Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

perfect practice

I learned an important thing about practice last week.  You won’t get good at something unless you practice.  That may sound obvious but there is a little more to it.  Let me explain by sharing what happened.  I was working with a client who was preparing for an important presentation.  We reviewed the slide together and he had done a very good job.  He had summarized the key points and it was very impactful.

It didn’t turn out well

He then asked to practice presenting it to me, noting he had five minutes to give the presentation.  Soon after he started talking I realized it wasn’t going to turn out well.  Instead of sticking to the summarized points in the slide, he elaborated, going into a lot more detail.  He brought up things not referenced on the slide.  I started to get confused.  Worse still, I called time at five minutes and he had only covered half the content.

How could this be?  He had worked on the slide and done a great job.  He knew exactly what he needed to communicate.  He’d practice the presentation many times in his head.  Each time within the five minutes allotted.  How come he took so long presenting to me?

The need for perfect practice

He practiced, but he hadn’t practiced all the right things.  This is what I mean by ‘perfect practice makes perfect’.  Unless you practice by speaking your presentation out loud, you will not get better.  My client reminded me of this clearly.  I learned this myself, unless I practice out loud, it is easy to fool myself I am ready to deliver it.  When I practice out loud, I find where I am going to stumble.  I learn what needs more work.

I first heard about the need for perfect practice from a golf teacher called Dave Pelz.  He was a NASA scientist who brought scientific rigor to the golf world.  He knew hitting ball after ball on the golf range would do nothing other than ingrain bad habits.  Dave introduced feedback into his practice so you could tell if you were doing it right.  Today he is one of the most respected and sought after golf teachers.  Coaching leading players like Phil Mickelson.

What are you practicing?  And how do you know you are practicing perfectly?  Are you getting feedback to know if you are getting better?