’ll see that if you get qualified coaching, it will multiply your growth and ultimately, your audience impact. A qualified coach will see things that you don’t. They will help you with your blind spots. We all have them, but we can’t see them because we don’t have an experienced coach’s eye and we are simply too close to our own material.

The biggest problem, again, is time. The adjustments that you get from a coach, both big and small, do not fully have time to be nurtured and internalized. The coaching will help increase your impact for sure, but only so many adjustments can be made at the last minute. The other major problem with delaying too long to get a coach, is that you have already learned and delivered the speech a certain way. You now have to unlearn much of what you were doing incorrectly. Ugh!


Now, let’s look at Graph C. Consider that coaches have their own specialty ninja skill. One of the coaching feedbacks required to maximize audience impact is getting clear on your message. Then the second step is finding the golden content from your life. If you get a coach too late in the process you will not have the time to dig deep, or be spending too much time clarifying your message, so you won’t have the time needed to work on your delivery. Or you may have to throw away much of the work you have done if you wait too long. You may have crafted a great story that takes the audience off on a tangent from your message. You now have to scrap that! Ouch! This is exactly what I mean about getting a coach early on is a much needed time warp.

I’d love to tell you even with a coach it is a direct path to success. It’s not. The truth is the process still requires testing, feedback and adjustments as well as you owning your delivery. Anyone can deliver a speech, many can deliver a great one, but only a few actually have powerful audience impact. Without getting help on a clear message and discovering the gold in your life from a qualified coach, you miss out on the multiplied effect that has on your audience impact. Getting a qualified coach is good at any point, but when you do it early on, the effect is multiplied each time you give it. The audience impact is now exponential.

A qualified coach is a your speech alchemist. If you are not familiar with the term, one of’s definitions of the word Alchemy is:

any magical power or process of transmuting common substance, usually of little value, into substance of great value.

So, what was the biggest mistake in my speaking career? Well, I started speaking in 1994 and waited until 2001 before I ever got a coach. It was in the summer of 2001 that my speaking skills skyrocketed. I didn’t know what area I needed help in and I also didn’t know what to do to make it better once I did know. Ed Tate, CSP, WCPS uses a great analogy of Swiss cheese. A qualified coach will find your holes and help you fill them, but everyone comes with different holes to fill.

Whether I won the speech contest or not, my transformation came from being coached. I was willing to work really hard, but now I could see the coaching multiplied my efforts. It’s sad to think of how many audiences I was in front of leaning on my own energy and enthusiasm and mistakenly thinking I impacted the audience. I now know I didn’t. Back then my ego wouldn’t let me.

I now see the different areas where coaching helps people dramatically improve their impact. Like an NFL Football team has an Offensive Coach, a Defensive Coach, Quarterback and Linebacker Coach. That is why on my Stage Time University Faculty, I have a Content/Structure Coaches, Story Coaches, Humor Coaches, & Delivery Coaches. Find a qualified coach you can trust.

At the beginning I asked you, “Do you want to give a great speech or truly impact the lives of the people in your audience?”  If audience impact is your ultimate goal, please don’t delay. Find a coach as soon as you can. Don’t make the mistake that I did. I can’t imagine where my career would be now if I did not waste seven years. The effect back then, or even a few years sooner, would have changed the  trajectory of my speaking career. Time is one of our biggest challenges, if we had years, with enough effort and focus you could probably make any one speech great. If you want a time warp, get a coach. Let the Alchemy begin.

Attention Speaking Contestants:  Prepare Like a Champion!

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