30 November 2012

It's the Biggest Presentation of Your Life

I recently attended a seminar on effective business communication techniques and realized halfway through that the same strategies that make for a good presentation to the Board of Directors are the ones that can prepare you for your best possible shooting performance. Whether you shoot competitively or for self-defense, the same principles are helpful.

One of the keys to effective presentation, whether oral or written, is to simplify. Be concise. For communication, that means using the least words possible to convey a complete picture. For shooting, that generally means paring down excess movement and other distractions. Moving more efficiently is smoother and ultimately faster, plus you'll give yourself less rope to hang yourself with when you confuse yourself with a more complex than necessary manipulations. Just this week in dry-fire, I found that my left hand was making nearly two feet of extra movement in the surrender draw. I'd already been in the habit of making sure that my right hand was on the same vertical plane as my gun, so that it only needed to drop down to meet the grip, but my left hand was coming down nearly to waist level then coming back up to my upper right chest just like my standard draw. By moving my left hand from surrender directly to my upper right chest, it's now waiting to meet the gun and leading to a more sure support hand grip sooner in the draw stroke. And I can't get it caught up in extra clothes I might have on, especially now that it is colder outside.

That little tweak to my technique only came about because I've been practicing - another key for communications success. Remember that while visualization is important, getting out and doing the real thing is also important for your gun handling skills. Practicing with your actual gear is also how you find out whether or not your gear works. Just like making sure that your projector works for that important PowerPoint presentation and that you know how to use that nifty new wireless remote you got, you want to make sure your gun functions properly before the performance that matters. I know some people who are very glad that they brought their carry guns to a recent BUG-friendly IDPA match at my home club. Not only did they get to practice with what the set up they intend to use in real life, but they may have found out that their guns weren't as reliable as they thought. It's hard to know things like that unless you practice. Like finding out your elevator pitch is five minutes long instead of 30 seconds when you finally speak it out loud after writing it out, you won't know until you try it.

When putting together a presentation, it can also be helpful to evaluate your work with fresh eyes whenever possible. If you have a mentor or coach, ask them to watch and give feedback. Or you can use video to critically examine your technique. Finally, just taking a break after working out a new skill and trying it again later can help you spot holes, just like putting aside written work product for a little while makes for a stronger edit later. One of the constant mantras in both shooting sports and self-defense training is that shooting is a perishable skill that will decline if not used regularly. That can be a good thing for training purposes because taking a break accomplishes two things: First, a long practice session spent learning a new skill can result in increased speed and polish beyond our "cold" abilities before nosediving into fatigue and sloppiness. Going back to that skill can help you determine where you really stand in mastering it, and control for both physical and mental fatigue. Second, you may find when you return to working on a skill that you aren't doing it in the best way possible for you, based on changes between when you originally learned it and now. Perhaps you're wearing different clothing, or you've learned a new technique in the meantime that doesn't integrate with your old way of doing things.

Effective communication skills transfer well from the business/academic world to shooting. Whether you consider your important shooting "presentation" to be your next match or your response to a dangerous situation, you can use the same skills you use to pitch a deal to new clients or write a memo to your boss. And as a bonus, you're developing and practicing skills that will help you at work, no matter what you do.