• Barb Mayfield

How do you go from good to great? Practice! Pilot test! Revise!

A cork board with letters spelling practice.

Have you ever completed a project at the last minute? Most of us have. Maybe you’re one of those people who claim to do their best work under pressure with the deadline looming. Regardless of the stress this can produce, it rarely produces the best result.

When a communication project is important, and every project is, it deserves the time needed to polish it and take it from good to great. How? “Finish” the project with time to review it carefully, pilot test with potential audience members, make edits and revisions, practice the delivery, and repeat until changes no longer result in improvements. How do you take your communication from good to great? Practice! Pilot test! Revise!

Practicing, pilot testing, and revising comprise the very important 8th Step in the 10 Steps to Creating Compelling Communication. You are almost ready to deliver your communication to your audience. You have completed the first seven steps by identifying your audience (Step 1), conducting a needs assessment (Step 2), determining your purpose and key points (Step 3), researching supporting evidence that is current, accurate, and useful (Step 4), writing and organizing your message (Step 5), identifying your communication channels (Step 6), and planning effective communication strategies (Step 7). Now you are ready to put everything together and make sure it works. If adjustments are needed, you can still make them. Once you are “published,” changes and corrections become more difficult and often costly.

How much time do most communicators allot to this step? Not enough. As a result, their communication is unrehearsed, untested, and potentially needs considerable revision to be successful. As Chapter 21 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide describes the importance of practicing before a presentation:

“As a rule of thumb, devote half the time of creating a presentation to content development and the other half to rehearsing.”

Can you imagine tuning in to your favorite Food Network show and the host says they’ve never made the dish before? Of course not. They’ve prepared it many times and are able to share what their mistakes have taught them. Practicing and pilot testing are essential. When performing food demonstrations, practicing the recipe and the presentation ensure that the final performance will not fail.

When I taught nutrition communication at Purdue, my students practiced their final presentation for the class several weeks prior to presenting to their actual audience. It was rare for a presentation not to need any changes and the resulting presentations were greatly improved.

I have participated in a Toastmasters club for two decades and they have served as a guinea pig for many of my speeches and webinars, providing very helpful feedback. Even when they don’t suggest any changes, I determine ways to improve because of the practice experience.

In addition to presentations, this step is also essential when creating written communication. As Chapter 22 describes the writing process:

“Remember, a first draft is just a draft. Write. Review. Revise. Repeat.”

When writing Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, the reviewing, editing, and pilot testing phases took much longer than writing the first draft and with each revision the chapters improved significantly.

When creating curriculums I always built in time to pilot test lessons before publishing. This step saved much heartache from an activity not working as planned.

As you map out your timeline to complete the 10 Steps to Creating Compelling Communication, make it your goal to assign half the total time to this step. Then make sure you don’t procrastinate on the prior seven steps and use this time up.

The old English proverb, “Practice makes perfect” may be cliché, but the truth is without practice you can’t come close to perfection.

All types of communication benefit from practicing, pilot testing, and revising. How do you go from good to great? Don’t forget Step 8!

Next week’s blog will cover Step 9: Present, Produce, or Publish!!

Always realize that you can get better. Your best work has not been done yet. Practice! Practice! Practice! ~ Les Brown

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