The vast majority of my clients want to keep their coaching confidential. I understand and respect that and would never consider breaching anyone’s confidence and trust.
However, it’s useful for potential clients to have an idea of what I do and how I work, so here are a few stories of a cross-section of people I’ve coached, with the names changed and identifying details removed or modified to preserve their privacy.
Click on a challenge to read the story.
Erica’s challenge: They’re not taking me seriously because I’m young, I’m a woman and I’m from the North.
Erica is a young woman in a senior position at the Manchester branch of a national charity. One of her responsibilities is a quarterly visit to head office in London, to report to the Board on activity in the North West region. Erica came to dread these meetings, unable to sleep properly for a week beforehand and trembling throughout the journey south. The bosses were off-hand with her and she was afraid if she didn’t start to impress them she would lose her job.
We began with presentation skills, how to prepare and deliver a report that would make an impact on the directors, and we extrapolated these to support her in the unstructured discussions around the table afterwards.
As well as the practical techniques, we did a lot of work on the psychological side, to change the way Erica saw her role at these events and to give her solid confidence to take control of the situation.
At the next quarterly briefing, Erica delivered a report that really made the audience sit up and listen. Having barely known her name until then, one of the directors took her out for coffee to discuss Erica’s ideas in more detail. This resulted in substantial extra funding for a project she was promoting in the North West: a triumph in both professional and personal terms. The panic attacks were history and Erica told me she was “almost thrown off the train back to Manchester because I was singing and dancing all the way!”
If Erica’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
Nour’s challenge: I’m a team leader but I lack authority.
Nour came to Manchester from the Middle East, specifically and only to have some coaching from me. He found me online, we corresponded and he took action.
In his late 20s, Nour worked for an airline, in a position more senior than he felt he yet deserved. He was struggling to provide leadership or motivate his team. When he made decisions, people checked with his boss; when he delivered a team briefing, the atmosphere was subdued; when he chaired a meeting, people talked over him.
We began with the practical techniques of preparing and delivering a team briefing that would not only establish Nour’s authority but also inspire the team’s confidence in him. Then we discussed the psychology behind presenting himself with gravitas. Nour soon realised he had far more power over the impression he was making than he would ever have imagined.
By the end of the four and a half hours we spent together, Nour had already grown in stature and was presenting with authority. His new confidence shone and he was excited at the prospect of putting his newly acquired skills into practice at work.
A couple of months after his trip to Manchester, Nour sent me an email. He said the coaching had had a profound effect on him. “The experience changed me. I’m much happier now, as well as more successful.”
If Nour’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
Barbara’s challenge: I’m a university lecturer. The students are bolshy in my lectures and giving me bad feedback, which is blighting my career.
Like many academics, Barbara took her university job to pursue her research, not because she wanted to teach. Every year, the lecturing was becoming more stressful and dispiriting. She didn’t know how to engage her students and all they seemed to want from her was a copy of the slides. The feedback said her lectures were boring and she knew it was true, yet she could see no way to improve them.
The first task was to liberate Barbara from the straitjacket of the slides. Realistically, she couldn’t be fully free of that until the following September, because the current year’s course was already prepared, but Barbara immediately saw how providing handouts (albeit digital ones) rather than slides would make the job of talking to the students incomparably easier.
Feeling somewhat battered and drained, Barbara needed reassurance and to be reminded that, whatever the ‘customers’ may think, she is the expert in the room and she is in charge of what happens there. It’s the lecturer’s responsibility to look at the big picture and to teach the students, as opposed to supplying them with the answers.
I worked with Barbara in the spring of 2016. For the rest of that academic year, Barbara’s life gradually improved, as she experimented with the techniques I’d recommended and began to connect and build a rapport with her students. Her confidence grew and she began to see how rewarding teaching could be.
But the real result came the following year, when she’d had a chance to restructure the course. After initially resisting her new methods, the students came to appreciate Barbara’s way of communicating with them and the feedback turned from negative, through grudgingly accepting, to enthusiastic.
“Giving the students what they need instead of what they want is a hard sell – to the University, never mind the students themselves. It took a massive amount of work, courage and determination … but OMG it paid off!”
