He Has a Point. (A Damn Good One.)

While passing the time in the Atlanta airport, I picked up a book on making presentations, The Exceptional Presenter, by Timothy Koegel. Though self-published, it’s garnered endorsements from everyone from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to Roger Staubach. My reasons for the purchase were selfish: I figure that the odds are high that I’ll find at least one, small, operational piece of advice … and indeed I did find a couple of new ideas and a ton of always useful reminders.

But there was one enormous point Koegel makes that is ever-so-obvious … except that I’ve never seen it made with such impact and clarity. Are you breathless with anticipation? Well, you should be. Here goes: “Those who practice improve. Those who don’t, don’t.”

Obvious. Golf. Fishing. Cabinetry. Biking & hiking. So: Why not presenting-communicating? In Koegel’s seminars, he asks participants how much time they spend communicating—including formal presentations, meetings, interviews to collect information, and even voice mails. The answer, and he cites other research with like numbers, is 50 percent to 80 percent of one’s professional time. (Which makes perfect sense to me, as I sit here at a keyboard … communicating.) Then Koegel asks how much time people spend practicing and evaluating their communication skills. A very, very fair question, eh? The answer is: 0/zero percent to 2 percent … mostly zeroes.

This result is no less stupid for the fact that it’s not surprising.

Whether you get Koegel’s book or not, you must/ought to admit he has one helluva point. Call it, even, a “dirty little/BIG secret.”

I am a professional communicator—from this Blog to my books to my 75 speeches a year. I’m not bragging (much), but my “practice” & “prep” is bizarrely time-consuming and of course invaluable. E.g.: spending the 2+ hours on my flight yesterday from ATL to BOS, at the end of a long day, after speech #2,400 (roughly), reading-absorbing Koegel’s book!

(Re-read the above paragraph. TP: “I am a professional communicator …” Hint, not to be condescending: So are you!) (But … do you think of yourself that way? Hint: The answer to that question may be a “life or death” professional issue.)

One of Koegel’s greatest contributions is suggesting-revealing the fact, the great news, that we have many, many mundane opportunities to practice! He offers numerous ideas. Using people’s names in conversations is very powerful. So practice it at a party this weekend. Smiling is a matchless “weapon” for winning over audiences … so be aware, in family communications, the degree to which you smile, or don’t. In my case, and my wife laughs at me over this one, I spend as much time spell-checking and working on grammar-word choice on emails to old friends as I do when writing something formal to a prospective Client: Every time I communicate with anybody is an opportunity to improve my communications effectiveness.

(NB: While in the D.C. airport a couple of days ago I picked up Drucker’s The Effective Executive, the book of P.D.’s that most influenced me as a “starting manager” in the Pentagon in 1968. The one thing I underlined as I re-read it was a vignette about General George Patton … literally standing in front of a mirror and practicing his “command face” every morning! Makes sense to me!)

My “bottom line” on this is less an endorsement for the book than a hearty 2-million cheers for “the big idea/s”: (1) We spend most of our time communicating. (2) Our career success or failure depends to an extraordinary degree on communications excellence … or the lack thereof. (3) The overwhelming majority (perhaps 90 percent) of experimentally measured communication effectiveness comes from the “soft stuff” (do you project energy, etc, etc). (4) We rarely systematically “work on” communications effectiveness. (5) As leaders, we seldom have our troops work on their communications effectiveness. And (6) “Those who practice improve. Those who don’t, don’t.”

Comments, please!!! For starters, do you buy Koegel’s argument, and by extension mine—e.g., the centrality of the relationship between communications effectiveness and career/life effectiveness, and the thence odd fact that we rarely work systematically or assiduously on this paramount skill and success-failure determinant.

FYI: As I review this, I think it has the makings of a Top Ten post in my last 18 months of active Blogging.