I believe in the power of practice. It’s the only way any of us get better. Period.
For those of us who design and lead learning events like workshops and classes, we have a special obligation to focus on practice. Our role is to help people grow and improve–to achieve a better, higher state of competency from when they arrived.
Practice will not only help your participants improve, it will help you too. You will be more calm, confident and comfortable if you practice your workshop before you do it in front of an audience.
The real trick here, though, is to do it in real time, using your deck, and any props or materials you will be handing out. Doing this kind of dress rehearsal has really helped me work out the kinks. For example, I discovered how easy it is to get my handouts confused and that I better lay them out in order, with clear labels so I don’t mix them up in the moment.
Or that if I am having them refer to certain pages in a manual, I better have those pages clipped or dog-eared so I can flip through them quickly. And I learned that if I don’t have my notes numbered, in order, and bound together, I will drop them all over the floor. Yikes!
Practicing out loud also helps you smooth out your delivery, getting the wording to be just right. And it really helps you to know how long each section actually takes so you are not rushing.
If you are going to be in a new or unique venue, I also recommend doing a trial run through there as well. Every podium and computer hookup can be different, which is why I bought every type of computer dongle possible and carry them with me. I also bring my own stash of Kleenex, slide clicker, batteries, water, and breath mints.
Once you feel that you’re ready for an audience, consider piloting your workshop with a friendly group. And call it a pilot too–that way, folks know that you’re open to feedback which makes them more likely to give it. This strategy can be particularly helpful if you know you are going to have to deliver to a tough audience. It’s better to test things out with a neutral group than find yourself flustered in front of a critical crowd.
I even will ask friends to role play challenging situations just so I know I am ready for anything. All of that practice helps me feel really solid in my material and delivery, which makes me more relaxed and fluid in front of an audience.
And practice is powerful for your participants too. Your workshop can and should be that sandbox for them to practice new behaviors. Even a few minutes of trying a behavior can make all the difference, especially when you make it safe to make mistakes and have some trial and error.
It’s amazing how much people can accomplish in just a few minutes of focused effort. I’ve found that as little as 5 or 10 minutes of practice can make a world of difference.
If it’s a complex skill or behavior, I break it into segments and have them practice each part separately, and then string them all together.
For example, I teach coaching skills to managers and leaders. I have broken a typical coaching session into 4 separate steps. We spend 2 to 10 minutes on each step, talking about how it went after each step. This is a great way to pull out important learning moments and leverage insights across the group.
Once we have done all the parts, I then give them 30 minutes to do the whole thing as one fluid experience. And of course, they switch so everyone gets a turn being the coach. This strategy can be used for a whole range of behaviors and really helps your audience gain both competence and confidence.
Here is an interesting fact from neuroscience. All learning is a neural pathway. Thoughts and behaviors are just strings of neurons firing in a certain order. So use trial and error to help them learn the skill correctly. Once the pathway is built, repetition is how we gain comfort and ease.
In fact, it’s through repetitions that a behavior becomes a habit, something that is controlled by the basal ganglia in the brain. It takes about 40-50 repetitions on average for a habit to form so I think about how I can help my participants build up repetitions during your time together.
By doing the behaviors correctly in the room, you set up your participants for ongoing success after the workshop ends.
Practice is the way we all get better at things. So make sure you honor the power of practice by building it into your workshop design. One of my favorite products for empowering practice and driving real behavior change is called Practice.xyz. It’s a patented applied learning platform and methodology that uses video to create a culture of practice, peer assessment, and coaching.