Jan. 22, 2020
In a few weeks, folks across the nation will huddle around televisions, cheering and rooting as the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs take the field for Super Bowl LIV. The players will struggle to stay focused while fighting off nervous energy. For those few hours, all eyes will be on them. The game-day pressure will either challenge them to rely on skills they've practiced or force them to fold under pressure from mistakes and missteps. In the end, they will either overperform or underperform to their audience's expectations.
While you may not be a professional athlete, but the stakes are equally high when it comes to your career’s success. Every presentation you give is your own personal Super Bowl. Professional football teams plan play strategy, review film footage and discuss tactics, but you can prepare just as thoroughly. Without practice, none of your preparation will come together in a performance that wins your audience's attention.
Super Bowl-winning teams don't start practicing when they reach the playoffs. As individuals, they spend years focusing on their skills, seeking coaches’s advice and implementing new techniques. As a team, they begin months before the cameras roll. They anticipate the day they’ll step into their high-stakes moment, so they treat every day leading up to it like game day. The same is required of us. When clients call me requesting a time to coach their sales teams before a big presentation, I decline. I know there is not enough time to properly practice any change I recommend. If they tried, they would likely fumble suggestions and do more harm than good.
Winning your presentation requires influence and the ability to get your listeners to act upon what you have to say. Influence doesn't have a switch you can turn on or off, so when the stakes are high, you perform the way you practice. Here are three reasons you need to start practicing now to reach the Super Bowl of your profession.
1. Practice makes permanent.
Top-performing athletes practice so much that they can perform at peak levels without a second thought. Their movements are natural, and their reactions are second nature. This is the place where professionals also need to be able to communicate with influence at any time, in any situation and with any person. Starting now and committing to daily practice will give you the time you need to create muscle memory so your skills become automatic.
2. Low stakes = low risk.
All football teams begin in the preseason, fine-tuning the skills they've practiced throughout the offseason. This allows them to perform their skills in low-risk situations when the outcome doesn't matter. The same holds true in your career. It is easier to correct poor communication habits in low-risk situations, such as hallway chats, routine emails and dinner-table discussions, than it is to wait until you step on stage in front of decision-makers. There are no second chances in high-risk conversations, investor meetings or must-win sales pitches.
3. More practice creates a faster outcome.
Ericsson, Prietula and Cokely introduced the "10,000-hour rule," which implies that it takes 10,000 hours of practice for one person to master a skill. If you only practice your skills right before a high-impact moment, your delivery won’t be natural and authentic. Even if you practice for every presentation or routine meeting, it will take decades to achieve effectiveness. By practicing your communication skills daily in every interaction, you will quickly become an exceptional communicator. When you practice and train every day like athletes, your movements, reactions and responses are natural and unscripted. It's in this moment that you can truly perform on autopilot, avoiding being fearful of nervous energy that may cause mistakes.
Practice drives success and opens doors for significant winning moments. The greater you desire positive outcomes, the more commitment to practice you must make. Business coach Mark LeBlanc once said, “What you do every day is more important than what you do once in a while.” Real influence requires practice and commitment Monday to Monday. For greater odds at a winning success, treat every day like game day.
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