If Barbara’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
Richard’s challenge: My company sponsored [a national award] and I’ve got to make a speech in front of hundreds of nominees and their families, millions watching on television, and Prince Charles, who’s there to present the award.
Richard had little experience of public speaking and was suddenly being thrust into the spotlight on a particularly large stage. The event organisers had told him to speak for a minute, using an autocue. He got in touch with me in a bit of a panic, afraid of making a fool of himself and of letting his company down.
On this sort of occasion, there is no margin for error, so I helped Richard to prepare so thoroughly that he would be able to give a strong performance on the night in spite of the inevitable nerves.
I worked with him to create a speech that sounded natural and was easy to say, even though it had to be rigorously scripted and prepared for the autocue. Then we honed the delivery until Richard was happy with every inflection, gesture and pause. He rehearsed until he was so familiar with his speech that he would be able to deliver it even if the autocue failed – and, for safety, he took along a card of notes in his pocket.
We also worked on psychological preparation, to give Richard resources to tap into in the minutes before his big moment.
The experience of the event was so unreal that he wasn’t sure how he felt at the time but, watching the recording later, Richard was pleased with how he came across. “In the heat of the moment, when everything else seemed to melt away and the world became surreal, like a solider, I fell back on my training… and I came out alive!”
If Richard’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
James’s challenge: I’m trying to train people who are much older and more senior than I am and they don’t like it.
James works for a global technology company that manufactures hardware. He understands how the products work and it’s his job to keep the sales team up to speed with the latest developments and features, so they can demonstrate and sell the products to retailers. Where he is young and techy, the sales managers are established, experienced and people-focused.
The participants in James’s training were restless and frustrated. Many of them openly got on with their work on their laptops and iPads, while others kept asking him to explain again from the beginning. James was anxious he was failing in his role but unsure what exactly the problem was. His musings always circled back to the generation gap, which left him with no idea how to improve the situation.
I sat in on a course and, as the day progressed, was able to identify the reasons for the unsuccessful communication of James’s considerable knowledge.
James’s enthusiasm for technology is wonderful but it was blinding him to the fact that the trainees are not that interested in how it all works, only in what the products can do and the benefits to the customer. Finding his audience unresponsive, James was afraid he might be boring or patronising them, so he skipped quickly through his points, going into detail about background functions in order, he hoped, to add interest. In fact, the participants were bewildered by the explanations and overwhelmed by the detail.
The first remedy was to rethink and streamline the content, with James putting himself in the shoes of the trainees to create a course that would specifically meet their needs. Once he had this, the next step was to have faith in it and to deliver it at a pace with which the participants could keep up, with regular tasks, relevant to their ‘real world’, that would confirm to them and to him that they had fully understood what he was teaching.
Having been wondering whether he was cut out to be a trainer, James soon came to love it.
“It’s the ultimate win-win,” he told me. “The attendees used to complain that training was a waste of time and now it really helps them to do their job better. Not only that but they enjoy it as a day off the road… it’s fun now and satisfying, for them and for me.”
If James’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
Steve’s challenge: I’m MD of a medium-size firm. The employees expect to hear from me at company meetings but I hate public speaking. I don’t want to lose respect by making a pathetic presentation but I’m losing respect by always delegating the presenting to colleagues.
Steve was stuck in a bind. The prospect of presenting made him shudder, yet he believed addressing his own workforce was something he ought to be able to do without making a fuss about it and he felt ashamed to ask for help.
Swearing me to secrecy, Steve finally booked some coaching and I reassured him that public speaking is scary only when you don’t know what you’re doing. Once you’ve learnt the practical techniques and how to prepare psychologically, fear gives way to confidence.
Steve was reticent and his speaking was stilted and uncomfortable. Another obstacle for him to overcome was the widespread misconception that public speaking requires highfaluting language, to make oneself sound intelligent. The opposite is the case: what you’re aiming to do is to sound natural, explaining any complicated ideas in simple terms that the whole audience can understand.
As we were discussing this, I steered Steve into conversation, exploring to find a subject about which he had strong opinions, that would get him talking unselfconsciously. This turned out to be recent changes to the pension laws. Suddenly, Steve was sketching a vivid picture of retirements torpedoed by the new legislation.
