How are you keeping on? We are going through very strange times, losing friends and friends to this unseen and small enemy. I hope you are keeping safe and the impact on you is reduced. I wonder how you are coping with this so called new ‘normal’.

My kids just started going to school this week. They are excited to be back with their friends, just as I have been missing hanging out with mine. However, I realize that this is a small price to pay for us to get back to a society where we are not living in fear of stepping out of the door, breathing in the same air as others.

To keep me sane, I am back within my stories –

I made a recording recently for my weekly Byte-Sized Lessons from The Storyteller’s Student. This was all about the importance of consistency in whatever one finds to do (you can find the video HERE). Considering that this is a one minute video, I can’t really say a lot about practicing nor about consistency, so decided to expand on this topic here.

I recently read about the baseball player with highest number of successive games played – Cal Ripken Jr. The first thing to note about this player is he was not your typical shortstop p

layer. I don’t know how well you know baseball. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about it, actually had to try and read briefly about it after I stumbled on Cal Ripken Jr.’s story. I must admit it has never caught my fancy to watch. The shortstop is one of the defensive players and according to my search one of the most important and best defensive player on the field.

As I said, Cal Ripken Jr. was not built like a typical shortstop. He was taller and heavier than expected, which should normally reduce his agility as a defensive player. When the record of consecutive league games was set by Lou Gehrig, it was such a special occasion, not in the least because nobody ever thought this would ever happen. So what made Cal so special, well in his own words,

“I have talent, no doubt. My advantage is that I know the game well. The reason is that I grew up in it and had a good teacher in my father. I’m sure that whatever I am as a man and a ballplayer comes from the way I was raised. But am I a superstar? Oh, no. I don’t think I stack up with the great players in the league.”

— Cal Ripken Jr.

Yeah, he was humble, but that is not why I wanted to write about him. Of course, I believe that his humility is worthy of emulation. A wise man said ‘Pride goes before a fall’, so imbibing a nature of humility is an important trait in becoming a true leader.

However, I really want to focus on one of the true characteristics that made Cal Ripken Jr. great and got him inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was willing to put in the work and practice, practice, practice. According to him, one of his fathers’ guiding principles (as coach) is that “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”. To me this says that you need to put in more time in your practicing in comparison to your ‘performance’ time. Just to make it more tangible, a public speaker needs to practice for thirty hours to deliver a one hour presentation (according to Nancy Duarte). A football player typically trains at least 5 hours per day to play for 90 minutes (if they’re selected) – that is 35 hours of practicing excluding their private practice time.

Speaking for myself, I sometimes think I can ‘wing it’. This cost me dearly when I auditioned to give a workshop last year. In my defence, I was ill in the runup to that audition and couldn’t put in as much time as possible in practicing. But, if I am honest, the storyteller in me was certain that my knowledge of the topic and storytelling skills is sufficient to get me over the line. How wrong I was! I not only failed miserably, but even ended up stopping the audition without finishing it. This helped reinforce to me the benefits of practicing.

Why do you think we don’t spend the time practicing?

My theory is that practicing is boring. Why would I want to spend hours kicking the ball into an open net? Or thirty hours speaking to myself? Now, to be honest, I speak to myself a lot. But telling myself the same story over and over again – BORING!

The fun part is standing before an audience to speak, is taking a pinpoint free kick with thousands of people cheering you on. The engineer in me would rather be commissioning (testing out) a new reactor than spending hours designing it. I would rather be doing and delivering excellent work than spending time preparing for interviews. Who wants to spend hours studying for exams?

However, the key to delivering consistent high quality results regardless of your field of expertise is the time spent practicing. As a speaker, people want to know that whenever you are called upon to speak, you will deliver consistently. The same holds true if you are a leader – people want to know what they can expect from you always.

So how do I develop this consistency? How do I tell myself the same story over and over again to make sure my delivery is perfect?

I will go into that next time – and no this is not to keep you hanging but the mail is getting long.

I would however, encourage you to think about what stops YOU from practicing.

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