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Peak (Secrets from the science of expertise) - the speakers' version

Standing oration
Peak (Secrets from the science of expertise) - the speakers' version
By Kristian from Speakers Loft • Issue #27 • View online
BITE-SIZED: There is a guy who managed to remember 70030 digits of pi. I feel it an almost impossible task to remember a new phone number. So I read Peak by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool to find out if there is something I can do to become better.
Here’s what every speaker should take away from that book.

Anything can be learned, so hurray for that. The bad news is that it takes more than just mindless repetition. It takes deliberate practice, and this is very different from just doing a thing over and over and over and hoping to improve.
Deliberate practice is about setting specific goals, which in turn is about realizing what you can’t already do. Think of it like building a car, and driving it hard until something breaks. Then tow it back to the garage, fix the faulty part, and see how far you get the second time around.
It sounds simple enough, but it means you always have to work at your wit’s end. And this is uncomfortable. Your comfort zone should only be visible in the rear-view mirror.
You can learn anything
If you’ve got great content as a speaker but is still lacking in terms of body language, then don’t work more on your content. Make the next gig all about body language. Practice that - and don’t just do it on stage. Do it when you order coffee, talk to your neighbor, or explain life (or something more mundane) to a child.
This deliberate practice approach is something I’ve seen before. I know what Michael of SpeakingCPR in Cincinnati, Ohio, and David Phillips of near Stockholm, Sweden share the sentiment:
The ability to mesmerize audiences is not something you either have or do not. It is something that can be learned.
But there are prerequisites to creating a framework in which you can improve. Let’s look at them.
Create a framework for improving. It doesn't come free with the air you breathe.
Create a framework for improving. It doesn't come free with the air you breathe.
Quick feedback
An essential prerequisite for improving is getting feedback. That’s hardly surprising. I can practice a piece on the piano 500 times, but if my mistakes aren’t corrected, I’m unlikely to improve.
What’s worse is, I may even make a habit of my mistakes by making them over and over and over.
Feedback is accessible in certain aspects of life. Don’t put salt in cakes, don’t skate on thin ice, wear pants to work. Easy.
Speaking is more difficult because we don’t know what perfect looks like. The way to overcome that is to single out a part of what you want to improve at - a particular anecdote or scientific finding perhaps.
If you break speaking down into tiny, manageable steps, it becomes possible to have real goals.
  • Strip away extra details from the story.
  • Add colors, smells, and feelings.
  • Hit a reasonable amount of words per minute (never more than 140).
  • Have a pleasant follow-up with the meeting planner and client.
Don’t try to improve everything at once. Devote your mind 100 percent to improving one thing, or risk improving nothing.
It means getting further by doing less.
Learn like a toddler. Focus on the next step and only that.
Learn like a toddler. Focus on the next step and only that.
The malleable brain
The brain is pretty cool. It can become good at recognizing patterns. You do that every time you read. As kids, we have to make the sounds for every letter. As we get older, we merely look at words and know their meaning.
Similarly, a chess player doesn’t think about every conceivable move on the chessboard. He (or she) reads it like you read a word in this sentence. It just makes sense to you.
For this reason, people can do extraordinary things like playing blindfold chess (a kind of chess where you don’t see the board, but have to remember it all). American Timur Gareyev played 48 chess games blindfolded while riding an exercise bike for 50 miles. The 28-year old won 35 of the 48 games (with seven draws and six losses).
I still can’t remember that phone number.
But the point is that I can’t do this because I haven’t focused on this particular skill. I can learn - like anyone can learn - because the brain is malleable.
And as we get better at something, we get more definite ideas of what ‘good’ is, and that sets us on a virtuous path: A clearer mental representation of what good looks likes makes us better at self-correcting. Which, in turn, creates better mental representations.
But you got to start with just one thing.
So maybe ask yourself this one question: What would you love to master when 2020 comes to an end?
Social media?
Body language?
I invite you to answer that question and create a clear mental representation of what it looks like to be good at your chosen skill.
As always there’s much more in the book, and I recommend reading it in full. But we got to start somewhere.
See you with a new edition in a week. Thank you for reading. Keep speaking.
"The LinkedIn for Speakers"
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Kristian from Speakers Loft

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