That’s the feeling to tap into for addressing an audience. Take your material and express it as you would to your friends in the pub. Then hone and polish it.
It took Steve three sessions and a lot of work in between but he reached breakthrough. The first presentation to his employees was well received and he knew from then on he was free and would never look back. He emailed to tell me this, saying, “An enormous weight has been lifted off me.”
If Steve’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
Joanna’s challenge: I’ve been invited to be part of a panel of experts speaking at a conference. It’s a great opportunity to raise the profile of my company but I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up by getting tongue-tied.
Joanna runs a thriving but very small company and had never done any public speaking before. Her industry conference is a prestigious event with a few thousand delegates: this was a chance to make or break her reputation.
We started with straight public-speaking skills. I taught Joanna the practical techniques of effective delivery and we worked on the introduction she would give at the beginning of the panel session. Then we extrapolated these skills from the introduction, which she was able to prepare and rehearse completely, to the less structured and predictable discussion.
We also addressed Joanna’s unease at being perceived as an expert. She felt a fraud in the illustrious company of her fellow panellists and this was undermining her. It’s a common phenomenon, known as imposter syndrome, and I gave Joanna psychological strategies to overcome it.
Joanna amazed herself by getting stuck into the discussion and actually enjoying it! Far from feeling ashamed of her performance, as she’d been afraid she would, Joanna told me, “It feels lovely to have done it. It was a case of facing my fears and beating them and I feel like I’ve climbed Everest or something – elated.
“Plus, a lot of work has come from it, including a mahoosive project I’m really excited about.”
If Joanna’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
Sarah’s challenge: I want this job; I need this job… but I’m not good at interviews.
Sarah is a well qualified, capable woman, who was ready to return to work after a few years out to have children. She’d had so many rejections she was becoming despondent.
We roleplayed some interviews and worked on the way Sarah was presenting herself, the impression she was making through her voice, body language and demeanour. Her expectation of rejection was leaking out in unconscious ways, which had turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We also talked a lot about what Sarah wanted, why she was so keen to get this job, how she felt about the company and the part she might play in its future. She had become so fixated on the need for employment and on the process of application, interview and rejection that she had lost sight of what it was really about – ie, finding the right channel for her considerable talent and energy.
This interview was a very different experience from the previous ones. Sarah put herself across with confidence and enthusiasm and came away with an unfamiliar feeling of having been authentic and done herself justice.
The interviewers were clearly impressed: Sarah was offered the job, at a salary higher than advertised. She was delighted to have pulled off this feat, which only a few weeks earlier would have seemed an impossible dream – but she turned down the offer. As she wrote to me, “Your coaching made me realise I can set my sights higher than this job.”
A few months later, I bumped into Sarah at an event. I was discreet and didn’t let on I knew her but she took me to one side and told me she’d been meaning to contact me. “As you can see,” she said, indicating her badge, “I’ve got this fantastic job. It’s great in every way – the people, the prospects, the flexibility – and I can’t believe how my life has changed.”
If Sarah’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.
Luke’s challenge: My business partner and I have got a great product. We know it’s great, the people who buy it love it, but we’re rubbish at presenting. We’ve got a meeting with [a national company] and a chance to pitch. This could be huge for us.
Luke and Theo are young techies with exciting ideas. But it took a lot of digging for me to understand what those ideas actually mean – which was the problem they were having with many of their potential clients.
Through my questions, we were able to establish and highlight not so much what the product does but how it benefits the customer. This selling of the proverbial sizzle rather than the sausage is well known in sales circles but, particularly if you’ve spent years developing the product yourself, it can be tricky to achieve this without an external perspective on it, which is what I provided.
Having identified the points to make, we worked on Luke and Theo’s delivery, to make sure the people they were talking to would be able to follow and appreciate everything they were saying.
Luke texted me: “Yay, we did it!! We took your advice, spoke slowly, asked them questions, talked about their requirements not our product, and it worked. I could see they were getting it and that was so cool. They’ve bought a great product and we’ve got a great contract. Time to celebrate!”
If Luke and Theo’s story resonates with you, please contact me and let’s talk about finding the solution for you.