If I Had To Choose Only One

November 25th, 2010

The Situation:

My clients say they don’t have time for a full warm-up before a meeting or presentation.

The Reality:

  1. Warm-ups are important to a speaker. Without them, you might get by, but you won’t be at your best.
  2. If you can’t warm up right before you speak, do it the morning of the event.
  3. Do something. Even a brief warm-up is better than nothing.

The Objective:

  1. Relaxation- Tension anywhere in your body inhibits and distorts communication.
  2. Breathing- The quality of your voice will never surpass the quality of your breath.
  3. Resonance- You won’t engage others if you’re not fully engaged yourself.

My “Silver Bullet”

If I had time to do only one exercise, I would do a series of spinal rolls.

The Spinal Roll:

Release your head forward and begin rolling down toward the ground, as though you were going to touch your toes. Imagine a rope going over a pulley. You’re not reaching, just relaxing downward as far as it feels comfortable. Let go of the back of the back of your neck, your shoulders, relaxing your upper, middle and lower back, until you’re hanging from your waist, head downward. Keep your knees loose.

Now take a deep breath and sigh some tension out of your body. Notice what happens to your body as you let go of the breath. Sigh out several deep breaths and with every out-breath, invite your body to relax even more. You might feel yourself getting closer to the ground with each out-breath. Enjoy that feeling.

Slowly, begin rolling back to an upright position, without lifting your head or tensing your neck and shoulders.  Just unrolling until you find yourself upright again. Take a moment and notice you’ve done to your body.

Repeat this process, trying to notice something new or do something better with each repetition. No two spinal rolls should ever be exactly the same.

The Effect:

  1. Relaxation- As you roll and unroll your torso, muscles start to let go. You become more efficient as you grow more familiar with the exercise. You use fewer muscles to do the same task. You feel more free.
  2. Breathing- With every spinal roll, you open more of your body to the breath. You breathe more fully and easily, into your belly, your sides and even your back.
  3. Resonance- Sigh out sound while rolling up and down your spine. You notice the feeling of sound vibrations shifting as your body changes position. You feel the body-voice connection. Your whole body vibrates with sound.

The Benefit:

  1. Relaxation- You feel at ease, grounded and expansive. You move with freedom. You put your listeners at ease.
  2. Breathing- You relax from the inside out. You think clearly. Your voice feels clear, strong and deep. Your pace is deliberate and your delivery is fluent.
  3. Resonance- You speak with your whole body. You communicate with your whole being. Your message has impact.

The Truth:

I’m not recommending shortcuts or condoning laziness. You should allow time for a 20-40 minute warm-up before any important meeting or presentation. But if the circumstances make a full warm-up impossible, this one little exercise, done with awareness and attentiveness, can cover a few of the bases.

SMART PRACTICE: Moving from Mundane to Mastery

November 17th, 2010

Are you wasting your practice time? Everyone knows practice is a critical component of skill-building and behavioral change, and author Malcome Gladwell has popularized the fact that we need at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to achieve mastery in any area. But there’s a catch: it has to be smart practice. Skating around an ice rink for thousands of hours won’t make you a champion figure skater. Since, it’s hard to make time for practice, how can you be sure you’re using that precious time most effectively?

Pay attention. Mindless repetition doesn’t deliver results. In his wonderful book, The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge asserts that paying close attention is essential to long-term change. Learning with divided attention doesn’t lead to lasting change in your brain maps. It’s not just repetition that leads to improvement; your ability to notice what’s happening while you’re performing the task enables you to recognize obstacles and reinforce gains. Stop daydreaming, get focused, and notice what’s happening.

Be curious. Expecting immediate results puts you in the wrong frame of mind for effective practice. It’s tempting to treat an exercise like a vending machine: you do the exercise and you get a result. It’s common to hear someone say, “That exercise didn’t do much for me.” As if it’s the fault of the exercise… In reality, an exercise is more like an experiment: it’s a chance to observe and learn something, and there’s no way to predict what that might be. Get curious. Give yourself permission to explore. The discoveries you make will open doors for real change.

Be patient with yourself. Focusing on “doing it right” is a distraction and a recipe for frustration. When your attention shifts from “what am I observing” to “am I doing it right” you are no longer learning. Shunryu Suzuki wrote, “You become discouraged with your practice when your practice has been idealistic. Our practice cannot be perfect, but without being discouraged by this, we should continue it. This is the secret of practice.” Give yourself permission to fail, because failure reveals what you need to learn. It’s a guide, not proof that you can’t succeed.

Focus. Trying to practice everything will prevent you from perfecting anything. Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 1,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 1,000 times.” Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t worry about the other mistakes that may be happening. Good practice requires that you allow one thing to fall apart while you focus on another. Trust the process. Know what specific skill you’re practicing. Give it your full attention. Spend time absorbing one thing, and it will most likely be waiting for you when you revisit it.

Top performance does not stem from innate talent or genetic advantages. It comes from diligent practice of clearly, carefully defined skills. Making your practice hours count requires focus, patience, curiosity, and attentiveness. The ability to practice effectively will impact every aspect of your life, personally and professionally. It will ultimately distinguish you from your peers and put you at the top of your game.