Step 2. Engage in deliberate and concentrated practice to develop the skills you need
As well as consolidating and continuing to develop your strengths it is vitally important to identify weaknesses and the additional skills you will need to develop to overcome them. The process for doing this is very much like that one you used for identifying strengths. The key questions to ask are:
- What weaknesses do you feel you have exhibited and how do you know they are weaknesses? What evidence do you have that confirms they are weaknesses?
- What feedback have you gained from others about you weaknesses and areas for development?
- Have you tested that your apparent weaknesses are in fact weaknesses? Sometimes unique approaches can be interpreted as weaknesses when in fact they are potential strengths and advantages. Have you analysed the consequences of your apparent weaknesses to confirm that they are having a negative rather than positive impact?
- Have you made a note of the areas you need to develop and what you wish to achieve by doing so?
Once you have identified feedback about apparent weaknesses in your current presentational approach you are than able to test the impact of their consequences. For example, you may be perceived as overly challenging and confrontational in your presentation style, or you may be thought of as overcomplicated in your delivery, concentrating too much upon details at the expense of the bigger picture.
On the face of it these are definitely weaknesses, and in many cases they obviously are. However, there are situations when a challenging and confrontational style is exactly what is needed. Similarly, there are occasions when the devil of the detail must be dealt with, however dry and unpleasant this may feel.
On other occasions, however, the consequences of a challenging presentational style or one that is overly attracted to detail can be very damaging. If this is found to be the case then you will need to take steps to deal with it. You can make a point of softening your approach from time to time, or you can remind your audience (and yourself), of the bigger picture once in a while.
This process of getting to know what your real weaknesses are and being clear about the actual consequences of them is a corner stone of effective personal development. It ensures that any steps taken to improve performance are targeted at the right areas and will achieve the desired effects.
Once, with the help of others, you have clarity about the true nature of your weaknesses you can take steps to address them effectively. This needs to be done in a deliberate, focused and repetitive way. The key questions to ask are:
- What specific aspects of my performance do I need to address and how am I going to do it?
- What do I need to start doing differently? What are the specific steps I need to take and what do I need to practise doing differently?
- How am I going to structure my time so that I give myself sufficient space and opportunity to develop my new skills?
- What opportunities am I going to give myself to use and build upon my new skills?
- What is the ultimate benefit to me and others of addressing my weaker areas? What rewards will I gain and how can I ensure that I gain and enjoy them?
- How will I know I have improved my performance?
Having identified this weakness the next step is for you to decide, specifically, what you will start doing differently. This is not merely a matter of telling yourself to look at your audience. You will need to think about the precise steps you are going to take to change your behaviour and then you need to start doing it.
You can also practise preparing and using your presentation notes so that they become an aid rather than a hindrance to engaging with your audience. For example, you can prepare notes pages that use telegraph sentences and key words, so that you are not inclined to look down towards your feet and present as if reading from a script. You can also put your notes on the top two thirds of the page, keeping the bottom third clear. This will encourage you to keep your eyes up and look over the top of your notes towards your audience.
Notice that the practice is focused upon a couple of specific areas. Also, remember that for it to be highly effective it needs to be concentrated within short sessions separated by short breaks.
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