Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers says 10,000 hours is the ‘key’ number for true expertise. He sites examples of composers, basketball players, skaters, concert pianists, chess players and fiction writers who achieved greatness after 10,000 hours of hard practice.
Obviously, 10,000 hours is an enormous amount of time, and most people can't reach this by themselves. They need people to coach them and support their efforts as they learn how to become an expert.
Gladwell's theory also applies to presenters.
Presenters only become experts when they speak often and practice hard. They hone their craft through coaching and feedback. You may be saying, "This leaves me out" right about now. The reality is you too can become an expert, even if you only rarely make formal presentations. How is this possible? You have to look for opportunities to speak, get feedback and practice.
Most of us attend meetings on a daily basis. Meetings are a perfect setting for practicing clarity and conciseness or any other desired issue. Whenever you answer a question or are asked for your opinion, do it with some forethought. Avoid ad-libbing. Take a moment to think about what your recommendation will be, what you want people to do as a result and how it will benefit them. Be clear and succinct. When the meeting is over, ask for specific feedback from someone in attendance that is a good speaker and willing to give you balanced feedback. Feedback from someone who simply says, "You were good" will not help you to grow.
Most of us have to give status reports or updates. These are also wonderful opportunities to practice organising and delivering prepared content. When a person rehearses a message out loud a few times, they begin to internalise it so that when they actually do deliver the message, they feel and act more confident. The same will be true for you.
Sometimes, there are opportunities at work to become involved in professional organisations. Instead of sitting back quietly, volunteer to speak on a topic you know well. For example, if you have lived and worked abroad, share your experiences. When possible, record yourself so that you can do some self coaching also.
Off the job there may be opportunities to speak. These might include Parent Teacher Associations, Associations, Committees, Fun Runs, or Church groups. Bear in mind that Associations have committees, and committee members have to deliver reports. Families and neighborhoods also have gatherings, reunions or holiday parties, and these too can allow you the chance to practice a skill like adding humor while delivering a toast.
Lastly, there is Toastmasters, an international organisation for anyone wanting to get better at speaking. Toastmaster meetings focus on developing speaker skills and attendees always have to get up and "talk." Participants also offer feedback on each presenter.
While achieving 10,000 hours and the expert speaker status you desire can take some time, it is not out of the question when one considers how much of their day is spent communicating. Just remember, experts are committed to achievement. They know they must work hard and they seek out people who will help them get better.
All the best on your speaking journey.
Social media, e-mail and other advancements in technology seem to suggest that face to face communication in the business world is "old school," that people do not miss or desire in person communiqués.
Recently I heard of a businessman who when anyone calls his mobile phone hears the following recorded message. "Hi, I only check phone messages once a week so if your message is important, please send me a text message or email." While business professionals accept that new methods are cost effective, they are offended when there is not a person to personally communicate with in certain situations. So what are those situations?
If your organisation is about to experience a significant change such as merging or restructuring, employees want the executive team to deliver this message personally and to be available to answer questions.
Even if the message is totally positive, people fear change. They wonder, "Will they be able to do it?" The bigger the change, the more important it is to deliver the message in person. Without face to face discussions, it is difficult to get people on board quickly and difficult for them to stay positive.
Often multiple meetings must be conducted to define the scope of the change. While the initial meeting should be done in person, follow-up meetings on the same topic can be done via a teleconference or other media.
Bad News Messages
Messages where there is likely to be a strong emotional response should never be communicated other than in person. For example, if a company needs to eliminate a department or layoff a percentage of their workforce, that message undoubtedly will precipitate fear and anger. Those concerned feel the least their manager or executive team can do is deliver this news to their face.
Emotional charged messages cannot be digested quickly. There must multiple meetings and plenty of time for discussion.
Highly important data or information, such as test results, earnings, new opportunities or priorities should also be delivered in person. It demonstrates criticality and shows respect for the listeners' input.
People work hard, especially in this difficult economy. They want to hear how well they are performing and what they need to improve. They need their efforts recognized with a face to face performance review if at all possible. While employees recognise cost cuts and travel freezes, performance reviews by phone are not well received. The individual does not feel valued.
Social media and virtual communications are here to stay, but so also is the need to recognise that some meetings can or should not be done virtually or electronically.
We encourage you to further develop your face to face communication skills.
E-mails can either build or erode credibility. For e-mails to differentiate you in a positive light, take the time to write them clearly and concisely. Make sure to focus them on the recipients and their needs. Lastly, plainly define any follow-up actions.
When e-mails erode one's image, they contain unnecessary details, endless amounts of background or multiple digressions. Because today's business professionals often receive 50-250 e-mails a day, most readers only skim them for pertinent details. If readers can't discern relevance or clarity at a glance, they will begrudgingly read your text or skip to the next e-mail. If your e-mails fall into the pattern of being unclear or drawn out, people will loathe receiving any messages from you.
Mechanics and punctuation can also jeopardise credibility. Incorrect tense, agreement errors, comma splices, fragments or run-on sentences will be noticed and remembered. These errors will make the writer look careless or lazy. Additionally, the person's manager may want to review important e-mails before they are disseminated.
- Use priority symbols only when appropriate.
- Create a headline for the subject line that answers the question, "What is this all about?" Their subject line generates reader interest.
- Keep their message brief out of respect for their readers. The message typically fits on the screen and is rarely more than one page. There is a lot of white space so that visually people see points quickly.
- Make ideas jump off the page by putting key points in a headline format and bold print.
- Use bullets so that readers easily find the specifics.
- Answer the questions people have in an opening paragraph - what's this all about; what am I suppose to do; what are the benefits for me.
- Proofread for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
- Are warm and friendly. Comments can be misinterpreted so they are mindful of tone.
- Avoid acronyms when possible.
- State any required actions directly.
- End their message as if writing a letter.