Monday, August 29, 2011

A Week to Speak

"Practice makes perfect."
"Perfect practice makes perfect."
"The amateur practices until he gets it right; the professional practices until he can't get it wrong."
"The early bird gets the worm."

Wait! What? What do worms have to do with practice?

Actually, the worm bit does belong with this litany of aphorisms about practice. Get this. The key ingredient in practice is time. I can't prove it scientifically, but I've experienced it so many times and watched so many students and professionals preparing to present that I'll stake my flawless reputation on this rule of thumb: It takes a week to speak!
What does that mean? Simply this: If you want to sparkle, start early. Last minute preparation spells disaster.

This is what I know. If you practice until you've got your speech smoothed down in one session, you'll find that you can hardly remember anything the next day. It's gone. Vanished. Like you never even practiced the day before. And it comes back hard.

The third day, things start to fall back into place. By day five or six, things begin to feel natural.

What's happening as we learn? Obviously, I'm no neurophysicist, but I understand that much of learning and memory is a process of establishing connecting synaptic patterns within the brain (see this MNT article for a fairly simple explanation). Refining these neurotransmission patterns accounts, at least in part, for our ability to remember more quickly with additional repetition.

All of this is to say that it takes time for our brains to form the networks of association that enable us to quickly connect complex elements of information (like words and concepts) into a pattern that we can consistently send to the speech center for verbalization.

How long does it take? How many repetitions? Good questions. The process probably varies from person to person and with age and practice. But, having watched 600 students giving as many as 3,600 speeches over the past five years, I'm estimating that the average student will need five or six days of consistent practice to make things flow in a speech. Hence: a week to speak.

Those students who start early preparing and practicing their speeches will achieve the best performance, i.e., smooth and meaningful verbalization of their ideas.

So what?
So, if you want to become good at preparing and delivering knockout presentations, get in the habit from the beginning. Start early and practice over time. A week to speak. I'm betting your own experiences will prove the value of this simple rule. Try it.

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