To improve, get in the batting cage

One summer day when I was a kid, I walked into my grandparents’ house to get a drink of water, only to hear what sounded like a fire-and-brimstone sermon from the back bedroom. If clouds were to part; if lightning were to strike; if thunder were to rattle the house – now would be the time.

Who was delivering this spirited, divine message? And just as importantly (at least to my 7-year-old ears), who was on the receiving end?

The answer to the first question was my Uncle Keith. He was a teenager, but already had determined he would be a minister. He had been invited to preach at the Free Will Baptist Church in Poteau that Sunday.

So, on that day, he was practicing. All by himself, in an empty room.

Some leadership and communication skills can be learned by reading, or observing, or thinking. Public speaking isn’t one of them. You have to practice.

Our firm’s founder, Chuck Schnake, was a disciple of leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith, whose best-known book is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. The premise is that what gets you hired out of college – and what gets you promoted through the first half of your career – bears little resemblance to what gets you to the C-suite.

The higher you advance, the more important the soft skills, like interpersonal communication, emotional IQ, performance management, vision, conflict management – and presentation skills.

According to a study by Forbes, 86% of executives say good presentation skills helped advance their careers. That’s an astounding number.

If, for example, you’re a young petroleum geologist at an oil and gas company, you’ll earn your stripes by being an excellent geologist. But that alone doesn’t punch your ticket to the top. It requires communication and “people” skills.

Indeed, “what got you here won’t get you there.”

Our firm routinely works with executives who wish to sharpen their communication skills, whether it’s talking to the media, holding employee town halls, or preparing a shareholder presentation. The only way to learn, in our view, is to prepare, get on your feet, deliver your message, get constructive feedback, and then practice again.

Baseball players don’t become great hitters only by reading books and watching videos. To be the best they can be, they spend hours in the batting cage. Swing, after swing, after swing.

Like my Uncle Keith, you have to practice.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He shares a monthly column in thein The Journal Record.