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Deliberate Practice, Not Natural Talent, Makes the Difference

Not long ago, after finishing a presentation, someone said I was a natural when it came to public speaking. I took it as a compliment because that’s how it was intended. However, after thanking her I said, “It’s not natural talent. I work really hard at this.” It’s often the case that the better you get at something the easier it looks to others.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell took Dr. Anders Ericsson work and popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice can make almost anyone an expert. Ericsson would dispute the 10,000 hours as some sort of magic number but does believe in deliberate practice as a way to expertise. Deliberate practice would be foreign to most people. It’s not simply playing a lot of golf or piano. It’s not giving a lot of presentations or even having performed a lot of surgeries. Each of those will help you improve up to a point but could lead to diminished performance thereafter.

According to Ericsson, deliberate practice entails the following:

  1. Your practice must have purpose.
  2. Your practice needs to be focused.
  3. You need timely feedback.
  4. You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone.

You may not want to become an expert or maybe you cannot devote 10,000 hours to an activity. That’s okay because you can still become really, really good by following Ericsson’s system of deliberate practice.

I’ve seen this play out in my career. I’ve been studying and teaching the science influence for more than 15 years. Over that time, I’ve taught essentially the same concepts for thousands of hours. You might think that could get boring and you’d be right if I did it exactly the same way every time. But I don’t.

I work really hard on perfecting my skill as a presenter/teacher. That work entails continuing to expand my knowledge base. I read, watch and listen to keep learning and I engage in deliberate practice as outlined by Ericsson.

Purpose

Any time I have a big presentation coming up I practice. It’s not uncommon to put 30-40 hours of prep time in for a one hour keynote even though I’ve given a variation of the talk hundreds of times before. If people are going to give me an hour of their time and if an event coordinator is staking his or her reputation on hiring me in then I feel obligated to give everyone an experience they won’t forget.

Not simply focusing on what I want to say, but consciously thinking about the attendees and event coordinator has made a noticeable difference. Simon Sinek would say it’s the “why” makes all the difference.

Focus

Each time I get ready to present I pick at least one thing to do a little differently. That keeps things fresh for me and leads to a better experience for those in the audience.

I have my talks “chunked” so I can specifically work on sections and subsections. I don’t memorize anything but I know exactly what I want to convey and then work on doing that most effectively. That may be incorporating a different slide that drives home a point, creating a new takeaway item, changing colors or working on some other aspect of the overall presentation.

Feedback

This summer I gave a short presentation in Columbus, my hometown, and invited several people who knew me. These were people who had seen me present many times over the years. I asked each for specific feedback on certain aspects of the presentation.

Afterwards I followed up with each person to discuss their feedback. When I saw themes (same feedback from multiple people) or got some interesting ideas to try I made sure to incorporate them into my next presentations. I also let each person know what I did with their feedback. Knowing I actually used their input will make them more likely to help me in the future. A win for each of us!

Comfort zone

I used to be very uncomfortable moving into a crowd. But I knew it would make for a better experience after watching my friend Anthony Tormey, President/CEO of Leader Development Institute, and other great speakers naturally do that.

To stretch myself, many years ago I started doing improv comedy with Jane. That removed any and all inhibitions! Now I visualize myself playfully interacting with audiences as I practice. When I present I make it a point to move into an audience as much as possible and take note of how people respond.

Conclusion

What do you want to get better at? How much time and effort are you willing to invest? Begin to engage deliberate practice and you will be amazed at the difference can make. Pick up a copy of Ericsson’s book Peak and remember, it’s about:

  1. Purpose
  2. Focus
  3. Feedback
  4. Comfort zone

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, author, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – has been one of the top 10 selling Amazon books in several insurance categories and cracked the top 50 in sales & selling.

His LinkedIn Learning courses have been viewed by more than 75,000 people around the world! His latest course – Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalities – is now online.

The 7%, 38%, 55% Myth Still Persists

Five years ago, I wrote a post offering up an apology to Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D. for unknowingly misrepresenting his work. It’s time to revisit the subject because the 7%, 38%, 55% myth still persists.

I recently attended an event where I heard a professional speaker and once again Dr. Mehrabian’s work was misrepresented. In this case the speaker tried to twist Merhabian’s work into the theme of charisma and liability.

Dr. Mehrabian is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He gained widespread attention for his research in the area of non-verbal communication in the 1960s. If you’re in business, have been to a communications seminar or heard a motivational speaker then you’ve probably heard Merhabian’s work misquoted as follows:

In face-to-face communication only 7% of your message is based on what you say. Your tone of voice accounts for 38% and your body language is 55%.

This prompted many people – me included – to place too much importance on body language and tone of voice during communication training. It’s certainly good to work on those areas because they can make your communication more effective. However, the problem with misquoting Mehrabian’s work is that it has people putting too much emphasis on tone of voice and body language and not enough on their actual message.

It’s amazing how a story shared by a speaker, mentioned in a book or noted on a popular blog is eventually taken as gospel truth. After all, that well-respected speaker, author or blogger wouldn’t make such a glaring mistake, would they? I certainly did early on because of the number of times I came across the 7%, 38%, 55% rule.

Once my eyes were opened to the truth it seemed as if nearly everyone was misinterpreting and misappling Dr. Mehrabian’s work. When I was prompted to read more about Dr. Mehrabian and his research I learned his work very specifically had to do with communicating feelings and attitudes. If listeners felt there was inconsistency between a person’s words and tone or body language then the listeners took more of their cues from the tone and body language.

