The Classical Guitarist at Portland Airport

Gold ingots to convey the value of practice
Gold ingots to convey the value of practice
Practice is golden

As Sharon, Flash and I were changing planes in Portland Oregon on our way to Bend, where we recorded all the videos for my online course, we stopped by the wonderful Cuckoo Clock and listened to a young guy who was playing classical guitar. It was a while ago and I’ve lost his name, but it has stayed with me, and I want to share why since it might move you, too.

He was very good and we decided to show our support by buying his CD. So, between songs I walked up, gave him the money and got his CD. As I was about to walk away I said, “You know, I play guitar, but not like you. I’m really impressed with how good you are, it’s amazing.” He said something to minimize the compliment, like most people probably would. But, I persisted and said, “Well, what I really mean is that I want to acknowledge you for the time you must have spent practicing. I mean, to play as well as you do takes a lot of really dedicated, rigorous practice.”

Wow, did his expression change. He looked at me totally speechless and astounded for a moment and then he said “Thank you, man,” with a whole new level of enthusiasm. “You know, most people say things like, ‘you’ve got a gift,’ or, ‘you’re naturally talented.’ They just don’t realize what it takes.”

I told him, “I think that’s how people get out of doing the practice, the hard work, that it would take to be really good, themselves.”

The look on his face was beatific. It made me really glad I didn’t just let him bounce my compliment away.

And it’s not just for classical guitarists. It applies to you, too. I do a lot of large group training, small group training and 1:1 Executive Whispering. Typically the VP of HR, Corporate Communications or someone else will bring me in to work with their top executives because they’ve got important talks coming up and they’ve been asked to make them “TED-like.” It’s always a surprise to them that I want to start working at least 3-6 months before the event. Some of them don’t do it, and I don’t know how those events turn out. But, many do, and I can tell you that once people work with me they’ll never do it the old way, again.

Here are some of the secrets.

First, the big secret. People always want to be as good as Steve Jobs, but they think that they could never do it, because they’re mere mortals. Well, that’s not true. It’s not being immortal. Though a lot of his friends wish Steve Jobs had been immortal, he wasn’t. What he was, however, was committed to excellence. And, he got the value of practice.

I have a very dear friend who worked with Steve Jobs on all of those amazing talks and presentations and he told me something I’ll never forget, and that completely changed how I see practice, myself and my work. Here it is… Steve had a formula he would use, every time. After the talk was finalized; after all the work to prepare and hone and perfect the talk was done, Steve would practice one hour for every minute of the talk. That’s right. 1 hour for every minute. That means he would practice a 40 minute talk for 40 hours. Can you imagine? Steve Jobs, the natural communicator, practicing for 40 hours for one talk??? Yup. That’s right. Imagine how good you could be if you were to adopt just that 1 formula. And, if you don’t adopt it, you are not allowed to whinge about how you wish you were as good as Steve Jobs! Because you could be if you were willing to work for it!

Second, it takes time. When I work with TEDx events, and I’ve worked with well over 30, at this point, if they don’t have at least 3 months left for the speakers to prepare and practice before the event I usually won’t do it. They’re too late. Recently I worked with a Fortune top 15 company on their big global customer summit. They started working with me almost 6 months before the event.  6 months! And these are very smart, very high functioning, very valuable leaders of one of the top companies in the world. And, it wasn’t just their communications team that worked with me, they were in the room, but I worked directly with the leaders who were speaking and it was on them, not just their communications teams, to get their talk honed and perfect. After all, they’re the ones who had to get up on stage and deliver it!

And, here’s the great thing about that. If you take 3 – 6 months to really craft, hone and work on a speech you will come to embody it in a way that you just couldn’t without that time and focus. I encouraged everyone to have their first draft finished within the first month and we then spent the rest of the time crafting, honing and polishing their speeches.

Perhaps you guessed it, but I’ll tell you, the event went spectacularly well. The person in charge of the event told me it was the best event of her 25+ year career and the success of the talks was a big part of the reason. One of the major players who attended the conference actually said to the CEO, “It was like they were all giving TED talks.” The breakout sessions were extremely well attended, people were very open and engaged and the event exceeded my client’s expectations.

So, to the the classical guitarist at Portland Airport, I’m looking for your CD! I’ll post a link to your website if I can figure it out, but no matter what, keep practicing! You’re excellent and that’s how you did it!

And, if there’s something you’re thinking to yourself that you’d like to be really good at, something you’d like to be a “natural” at doing, like public speaking, perhaps… Well… start practicing!

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