Thursday, 16 May 2013

Smart practice involves four steps: here is the fourth and last

Early on during my final year at music school I went to my weekly piano lesson. My teacher greeted me. I sat at the piano and took out the pieces I had been practising and put them on the music stand. She pushed them to one side and put another piece in front of me.

The piece seemed to go on forever; it was a very fast ‘dance study’ and every bar was packed full of notes. I gasped and said, ‘This is impossible, there is no way I can play this!’
My teacher smiled and said, ‘I know, but by the end of this year not only will you be able to play it, you will include it in your final graded recital.’

I did, eventually, learn to play it, and yes, I did include it in my final recital, where it made
quite an impression on my examiners. To this day I am amazed that I managed to perform it!

4. Set yourself initially unachievable goals

If you set yourself goals that you know you can achieve you are saying to yourself that you already have the skills and attributes needed to attain them. Therefore the possibility of you developing new skills or even enhancing existing ones is very limited. Also, it is very unlikely that you will produce any outstanding, memorable or ground breaking results.

When setting yourself goals for what you want to achieve and the skills you want to develop create ambitious goals that will demand that you learn to do new things and deliver what was previously impossible for you. This way, even if you fail to achieve your goal you will still make more progress, learn more things and gain more skills than you would have done if you had avoided risk and aimed at easier targets.

For example, if you set yourself a goal of presenting a subject that is new to you in a way that is different from your usual approach, say more participative rather than lecturing in style, you will have to learn new knowledge and new participative techniques. You will also need to do plenty of deliberate and focused practice in order to become familiar and comfortable with the techniques and implement them to a consistently acceptable standard.

Obviously the first few times you use the new knowledge and techniques it will feel somewhat strange, and perhaps the presentation will not be as polished as it would have been if you had played safe and presented in a way more familiar to you, but the gains to your development and the enrichment of your skills and abilities will far outweigh any initial difficulties or drawbacks experienced. It is also likely that the ambitious approach of your presentation will make it much more memorable and influential than would otherwise have been the case.            

Speaking personally, I was offered the opportunity to deliver a high profile presentation about creative problem solving to a very large audience made up of Civil Servants from all over the country and from very many different Departments.

The goal I set myself was to create a presentation that was engaging and participative even though the audience I was presenting to was very large, in excess of 300 people. I had to find new examples of creative problem solving that were very memorable, engaging and also relevant to the work and activities of my audience. In addition, I had to find new ways to demonstrate creative problem solving techniques that would make them clear and understandable to everybody in the audience. Lastly, I had to find new ways to get such a large number of people involved and participating in my presentation.

This all seemed very daunting. At the outset of my preparations I was not clear about how I could achieve any of it. However, as I did my research and my work progressed I did find additional examples, ideas and techniques that would enable me to gain participation, engagement and understanding from my audience.

I became familiar with the examples, ideas and techniques and thought carefully about how I would use them. I also carefully and repeatedly practised and rehearsed their use.

On the day, my delivery of the presentation went well. My preparation and rehearsal paid off, with the vast majority of the audience responding very positively.

There were areas, especially with regard to gaining participation and engaging with my audience, that I could have done better, but this was to be expected given that this was the first time I had presented to such a large number of people and I had not used some of the approaches and techniques in front of a live audience before.

Overall the positives far outweighed the negatives. Taking on the challenge and setting myself such an ambitious goal forced me to learn and do new things that I would not have learnt or done otherwise, and they will be of great use to me in the future when I deliver more presentations to large audiences.

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