Presentation Mastery – Just Like Hip Hop Abs, Musicians, and Me?

There I am, working on my new years resolution, my health, working out to the Hip Hop Abs DVD, and I found myself frustrated. I just can’t keep up even on the basic level. The routine seems so simple. Why do I keep making mistakes? Well duh, it is new to me! My body is just not conditioned to do these simple moves in these simple ways in a certain order. All of the people on the DVD have been doing this for years. I was glad I was in the privacy of my own home.

While working out, a book that one of my coaching clients recommended to me jumped into my head. One of the CEO’s I coach told me about a book that backed up my presentation philosophy of “stage time, stage time, stage time.” The book is “This is Your Brain on Music, The Science of a Human Obsession” by Daniel J. Levitin.

Can anyone really master presentation skills? There is that one percent who are truly “naturals” at speaking and they don’t have to work at it. For the record, I’m jealous of them too! Seriously, can anyone really become a true expert at America’s number one fear?

Yes. I have no doubt at all. If anyone can, why don’t more people master the skill, and why is there such a shortage of great presenters? Easy. People are afraid of stage time and don’t face their fear, so the fear keeps them at a low level of skill.

In the book, Levitin refers to study after study of ice skaters, basketball players, criminal master minds and writers. The commonality he talks about is simple: 10,000 hours of practice. That’s it. About twenty hours per week for ten years. If you think about my experience, I spent six or seven nights a week at comedy clubs at the same time speaking during the day anywhere I could, including Toastmasters. Fellow World Champions, David Brooks, Ed Tate, and Craig Valentine in their early days of speaking, all spent a great deal of time working for public seminar companies.

Different experiences, different styles, yet all with a similar result.

Levitin also says that this does not account for why some people pick up faster than others, or why some people take longer to become great at a skill, but if you persist through the hours, anyone can. It doesn’t matter.

He says the ten thousand hour theory is consistent with what we know about how the brain works. He said, “The more experiences we have with something, the stronger the memory/learning trace for that experience becomes.” He believes that the more practice we have, the more “neural traces” we create which, when combined, can create stronger memory. So, this strength in memory comes from how many times we experience the original stimulus.

That’s why I can’t stay up with Hip Hop Abs. I don’t have the right “neural traces” yet. The more emotion associated with the memory, the greater it’s importance in the brain. Levitin encourages his students to choose music they like, so they are more willing to practice. The more hours along with the more positive memory can equate to learning it faster.

What does this mean to presenters? Simple. To master the skill, anyone willing to put in ten thousand hours, can. The quicker you can put more hours in, while making it more fun, the faster your skills will increase. Instead of looking at it as “Did this presentation go well today?”, take the pressure off and look at it as just part of the process. Make it fun.

Question: A master because of hours, or hours because a master? My take: both. It does not matter. I know many people who are very funny “off stage” could have learned it faster than I did. However, I did what they wouldn’t. You can only pursue your goal from where you are at today.

There I am, working out in front of my TV. I keep reminding myself, that I will make mistakes, I will lose my place, it is just a part of the process. I will feel like I take a step forward and two steps back. It is normal. It is the same for presentation skills. It took me nine years before I won the World Championship of Public Speaking. It was not just the nine years, though. It was my attitude towards getting “stage time” along with the enjoyment of it. I logged a lot of hours in those nine years!

The bottom line is, a month from now, it will be easier to get through more of the routine with fewer mistakes if I put in an hour a day. If I only do it a few times per month I will not build up enough “neural traces” to notice the progress. It is when we notice progress that we become motivated and energized, which gets us through more hours of getting us closer to ten thousand.

Ten thousand hours! How long ’til your next breakthrough? Sometimes it’s a few hours, sometimes it’s a lot of hours. It will come, I promise.

There is only one challenge.

How do you motivate yourself to put in more hours in less time and with more fun?

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