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It’s no different than in sports: you need both drills and scrimmages.
Drills emphasize learning perfect technique. Scrimmages give you a taste of the noise inherent in a real event.
They can both be used effectively to improve everything from basketball skills to, in this case, important meetings at work.
In preparation for the meeting, he completes two activities, allowing him to practice in important, but different ways. First, working on his own, he goes through the meeting agenda and, for each segment where he will ask for input or comments, writes out possible responses from faculty members, each response on a note card. He then flips through them, reading them one at a time out loud and practicing responding with active listening skills— restating the comment or highlighting some part of it to show that he took it seriously, even if he disagreed. When his tone feels off or his comments poor, he immediately doubles back and answers the card a second time. He goes through the stack of cards several times, drilling himself until active listening feels natural.
Next, George enlists Carly, the principal of a nearby school, to help. She asks him to run through the whole meeting from top to bottom, pretending that it’s the real thing. She plays the part of different meeting participants, chiming in during the participatory moments with a variety of comments— some from George’s note cards and others of her own. She varies the tenor and tone: sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes skeptical, sometimes feigning confusion. In this practice, however, she discourages George from stopping midstream to revise a response. George has to practice implementing all of the skills he’s been working on in real, sustained time, with all of the unpredictability of participants’ moods and all of the distractions of following the agenda and running the meeting. It’s a sort of rehearsal.
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