In my sales role, I have to be in front of people a lot. So when our marketing team asked me to help with a short video for our website, I thought it would be easy. Is there really any difference between making a presentation to two dozen people and two billion? But what I thought would be a simple favor turned into a great (and humbling) learning opportunity.
My story will have two important takeaways. The first takeaway is that, no matter how good someone is at his or her job, there’s always more to learn, more skills you can acquire. Be open to the possibilities!
Unfortunately, some organizations—too many, really—think of training as something they do when an employee first comes on board, or when there is an issue. In reality, training can happen at any time, all the time.
The second takeaway is that everyone should learn how to be a good coach. If anyone can learn something new, it’s also possible that anyone can have something valuable to teach. So why not make sure they can teach effectively?
The story itself is worth telling. Although I would have agreed with both of these takeaways if you had told them to me, they didn’t really sink in until I found myself wondering why I couldn’t master the skill of...sitting on a stool.
My Short-Lived Career on Camera
This past summer I met with two of ej4’s video directors, Mike and Cole, to record a short video for our website. I thought this would be fairly easy: All I had to do was sit on a stool in front of the ej4 logo and deliver a few lines. “No sweat,” I thought. I have some acting background. I feel comfortable in front of a camera. Memorizing and saying a few lines while sitting should be a cake walk.
Feeling confident in my abilities, I met Mike and Cole in the studio. They were meticulously setting up the lights, camera, and microphone. Just watching them, one could tell these guys knew what they were doing. Mike got me “mic’d up,” and we tested the volume levels. One last check on the position of the stool, and we were ready to go.
This is when I got my first dose of humility. I figured the whole process would consist of a handful of takes and then we’d be done. Instead, Cole focused the camera on me for one second, two…I was waiting for him to yell “action!” but it didn’t happen. Instead, he stepped away and looked at the scene again. Something was off. Was it one of the lights? Was the stool not quite at the right height? Heaven help me, did I have a booger?
It was none of those. Cole noticed I was slouching; he asked me to straighten my back and square my shoulders. OK then, I thought, that makes sense. Ready to go now!
Little did I know that would be the first of many issues. Many, many issues.
What I thought would take all of 10 minutes ended up taking a good 25, 30 takes! In that time, I:
- Managed to flub one or more lines several times (despite the fact that I had memorized them!)
- Needed to adjust my pace multiple times (I was going either too fast or too slow, or putting emphasis on the wrong syllable)
- Was told to fix my posture about 17 times
- Was asked to stop tilting my head 4 times
- Needed to relax my shoulders 3 times (hey, after 25 takes, you’d be tense too!)
- Was told in no uncertain words to “either stop blinking so much, or just blink like a normal person.”
All these little adjustments got to me at first. It was like I had never sat on a stool before! Believe me, I have more stool-sitting experience than most. Why couldn’t I get this?
Then It Dawned on Me…
Mike and Cole tried to make me feel better with their feedback. “Even trained professionals have to do many takes,” they said. “And they are usually using a teleprompter. So cut yourself some slack.”
Nevertheless, I was getting frustrated. Couldn’t I just sit down and deliver my few lines and be done with it? That’s when it dawned on me…
I had been focusing just on my part of the job: What I was going to say, and how I was going to make it sound “like me.” It was my team’s job to notice everything else, like my posture and tone of voice, and to make corrections as needed. They were bringing skills to the table that I did not have, but needed.
Once I realized that, I took every bit of their coaching to heart. Frankly, I needed it. I might be a great salesperson, but I had a lot to learn about acting, video production, directing, and more. Even within the realm of sales, there is a lot I can still learn. That’s my first lesson: EVERYONE needs a little constructive criticism or coaching, from time to time. It can come from the unlikeliest of sources. Don’t get frustrated or defensive about it. Learn to love it. Heck, ask for it. It’s how you improve yourself. (FYI, this is a lesson we cover in our video course “Taking Control of Your Career: Knowing Yourself.” If you sign up for a Thinkzoom free trial, you can check out the course yourself.)
Coach the Coaches
Coaching is hard. Giving any sort of criticism is hard. In fact, our own review of the research showed that coaching and communication skills are the most in-demand for modern executives, yet also the ones that are most lacking. (Download the whitepaper for details!)
So how do we help employees be better at communicating what they know to others? Step one in helping those who have something to teach is having the right attitude. That was my point above.
Step two is to provide actual training on coaching and feedback. Knowing how to coach others is not a natural talent most people have; it’s a skill that’s learned. The better you and your co-workers learn that skill, the better it will be for knowledge transfer in your organization. Heck, you’ll be that much closer to a positive learning culture.
In fact, here’s something for you: Check out our courses on coaching skills. They’re free to watch with a free trial of Thinkzoom. Even if you’ve been in a coaching or L&D position for some time, I would bet you’ll find something new there for you to learn, too. I did.