An example you can probably relate to is an apology. Two people can utter the very same words – “I’m sorry” – when apologizing and one person might be believed while the other might not. It’s easy to say the words but we also look for sincerity. Apologies are viewed as insincere when the person apologizing has a tone of voice, facial expressions or body language that conveys a different message. Can you recall a time when someone said the right things but you knew they didn’t mean it because of certain cues you noticed in their tone, face and body?

If you go to a presentation that’s not too emotionally based you will focus more on the words used. For example; if you went to a presentation on condo versus home ownership it’s not likely you’d be assessing the believability of the message based on the speaker’s tone of voice or body language. If you contend with anything it would most likely be the facts – words – used during the presentation. There’s much less assessment of attitude or feelings in such a fact-based presentation.

Conclusion

When it comes to your ability to persuade I’m not advocating you discount tone of voice or body language because both can enhance your presentation tremendously. But don’t forget, content is still king in most presentations. Would you rather have a meeting where people remembered: a) what you wore, or b) what you said? I’m sure you want them remembering what you said. After all, the reason for a meeting or presentation is to convey ideas so everything you do needs to enhance your message.

Five years ago, I apologized to Dr. Mehrabian. I learned a good lesson and now try to set the record straight when I learn his work is being misrepresented. If you could hear and see me I’m sure you’d notice my tone of voice and body language are in line with my words. My 7%-38%-55% messaging is congruent.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence. Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by more than 65,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.

5 Tips for Persuasive Presentations

In June, I had the pleasure of giving a
keynote presentation to about 200 members of HRACO (Human Resources of Central
Ohio). It went really well and the best thing I can say is I persuaded many
people to try some of the influence tips I shared.
Often people ask me what I do to prepare for a
presentation. I’ll start by telling you what I don’t do – wing it. I always put
in lot of time, effort and practice. Here are five tips you might find helpful
next time you want to give a persuasive presentation.
1. Preparation – Vince Lombardi,
Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers, said, “Most people have the will
to win but few have the will to prepare to win.” This can’t be overstated
enough. Nobody would expect an athlete to perform with excellence without
countless hours of practice so why should you expect to give a great
presentation without plenty of practice?
When I do the Principles of Persuasion workshop
I stress this point – what you do before
the thing you do quite often makes your attempt at influence much easier. I’ll
spend at least an hour a day for weeks on end practicing my presentations. As I
do so I’m timing myself to make sure I stay within the allotted time. I work on
hand gestures, head movements at key times and voice inflection.
When I’m alone in the car I turn the radio off
and use the down time to practice. When I’m working out alone, between
exercises I practice parts of the talk. I’ll even record myself so I can hear
how it sounds.
2. Visual
Aids

– I use Power Point as a visual aid to almost all of my presentations and I’ll
have a handout for those who like to take notes. I highly recommend two books that
really influenced how I use this tool – Presentation Zen and The Presentation Secrets ofSteve Jobs.
I’ve moved away from traditional text-filled
slides, bullet points and lists. If I use words it’s usually one or two in very
large font to drive home a key point. Other that that I go almost entirely with
pictures because that’s how people think and best remember things.
I must tell you this; the first time you
present without the text and bullet points it’s a little scary because you
can’t glance at the screen for a reminder of what to say next. However, there
are several great reasons to go this route:
  • It forces you to know your material inside and
    out which makes you look more like a professional.
  • If you do miss something no one is any wiser
    because they’re not thinking, “He didn’t cover that last bullet point.”
  • It keeps the audience focused on you rather
    than the screen.
3. Questions – I ask lots of
questions. There are two reasons you want to do this. First, you can physically
engage the audience by asking for a show of hands if they agree or disagree.
The more you can physically involve people the more attention they’ll pay.
The second reason is people feel compelled to
answer questions. When you ask questions, even without asking people to do
something like raise their hands, they’ll get involved. You’ll see it with the
head nodding. Even those who don’t nod, I’ll bet they’re answering the question
in their heads so they’ve moved from passive listeners to active.
4. Introduction – A strong
introduction is key because it sets the tone for why people should listen to
you. This means you need a bio of less than 200 words so the event host can
introduce you. This leverages the principle of authority because people pay
attention to those they view as having superior knowledge or wisdom.
When I speak there are two critical
differentiators I want people to know. First, I make sure people know I’m one
of just 27 people in the world certified to train on behalf of Robert Cialdini,
the world’s most cited living social psychologist. In addition to authority this
also leverages the principle of scarcity which says people value things more
when they think they’re rare.
I also want audience members to know people in
185 countries have taken time to read my blog. That’s a great “Wow!” factor
that incorporates the principle of consensus. I want those in attendance to think, “If so many
people around the world are reading his stuff he must be pretty good.”
5. Take Away
Ideas

– I want to make sure my audience has tangible ideas for each of the principles
I talk about. It’s nice if they find the material interesting but the bottom
line is showing them how it can help them enjoy more professional success and
personal happiness. To do this I clearly state, “And here’s the application for
you,” then I share with few ways they can use the principle I just discussed in
every day situations.
Whole books are written on the subject of
presentation excellence so there’s no way to do it justice in a short blog
post. However, I hope you find these tips helpful. I know focusing on them has
helped me make great strides in giving more persuasive presentations and I’m
confident they can help you do the same.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.