Deliberate Practice in Public Speaking
As Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his popular book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” an intensive practice regimen can result in people becoming stunning experts in surprising ways. There has been a lot of criticism of his points, most notably treating “10,000 hours of practice” as a magic number (and not simply an average of how long many experts from many different fields practiced), and certainly innate talent is a factor, but practice can work wonders.
The quality, not just the quantity, of the practice is quite important. I recommend the book “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How” by Daniel Coyle as an excellent read for a number of reasons. It does get into deliberate practice and how that can make a larger difference in less time than traditional practice. What’s the difference?
Deliberate practice is:
- Focused on a particular small skill or sub-skill of a given area of expertise, such as reducing uhs in public speaking, or throwing accuracy in basketball.
- Challenging. It doesn’t let the person simply coast or go through the motions. They are actively engaged and struggling to do just a little bit better than before.
- (Often) short. Deliberate practice is quite challenging, particularly mentally. Don’t expect to do it for hours at a time. On the plus side, that can make it easier to do frequently, which is important to reap the benefits of practice.
- Part of a feedback loop. Feedback needs to be accurate and fast (preferably immediate) to get the biggest benefit. You should quickly know how you did and how you can do better.
The Freakonomics Podcast episode “How to Become Great at Just About Anything” is a worthy listen on the subject of how to practice in a way to reach peak performance, and gets into some interesting examples.
When it comes to public speaking, what exercises can you think of? Think of short exercises focused on one small challenge or sub-skill, and how the person doing it would get fast feedback so they could improve. Please post your deliberate practice ideas for public speaking in the comments!