We get good at what we practice

Anne Marie golfing

Last summer, I shared with you my desire to improve my golf game. (Read the post here.) I made a commitment to devote time, energy, and resources toward improving my skills by enrolling in golf lessons.

One year later, it is time to assess my progress. My game has improved, but I have not yet achieved the personal goal I set for myself—to break 90 in a round.

The instructor provided me with the tools to take my game to the next level. So why was my improvement less than expected?

The answer came to me in an “aha” moment as I watched a TEDxTalk by Willoughby Britton titled, “Why A Neuroscientist Would Study Meditation.”  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TR8TjCncvIw)

Britton explained that the neuroplasticity of our brains allows it to change with our experiences. The takeaway: “We get good at what we practice.”

Aha! That was the missing ingredient to my progress!

Our desire to develop a new skill requires that we replace old habits with new habits. To develop the neural networks necessary for a new skill to become natural and effortless, repetitive exercises are required.

Intermittent attention is not enough. Regular, mindful, and focused time to train the brain is a must!

Like golf, our speaking habits can be modified and changed by allowing our brain the opportunity and time to learn something new.

Start a New Habit Today

How can you fit this type of training or practice into your daily schedule? Here are some suggestions:
Choose a specific time to practice each day. Schedule your practice as you would any other appointment. Set a daily reminder or alert and make the appointment with yourself a priority, but be flexible. If you have to adjust the time to accommodate other commitments, do so.

  1. Schedule short blocks of time.
    Just 15-20 minutes will allow you to maintain awareness and attention as you train. If your schedule allows, schedule two or three blocks of time throughout the day.
  2. Select a goal or focus for your practice each day.
    Choose a specific sound or speaking skill that you are developing and devote all your attention and effort to creating the change you desire.
  3. Maintain your awareness of the selected skill throughout that day.
    With this focus you will begin to utilize the new skills in real-time speaking situations as you form new habits.
  4. Keep a practice log or journal.
    Monitor your attention to training, goals, and impressions. Set your intentions for the next day or the week ahead.
  5. Be patient!
    Change happens over time. Acknowledge your daily positive changes as you develop new habits.

Make time for yourself.
Learn something new.

Could you repeat that?

image of Norah O'Donnell of CBSI made the dreaded customer service call…

When it comes to shopping, I am a “see it-feel it-touch it” kind of person. That makes online shopping a challenge for me. I don’t want surprises when the box arrives, so sometimes I make the dreaded call to customer service for more information.

Most of the time, the frustration comes from the wait time, but last week a representative answered promptly. Unfortunately, she spoke so quickly I struggled to understand what she said, from her name, to the product information, to the price.

She repeated herself when asked, but I sensed her impatience, and she sensed mine. Needless to say, I took my business elsewhere.

Speech rate is a necessary component of speaking clearly, especially over the telephone.

Below are a few exercises to improve your rate of speech. They will teach you to slow down and speak clearly.

Don’t give your customers or clients a reason to take their business somewhere else. Take your time; it will save you in the long run.

5 exercises to slow your rate of speech

  1. Practice.
    Select an article from a newspaper or magazine. Highlight the punctuation, then read the article aloud. Make a conscious effort to pause when you see a comma, period, or question mark.
  2. Breathe.
    The end of a sentence is the perfect time to pause and take a breath. This will help slow your rate of speech.
  3. Pronunciation.
    Make an effort to say each word completely when you read and speak. Slower speech allows time for all the sounds in a word to be produced. When your rate of speech is in the average range (120-150 words per minute), your speech will be easier for others to understand.
  4. Awareness.
    Listen to the speech rate of others. TV news reporters, especially the anchors, maximize the power of the pause. Count the pauses in each segment next time you watch a TV news report.
  5. Emulate.
    When you are conveying information, whether at work or at home, emulate the style of broadcast journalists. Pause after each thought or piece of important information. A pause gives your listeners time to process what you have said and to anticipate what you will say next.

Photo credit: By user Onetwo1 via Wikimedia Commons.

Get the tools you need and have a barbeque. Everyone’s invited!

summer barbeque
Last month’s discussion about everyday leadership—the behind-the-scenes leadership that is threaded throughout our lives—continues.

Now let’s take a look at social skills, another component of a successful leader’s exceptional communication.

What are social skills?

Social skills are the way we use verbal and non-verbal language to interact with others in a meaningful way based on social norms and rules. They are how we put our language to use.

As soon as the weather gets warm, I take my cooking outside to the grill, so let’s try a barbeque analogy: Say you buy a new gas grill for your backyard. It comes in a box and a million pieces. You have all the pieces (words and vocabulary), and you have the instructions (grammar and sentence structure), but you don’t have the tools (the social skills) to bring it together. The barbeque has to wait until you get the tools you need!

