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The Kansas City Chiefs just won the Super Bowl for the second year in a row and the third time in four seasons. That’s a lot of winning, and they’re far from done. But out of all the praise heaped upon head coach Andy Reid and his team, the one talking point that stuck out to me wasn’t as much about the wins as it was their ability to prepare for every situation. For the Chiefs, it’s more than team meetings and putting in work on the practice field. It’s this concept of experiential learning that they seemingly do better than the other 31 teams — games are won and lost based on how quickly they learn, adapt, and execute on game days and how closely they use film study. 

Simply put, you learn by doing. Now, I don’t have to sell you on the importance of learning by doing in sports or the business world — everyone knows how well we execute in most situations is a reflection of how often we’re placed in real-world situations. The challenge is how we can apply what the Chiefs taught us about experiential learning so that we, as leaders, can improve our communication skills.

Learn, Refine, and Be Better Communicators

Imagine how much better you’d react on the fly in a stressful crisis management  press conference if you were placed in those situations more often.

Imagine communicating more empathetically with your team because you had daily opportunities to practice and refine your message.

Better yet, imagine if you could go back and watch or listen to yourself in real time or after the fact.

  • What would you change about what you said?
  • How much better do you think you’d know and understand your audience?
  • How much more comfortable would you feel in these situations?
  • What would you do with all that objective feedback at your fingertips?

Sadly, that’s not how we typically learn in business. The traditional format is to attend a three- or four-hour seminar or class. Don’t get me wrong — it’s excellent information. You’ll learn quite a bit; there may be opportunities to role-play, and if you’re lucky, there will likely be quite a few mentors in the room who are willing to help you learn and grow.

I’ve done my share of these presentations, but you always wonder how much of that material sticks with the audience.

My guess is not that much. Why? 

For starters, the messages aren’t repeated daily, and most examples and role-playing opportunities are predictable, controlled, and certainly not representative of real-world situations. While you’ll remember a few main talking points, others will fall through the cracks because the concepts were too far over your head or couldn’t be applied to your leadership situation. 

To be a strong leader who communicates with clarity, focus, empathy, emotional intelligence, and inclusivity, you must learn by doing. 

  • Classroom instruction must mirror real life as closely as possible
  • Leaders must experience what it’s like to fend for themselves and think on the spot in different environments
  • There must be ample opportunities to practice under different conditions, scenarios, and to differing audiences
  • Leaders must be challenged to communicate in different ways (different stories, examples, word choices, etc.)
  • Leaders should be prepared, but not prepared so much that they can’t comprehend or feel the gravity of the situation
  • Feedback must be in real-time

I’d go a step further and say that the leaders with the most authentic and impactful communication skills are the ones who have practiced so much that the words just flow. They’ve practiced under different conditions and scenarios, and what they say, think, feel, and do feels natural.

We limit our capabilities if we simply practice one way all the time. This is why experiential learning is so different.

The Business World Demands Improved Communication

Your organization's success is paramount to how well you communicate as employees and leaders. This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is an innovative, one-of-a-kind software that offers a unique and compelling way to activate experiential learning and eliminate traditional scenarios that are too predictable or emulate the old way of doing things. 

TalkMeUp profoundly addresses these needs and related communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. Like having a communications coach on speed dial, it gives you the feedback you need to understand how you communicate — all in real-time. 

As you practice more with TalkMeUp and do things differently, this practice becomes who you are. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you begin to see changes in how you communicate, and TalkMeUp backs those thoughts up with accurate data, others will see you as a leader who emphasizes effective communication.

Interested in  seeing for yourself how TalkMeUp can facilitate Experiential Learning for you and your organization?  If so, Get Started Free to begin your Experiential Learning journey.

About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is 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.