Based on a comment by Barbara Kite, an acting and public speaking coach (and a respected colleague), I am encouraged to write an article on the importance of practice. She has been very influential in how I look at acting, coaching, and, of course, training. Her views, like mine, come from a link between acting and life’s experiences. We have some different experiences, but I always listen to what she has to say.
It’s almost a no-brainer to anyone with sense that practice in anything we do is invaluable. Most of us would acknowledge that practice by itself is not as simple as it seems. Naturally, when it comes to training, it should not be overlooked or assumed it will happen on the job. Let’s give the subject of practice some perspective, and with that, something to think about.
Kite mentioned in her comment to my previous post, The Best Performance Enhancer…
“It’s not the training I’m currently concerned about, it’s how quickly we try to train people without following up with refreshers and reminders.”
I think we have to take individual differences into account when we give anyone career instruction. I stress motivation. Even the less talented can get work if they are persistent and work hard. Highly talented individuals can sit back after one good job and wonder why the offers aren’t coming their way. Those who practice their craft and are motivated to succeed will find a way. Practice doesn’t have to be exactly the same every time, but can incorporate new elements.
“I just worked with clients I had trained over six months ago. They had made progress by using some of what they had learned (or remembered) but also had let slip some of the basics they had learned, and were asking the same questions they had when first we met. Had they not been paying attention? Or did some things slip? Or was there too much information?”
I’m sure this sounds familiar. She goes on to say:
“I know my acting students need to hear the same phrase over and over and over again before it sinks in. We are in a hurry to learn and expect it to be easy and we’re not willing to put the time needed for those muscles to form to be really able to use them. I ask new clients (public speaking and actors) how long would you give yourself to be a concert pianist or a tennis champ? It’s the same thing. Practice, practice, practice.”
And, she is absolutely right, which is one reason I advocate continuous learning. Refreshers are good, too, but I would want them to build on the review of past information our people should know and be using. Often I find they aren’t. Because they don’t want to ask for the training, they try to do a “work-around.” In some things, there is no “work around.” Then we have to train all over again.
Continuous learning uses practice as its base. It is a necessary element of teaching or coaching Karate or most martial arts, for example, with the belt system. Each class is a review or refresher, practice, and includes something new. This is essential professional development from the ground up; it only makes sense to build on what we learn from the lowest to the highest employee.
All students and trainees, not just acting or Karate students, need to internalize what is they are learning to make that learning stick, and repetition helps that certainly. We, as trainers and coaches, need to find what methods learning works for them.
I know when I was developing as an actor on stage, I had stage fright. After “practice,” not so much stage fright. The first time I used a microphone, it was the same thing. After awhile, no problem. Then the video camera… It was uncomfortable at first but I was prepared; I had learned to know it would be there and it was easier to go from there. It was only because of repetition through practice that I internalized and learned the what I needed to in order to succeed at my job.
Managers/Leaders and Workers, like Directors and Actors, are comfortable with their work based on their respective backgrounds, training and education, and work experience. I just finished a series of Acting Smarts articles for STAGE Magazine on auditioning from both the perspective of the director and the actor. My acting training and experience affects my directing preferences just as my “other” work experiences in customer service and training directly affects how I manage and lead my people. I have to admit that all my experiences, directly or indirectly affect anything I do. “I Y’am What I Y’am,” remember. I would expect a manager who has personally worked the job sees the team based on his or her experiences and supervises them based on his preferences doing that same job now.
Individual preferences and learning differences do matter. And teaching philosophy, in this case.
I come from a social psychology background as well and my mentor, Dr. Willis H. McCann, the chairman of my university’s psychology department then, had a philosophy of doing what works (for attaining good mental health). He compared problem-solving to praying, meditating, cogitating, sleeping on it–all ways that work in solving problems. He was one of those great broadly-thinking men with a PhD in Psychology, a Doctor of Divinity, and a Juris Doctorate who never made you feel he had all the answers; however, he did see many connections.
How we process, how we think and how we learn is reinforced with “practice, practice, practice.” We even practice the ways we problem solve. In this case, the art of problem-solving was individualized but it did the same thing: what works. I think that applies to most things; there are always good ideas, but they are never the only ideas and people latch on to what makes them comfortable–and what works for them. Consider we all do that and apply it–with practice.
The art of problem-solving works well here to describe individual differences. Praying, meditation or just sleeping on a subject does the same thing; it allows an idea to roll around in your mind without expectations, without manipulation until a subconscious answer comes to mind. Think about any problem-solving course of training that uses on of these methods. They all allow for a concentration on a verbal or nonverbal, auditory or inaudible statement of thoughts. Doing what works and practicing it, so the experts say, will improve problem-solving. Practice, practice, practice.
So I still agree. Practice is important. I think that is why training directors and coaches need to always be thinking of new ways and next steps. They should be incorporating practice as a part of their training and coaching, and motivating employees and clients to use these skills on the job (practice again). I encourage development over training. Development is continuous learning and building on skills, and hopefully honing these skills and using the new knowledge in practical application on the job. Call it practice, if you will.
I think we have to take individual differences into account when we give anyone career instruction. I stress motivation as well. Even the less talented can get work if they are persistent and work hard. Highly talented individuals can sit back after one good job and wonder why the offers aren’t coming their way, while those who practice their craft, sometimes regardless of talent, and are motivated professionals who succeed.
In the simplest sense, Practice is what will make a training program work. We all know the simplest solutions are too good to be true. Practice works, but taking into account other variables, can maximize results. It solidifies the base for continuous learning, it builds confidence as it becomes a part of the learning that is internalized, and the more comfortable we become the more willing we are to add to that we have learned.
For more resources about training, see the Training library.
As always these are only my thoughts–and Barbara Kite’s, so be sure to check out her website for her thoughts and philosophy on training and coaching. Also, pondering the question of balancing theory with practice is Gary Pollice, Professor of Practice, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in his article titled Training versus Education. For more of my views, questions, offers of employment, contracts…, contact me via email or phone, which is available on my homepage.
By all means, please feel free to add your comments and insight here on this page. That’s what we’re here for.
For a look at the human side of training from my Cave Man perspective, please check out my book, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development. Happy training.