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winning the communication prize

We’ve been looking at Paul’s challenge to the Corinthian church through the eyes of a communicator. Here’s the passage:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to win the prize. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

If you are paid to persuade, inform, or transform, let me ask you this: are you preparing in such a way as to win the prize? In other words, are you doing everything possible to be the best possible communicator?

Communicators are no different than other types of people, be they athletes, artists, or mathematicians. We all have a tendency to rely on our natural abilities. This works up to a point (and the point will be higher or lower, depending on the level of your abilities).

Take a grade school athlete that is bigger, stronger, and faster than anyone else in her class. She wins all the contests. For three or four years, she is recognized as the top athlete among her peers.

Then she hits high school and finds herself among a collection of top athletes from several schools. Her teammates were all bigger, stronger, and faster than their peers. In terms of natural abilities, there’s little difference between the girls.

To get to the college level will take more than natural abilities, though they are necessary. It will take hard work, lots of practice, coaching, drills, and dedication. A few athletes are so naturally gifted that they can ride the natural ability train to the highest level. But, most likely, you and I are not one of them.

The same is true of communicators. A few will rise to the top without ever having to read, study, or practice. Most will not.

If you are paid to persuade, inform, or transform, let me remind you that you have a responsibility to do the best job possible.

Here are a few tips from a fellow traveler trying to win the prize:

  1. Read books and articles from people who understand people.
  2. Listen to and watch great communicators.
  3. Bookmark TED Talks and visit it often.
  4. Ask for feedback, even when it’s unpleasant (especially when it’s unpleasant).
  5. Practice.
  6. Be willing to change old habits or communication styles in order to improve.
  7. Don’t be content.