by Terry Gault of The Henderson Group
Back in 1997, early in my own practice of getting certified to lead workshops for The Henderson Group, I had a significant epiphany.
It occurred to me that if I practiced daily the precepts and techniques that I was learning and starting to teach, it would make it much harder NOT to certify me. In other words, if my daily practice was impeccable, it dramatically increased the likelihood that David Henderson, my mentor and boss, would certify me and I could start making money doing something I really enjoyed.
This one single idea has made more difference for me than perhaps any other. And I see the same in my clients. Those who are applying daily what they have learned in their work with The Henderson Group are making big strides in achieving mastery in how they represent themselves.
How does one incorporate daily practice?
One opportunity is with the practice of storytelling. Once you embrace it and make a decision to practice it daily, you will start to see that you can use it in almost every conversation you have. And once you start using it in daily conversation, the storytelling muscle gets very strong – like any other muscle gets stronger with daily use.
This idea of daily practice in storytelling takes at least two forms:
- You find yourself in the middle of a conversation and want to make a point with high impact. Ask yourself: what story from my experience illustrates my point effectively? When it occurs to you, tell the story.
- Anytime you find yourself in a conversation in any setting and a story comes to mind, tell it with relish and fun.
During a recent coaching engagement, a client was nervous about using a story to open his presentation which was coming up in a couple of hours. He thought that he’d need more time to plan and prepare. Thankfully, he came around to my point of view and delivered a very solid presentation using a fun opening story. You can read more about that situation in our blog post titled: “‘Last moment’ story shifts how client represents himself at major conference”
Another opportunity for daily practice is the use of silence. This may seem abstract at first – “How the heck do I practice silence?” First start with replacing all your verbal fillers (uh, uh, you know, like, etc.) with silence. As you ponder what word or phrase is next, be silent rather than filling the space with verbal fillers that make you seem less articulate and less sure of yourself and your message. Silence creates tension. You’ll find that people start hanging on your words, waiting to hear what comes after the silence.
If you are unsure how to respond to a question or request, practice using silence. You’ll be amazed at how often someone else jumps in to answer the question. The person making the request may temper their request or back away from it. You’ll come up with more intelligent responses because you gave yourself time to consider your response before blurting the first thing that came to mind.
A third opportunity would be the use of metaphor. Using metaphor in your daily speech will help you develop a new part of your brain – the right hemisphere. Our right hemisphere is the side that sees patterns. Pattern recognition is needed to see the relationship between 2 different things which is the very skill needed to create effective metaphors.
A fourth opportunity is to think about presenting ideas even if you have no concrete plan or reason to present them. This will accelerate all the skills discussed here.
An example of this occurred to me on a recent run. For some reason, a hilarious story about Tom Jones, the pop singer, came to mind that I’d read in an interview in the SF Chronicle in 1989. (Don’t ask me why I thought of it during a run. Years ago, I gave up trying to figure out why my mind brings up seemingly unrelated trivia .)
By this point in his career, Tom Jones was 49 years old and was singing to middle-aged or older fans. It had become a custom for such women women to express their … admiration for Tom by throwing their underwear on stage.
The interviewer asked Mr. Jones whether he ever has problems with the husbands of the women who throw their underwear onto the stage during his performances.
“One night a woman came down to the stage to retrieve an undergarment and I gave her a big kiss. I asked her name, and if she was married. She said ‘yes’ and pointed out her husband at a nearby table. I explained to him that the kiss was all in fun and that I hoped he hadn’t taken offense. He just smiled and said, ‘Look, you pump up the tires, and I’ll ride the bike.’”
So, during my run, I thought, “What if I wanted to use that joke/story during a conversation. How would I set it up?” It occurred to me that it would be most effective to poll the audience first with something like, “How many of you know who Tom Jones is?”
Then I might sing a snippet of a song (“It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone …”) to help younger people realize who Tom Jones is.
As I was going through this process in my mind, it occurred to me: “This is what daily practice is – daydreaming about how I might set up a Tom Jones joke even though I have no idea when I might ever use this story.”
Here are a few more examples of techniques that can be practiced daily:
The fundamental point I am making here is that when you incorporate these techniques into your daily practice, they eventually become muscle memory. Once that occurs, you can respond effectively in high stakes conversations even when you have had no time to prepare.
Once you can do that, you have reached the highest level of mastery … and you’ll be able to relate a Tom Jones joke with aplomb.