My Parakeet: A Lesson for Perfect Practice

They say “practice makes perfect.” And in fact, repeating an action over and over again is the single biggest factor in acquiring skill. It means spending hours in pursuit of perfection, putting in the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell speaks about in his book, The Outliers.

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The only way to improve your competence at something as important as public speaking is to practice. But here’s the real secret: it isn’t enough to simply practice. The wisdom is to practice the right skills in the right way so that what you learn is truly of value. Doing so requires increasing your awareness and acquiring greater knowledge of what those critical skills are.

 

When I was growing up we had a little bird named Tweetie. As a budding “trainer and coach” I spent the greater part of one summer helping Tweetie improve his communication skills. I invested my entire allowance in an LP record and instruction book called, “Teaching Your Parakeet to Talk,” and so began the process of building skill and competence in my very first “client.”

 

Tweetie, like most birds, learned best in the morning. That’s when his mind was fresh and ready to receive new information. I used our early morning training sessions to play the record for Tweetie and then followed up with cheerful conversations using the new words he was learning. After weeks of practice it finally happened. One morning he looked me in the eye and clearly said, “Pretty bird!” He soon learned to say, “Hi Cutie,” “Sweetie Pie,” and “Bye Bye, Kid.” I was seeing firsthand the power of repetition.

 

We were on Lesson 5 and working on his first long sentence when sadly the record got scratched. The new sentence sounded like this: “Hello, baby. Want a kiss, sss, sss, sss, sss, sss?” Undeterred, I kept playing the record for Tweetie, and sure enough after hours of hearing the scratched phrase, he got it! He mimicked the sound of the “scratch” as clearly as he said the words.

 

So take a lesson from Tweetie and make sure that if you’re going to invest your valuable time to improve your presentation skills, that you are practicing the right skills in the right way. It will take time to learn the “best practices” used by top speakers. You might have to read a few books, attend a training program or work with a professional to learn what skills are most important to master. But when you practice the right skills over and over—the repetition will pay off. And I promise, you won’t end up sounding like a broken record.