If you’re an Alvin Toffler reader, you will be familiar with his views that the schooling system was designed by the rich to keep the poor in poverty forever and to work in their factories. He goes on to describe how school teaches us to learn an immense amount of useless information by heart and regurgitate enough of it at exam time to earn a pass. In essence, we are taught compliance, timekeeping and to memorise instructions, the disciplines required of a low earner. Toffler refers to this as “The covert curriculum”. If you were one of the lucky ones to have encountered a teacher who taught you how to think, and you decided to turn these insights into action, or you managed to emerge from school unbrainwashed, you may well fall into the category of “high earner.”
I want you to think about some of the things we are taught at school. Literacy is given massive priority. To be able to write supposedly guarantees one a passport to employment. Reading (of which I am a huge fan) is punted with almost as much fervour. Yet, an illiterate person who has ambition, drive and common sense can employ others to do those very things for him/her. And in reality, most people spend precious little of their working time on either. Before rising in protest, think carefully about these words.
How about the art of speaking properly, using paralanguage (and body language) skilfully? And the gift of questioning and listening, the most effective tools available to us in persuading others to a course of action? We use these plenty, but are given little or no coaching in these vital skills. Why, I ask?
In today’s modern economy it is no longer just the chief who stands before the tribe and gushes forth. It’s your entire management team, most of the sales force, trainers, negotiators, IT experts, and so on. Yet there are precious few companies with a policy of developing these direct communication skills in their key people – those who are expected to produce results. The worst culprits are often our executives who stand up and bumble on at length, boring their hapless captives with waffle, misplaced humour and atrocious slide shows. And few would dare telling the clueless fellow that he’s just made a complete Wally of himself (that could be a career limiting insight!). So the cycle gets repeated. And because the manager does it – it becomes the benchmark.
There are so many pitfalls to delivering punchy, persuasive presentations that no one in his right mind should ever attempt one unless he/she has been coached in the fundamentals. This ranges from use of the voice, appropriate gestures and stance, structuring your flow, handling questions, preparing visuals, setting up the venue and equipment, to managing the various time components.
You will agree that it takes quite a few lessons and considerably more practise to learn to drive a car. Similarly, it takes time to fashion a good speaker, and the very best all started somewhere, usually the same place they did when they learned to drive. The only difference is that so many believe they can pull it off without being trained. Would you get behind the wheel of a car and tackle a 100km trip with no training? Methinks not. The result is either sufficient deafness to eliminate the loud snoring of the audience, or a resultant blind fear of speaking. It is important to understand that one’s initial botched attempts at perfection are completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Many of today’s best speakers progressed slowly at first, but through perseverance, and ultimately experience, achieved a degree of competence.
It is important to understand that one’s initial botched attempts at perfection are completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
It is therefore no wonder they don’t spend much time teaching this at school except to the obviously talented – it sounds like a lot of hard work. Maybe. But like most good things in life, we often have to wait a little longer for the things that are worth having, but the ability to speak to an audience in any situation with confidence is something that ranks highly on most people’s secret “one day I’ll” list.
So, what is the unavoidable trend? Simply this: More people are being expected to stand up and communicate with other people as an essential requirement of their day to day work. My guess is you’re probably there already. If you’re still “winging it”, you should expect no better that hit and miss results. There’s no better time than the present to get yourself and your team skilled up in this very important area of communication. It’s called being consciously competent.
In the words of Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Quite so. It takes just a couple of days to get you pointed firmly in the right direction.