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It doesn’t matter if you’re a star athlete, a student wanting to do well on an important test, a salesperson who wants to move from being in the middle of the pack to a high performer, or an executive who wants to one day be viewed as the ideal leader among peers, you won’t get better or learn something new unless you practice. Unsurprisingly, the same applies to improving your communication skills.

Our ability to communicate is at the heart of everything we do, and it’s easily one of the most utilized and sought-after skills in the workplace. Leaders and individual contributors must hone this skill, and the only way to do that is through sustained practice.

After all, practice makes perfect, right? Well … not exactly.

That said, practicing something enough times will take you from “sort of good” or “not knowing anything” to pretty darn good in no time — provided that you put in the right amount of effort. So, how much practice is enough practice? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Woodrow Wilson said that if you have a 20-minute presentation, give yourself two weeks of practice. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that becoming an expert at something takes 10,000 hours of practice. Where you fall on that scale depends on you, but I’d venture to say you know you’ve done it right when you become so comfortable with your ability to communicate that you feel one with whatever message you’re trying to share, and you feel confident in your ability to wow the audience or spur your team to take action.

The Benefits of Practice: Practice Means So Much More Than Improving Your Comfort Level

Beyond having a comfort level with your communication skills, the right amount of practice also helps you figure out what works best for you in those situations and helps answer a variety of essential questions before it’s time for your big presentation:

For example … 

  1. What’s my speaking rate, and how can I improve that?
  2. What does my tone of voice sound like?
  3. Am I saying the right things?
  4. Am I being concise or too wordy?
  5. How is my oral delivery?
  6. Am I mimicking the environment to make my practice sessions as realistic as possible?
  7. Am I underestimating or overestimating the audience?
  8. What are some potential questions people might ask? Do I have the answers?
  9. Do I know this material inside and out?

Here’s the most important part about practice that many people forget: With work and practice must come feedback. In other words, you need input from someone else to know how you’re doing and if your message is coming across the way you intend. If you practice alone, you aren’t replicating what it’s like to stand in front of someone, and your hard work is only partially beneficial.

How Can Leaders Promote the Importance of Practice

Whether you practice during the workday or on your own time, it’s important to carve out that time if you want to improve your communication skills. You must also have a test audience, and in turn, leaders must place more value on practice by giving their team permission to do these things. This can include but not be limited to the following strategies:

  • Providing adequate training and resources (such as TalkMeUp)
  • Commit time for practice (actually block the time on the calendar)
  • Conduct role-play scenarios 
  • Be open to giving feedback 
  • Minimize distractions
  • Be honest about the difficulty of learning something new
  • Expect mistakes and celebrate effort
  • Encourage professional development
  • Provide support and encouragement
  • Expect the same amount of practice from themselves. In other words, model the way. 

The Business World Demands More Effective Communication

Whether you are an organizational leader or an employee working your way up the corporate ladder, improving your communication skills depends on practice — not some of the time or part of the time, but all of the time. 

This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is innovative, one-of-a-kind software that profoundly addresses communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. TalkMeUp gives you and your teams the feedback everyone needs to communicate better — all in real-time. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you see changes in your communication, others will see you as a leader who speaks passionately and confidently in any setting.

Interested in seeing how TalkMeUp can help you improve your communication skills? Try TalkMeUp for free with no obligation.

About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is an Associate Teaching Professor of Business Management Communication and the Former Faculty Lead and Interim Executive Director for the Accelerate Leadership Center at the Tepper School of Business. Ron teaches a range of communication courses and leadership programs for Tepper students. Ron’s research interests include civility in discourse and fostering individual and team creativity. Previously at Carnegie Mellon, Ron was the Assistant Vice President for Learning & Development. Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1999, Ron was Vice President and Director of Organizational Development and Communications for Mellon Network Services. Ron has been a consultant, leadership, and communication coach for numerous executives and corporate and not-for-profit organizations. He has consulted in health care, financial services, education, technology, and energy sectors. Ron has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric-English from Carnegie Mellon University.