Deliberate Practice – Toastmasters Style


This week I’m reading Talent is Overrated (finally) by Geoff Colvin. In this book, he asserts that talent is a myth (or at least it’s attainable – not a birthright) and the best at any endeavor is the person who puts in the most practice. Not just “practice makes perfect” type of practice, but what he calls “Deliberate Practice”.

There are a few of the elements of deliberate practice that apply well to any of us trying to get better at something, and especially to becoming a better (or professional) speaker:

1. It is designed specifically to improve performance.

2. It can be repeated a lot.

3. Feedback on results is continuously available.

4. It’s highly demanding mentally.

5. It isn’t much fun.

The interesting thing is, the first 4 of those 5 clearly describe the Toastmasters educational system. So, is the author right? Does it need to meet all criteria to really make you a better speaker?

Here’s one theory – Toastmasters isn’t specifically designed to make you a pro, it’s designed to help you overcome your fear of speaking in public. To do that, you can get by with 3 or 4 of the above criteria, and have fun while doing it.

But to really see improvement, do you have to give up the fun? I think that this is true, but that doesn’t mean 100% no-fun.

The Toastmasters meeting – Fun

Giving your speech – Fun

Real practice and preperation – not so much fun

Receiving candid feedback – not so much fun either

Taking that feedback and using it in the next speech – kinda neutral

Using the manuals to track progress, feedback, and keep moving forward – fun (if you’re a bit of a psycho)

Completing Toastmasters awards (CC, ACs, etc) – Fun

The question you have to ask yourself is, what is your goal? If you just want to be comfortable and stay “in practice” then you can stay on the 100% fun track as a Toastmaster. That is, keep giving manual speeches and getting stage time.

If you want to see real improvement, and even be a pro-quality (or contest-quality) speaker, then your practice should be more deliberate and focused, and that means that some of your work (preparation) will not be fun.

Giving those impromptu manual speeches can be good for your comfort and keeping you in practice, but there’s a reason that you don’t see much improvement that way. Only through deliberate effort can you make the improvements you want to be ready for that contest or that pro career.

I think that approaching this a lot like a physical workout method makes sense too. Bodybuilders have what they call periods of growth and maintenance times. During the periods of growth they are doing the harder bodybuilding work, and during the maintenance times they are making sure that they maintain their muscle mass but not pushing themselves as hard.

To be a better speaker, give that a try. One CC manual is total prep and hard work. The next one is maintenance – off the cuff or other low-prep speeches. Don’t just blab, but do enough to give a good speech and get some quality feedback, and still have fun. Then, back to the high-prep CC.

By adding some Deliberate Practice to your existing routine, you can prove that Talent is Overrated and you to can continue to become a better speaker. If you want more info on deliberate practice, I totally recommend that you read the book. I’ll have the review posted this Sunday.


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