I’m not generally a big fan of quick fixes and claims of fast improvement, for people skills or any other soft skill. I believe that most of them ignore the natural level of practice and repetition learning requires and they usually over-promise. However, I think there is one smart, effective way to get relatively quick results in developing skills.
Last week, I had a 6-day public speaking training with a very cool group of young participants. The kind of people who definitely had some smart things to say, but hadn’t actually learned how to articulate them with impact in front of an audience. Just the kind of participants I like to work with.
The 6 days of training were an intense learning experience. The participants did speeches almost every day, got and gave feedback, learned public speaking principles and techniques, did exercises and case studies. They got back home each day to research and prepare speeches for the next day, they talked with their friends about public speaking, and they probably dreamed public speaking in their sleep.
By the last day of the training, when they delivered their final celebration speeches, all the participants had made huge leaps in their public speaking skills. They had improved one subset of people skills in 6 days more than most people do in a 1 year.
How did this happen? What we have at work here is what I see as the only effective way to improve people skills or any soft skill fast: experiences of immersion.
Experiences of immersion mean that for a period of a couple of days up to a couple of weeks, you are in a totally different head space. In this period you focus almost constantly on a certain skill and doing the activities which develop it. You eat breath and sleep those activities, you constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone and by the time the period is over, something has visibly changed inside you.
Most self-improvement is done is small, gradual steps. You practice something 30 minutes each day for 6 months and then you see some real progress. With immersion, you practice almost non-stop for 3-5-15 days. There is pretty much nothing for you but that practice in those days. It’s intense learning with intense results.
Before you get too exited and jump into some 1-week bootcamp, I think a small warning is in order: not all skills and not all soft skills develop well though immersion. People skills tend to do so, but on the long run it usually requires a mix between periods of immersion and longer periods of small, daily practice to improve your skills with people in the best way.
This being said, I do encourage you to seek out and get into immersion experiences to improve people skills. Here are some important tips on how to make these experiences happen and make the most out of them:
- Save some money. Powerful immersion experiences often involve a training, bootcamp, workshop or adventure of some sort, which will cost you some money. So if you’re interested in one, make sure you put some money aside before you try to get into such an experience.
- Take a vacation. Most of us have work, school or families which require us to be there almost on a daily basis. So if you wanna have an immersion experience which will require at least a couple of days, you will probably need to plan and take a small vacation for it. Trust me: it will be one hell of a vacation!
- Choose the right people skills. Immersion experiences can be financially, physically and psychologically draining. You can’t afford to do them very often. So when you do, make sure you pick the ones which will improve people skills you find the most relevant: public speaking, conversational skills, confident communication etc.
- Don’t loose the momentum. If after an immersion experience you stop practicing, your newly improved skills will usually regress, often at a rapid pace. So keep practicing on a daily basis to reinforce the learning. That initial practice right after the experience is the most valuable one.
In the rushed society we live in, with some many things to do, immersion experiences are a rare thing. And I think this is a pity, since we all want fast growth and this is the only effective way to improve people skills and many others fast. Set the things in place for an immersion, do it, keep the wheels spinning, and you will improve your people skills in a breath taking way.
Image courtesy of Powerhouse Museum