I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers book. He could write about cow dung and make it interesting. This one caught my eye because he asks what it takes to be really good — no, GREAT — at something. I’m facing that most with my kids. What should I encourage them to do; what should I offer them to do; what should I force them to do?

Gladwell’s research and claim/premise in the book is that it takes 10,000 hours to be a true master at something. He talks about hockey players and pilots and musicians and programmers. In each case it’s the same conclusion — those who put in the time become the experts.

It made me wonder. How much time have I put in at the craft that I love and make my living at? How can I help others reach that level?

Excel is my friend. I taught a (painful) year in high school. That made me teach/talk/present every day for 180 days. Then I TA’d in college. Then I taught in college a couple of years. Then I worked as a corporate trainer for more than a decade, teaching a couple of times a week and learning how to hate meetings and bureaucracy the rest of the time. And then I’ve become a coach/trainer/consultant. My total? I figure I’ve spent 8500+ hours in front of audiences speaking. But I really know that isn’t accurate, because the first 6500 or so were BAD experience. I hadn’t been taught how to do it and all I was becoming was comfortable, not better.

Then I think of some of my favorite people on the planet. Folks who know their stuff and want to get better at presenting. They speak at a conference or two, a lunch-n-learn here or there, a few formal presentations a year for their workgroup, and maybe a civic presentation or three. The really ambitious may teach a Sunday School class or at the community college. They might get… 50 hours a YEAR. In 200 years or so, they’ll become a Gladwellian expert in presenting.

The only hope to become an expert at communicating has to be to embrace our entire lives as an opportunity to communicate better. Every conversation, every phone call, every meeting, every chance encounter, every formal opportunity. They are ALL chances to get better and build that valuable expertise in the one skill you will always use — communicating.

Communicate better ALL THE TIME.

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