Similarly, you must develop your social skills to turn simple words and grammar into effective communication and leadership. Read on for three ways to enhance your social skills.

3 social skills of great leaders

Next time you’re in a social situation—a work meeting, a networking event, or a family gathering—pay attention to how you interact with others. Try one or two of the following suggestions, and let us know how it felt.

  1. Demonstrate genuine interest in others.
    Listening is a key component. Leaders listen, ask questions, and demonstrate genuine interest in the lives, thoughts, and feelings of employees, friends, and family. The focus is on the other person, not themselves.
  2. Interact with others and encourage a social environment. 
    Leaders light up a room with their presence. They speak masterfully to others, with the appropriate words, tone of voice, and body language. They encourage and facilitate the conversation and interaction of others.
  3. Convey enthusiasm and positivity. 
    It is a leader’s job to influence, persuade, and motivate employees, clients, or even their own child. Using words that are positive, in a manner that conveys emotion, is crucial to sharing a vision and getting others on your side.

Leaders are made, not born.

Social skills can be developed and improved. Do you have the social skills to take your leadership to the next level, for today and everyday?
Contact me for a free telephone consultation, and together we can find out!

What communication skills do great leaders have in common?

Image of mother duck with ducklings following her. Text reads: What are the communication skills of great leaders?

I’ve been thinking a lot about “everyday leadership” lately—the behind-the-scenes leadership that is threaded throughout our lives:

  • the committee member who keeps the group on task
  • a colleague mentoring the new employee
  • a neighbor organizing social events
  • a supportive friend
  • the parent who encourages a child to reach her dreams

A great leader isn’t necessarily in the role of CEO. These everyday leaders keep the workplace running, bring people together, and make a difference in other people’s lives, demonstrating truly great leadership.

However, all successful leaders, whether CEOs or everyday leaders, share some traits and skills in common—primarily, exceptional communication skills.

3 Communication Skills of Great Leaders

Clear communication: Leaders are able to speak their message in a clear, concise, direct manner. Leaders prepare. Leaders practice.
Observe the great communication of others. Know your audience, and choose words to resonate and connect with them. Leaders are not shy about revising and reformulating to remove any barriers to the success of their vision.Body language: Great leaders use body language that syncs with their message. They can also read the body language of others.
Develop an awareness of what message your non-verbal communication is sending, through your use of eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, and positioning of arms and body. Notice the body language of others as you speak. Improved self-awareness will allow you to demonstrate and read non-verbal communication more effectively.

Listening: Great leaders let a speaker talk without interruption.
Do not finish a speaker’s sentence or complete their thought. Be patient, positive, and non-reactive as you attempt to understand their point of view, even though you may not agree. Show the speaker you value their opinion by providing undivided attention.

Leaders are made, not born.

The skills necessary can be acquired and improved. Take your leadership to the next level, for today and everyday!

Follow the lead of Hollywood’s best actors: Alter your accent to maximize success in your profession

Image of Nicole KidmanIt fascinates me to listen to interviews with actors whose real-life accents are different from the roles they play. For example, Hugh Laurie’s British accent is not evident in his character Dr. Gregory House on House M.D. Nicole Kidman sounds like a native speaker of American English, despite her Australian roots. And Renee Zellweger is on point with her British accent in Bridget Jones’s Diary, despite that she is an American from Texas.

(To hear these actors and others: http://www.backstage.com/news/15-actors-who-masterfully-hide-their-natural-accents/)

How do they do it? Please, don’t cringe…you’ve heard this before: practice, practice, practice!

You may be thinking, Of course they practice. It’s part of their job, and they get paid to do it.

But let’s consider this: In any professional setting, speaking clearly is part of the job, too! Individuals who communicate accurately and efficiently maximize opportunities for success.

If you are striving to improve the clarity and accuracy of your spoken American English, by modifying a foreign accent or regional dialect, then practice you must!

3 Tips for Daily Practice

  1. Listen: Often my clients are so focused on pronunciation, they forget to listen. Spend time listening to the speech you want to emulate—without speaking yourself. If possible, use headphones, close your eyes, and concentrate on the sound, rhythm, and intonation patterns you hear. Pronunciation will be easier as a result.
  2. Pronounce: List key words specific to your profession. These are the most important words to pronounce clearly and precisely. You can ask a colleague, or use an online dictionary to check pronunciation. Enlist the help of a speech professional to ensure correct sound production and intonation. Perfect practice is important to developing new speech habits.
  3. Repeat: Repetition is a crucial component for developing new habits and skills, and speech pronunciation is no exception. Practice for short intervals throughout the day to maximize transfer of new pronunciation in daily activities. More practice will result in more noticeable results.

*  *  *

Think of your next presentation or phone call with a client as a performance that will be viewed, reviewed, and rewarded if successful. Practice and rehearsal are the keys to rave reviews!


Image credit: Eva Rinaldi