An old look at building communication skills

I’ve been talking about deliberate practice. I decided to start getting practical. As I thought about this decision today, I remembered a really old example that illustrates the framework of a practice model.

Socrates was talking with a student named Phaedrus. They were talking about how to become an effective speaker. Socrates lays out a plan of learning which, if pursued, will make a person an effective speaker.

from Phaedrus, by Plato (written c 360 B.C. Section numberings added by me).

Socrates: Oratory is the art of enchanting the soul, and therefore he who would be an orator

1) has to learn the differences of human souls-they are so many and of such a nature, and from them come the differences between man and man.

2) Having proceeded thus far in his analysis, he will next divide speeches into their different classes:-“Such and such persons,” he will say, are affected by this or that kind of speech in this or that way,” and he will tell you why.

3) The pupil must have a good theoretical notion of them first,

4) and then he must have experience of them in actual life, and be able to follow them with all his senses about him, or he will never get beyond the precepts of his masters.

5) But when he understands what persons are persuaded by what arguments, and sees the person about whom he was speaking in the abstract actually before him, and knows that it is he, and can say to himself, “This is the man or this is the character who ought to have a certain argument applied to him in order to convince him of a certain opinion”; -he who knows all this,

6) and knows also when he should speak and when he should refrain,

7) and when he should use pithy sayings, pathetic appeals, sensational effects, and all the other modes of speech which he has learned;-

when, I say, he knows the times and seasons of all these things, then, and not till then, he is a perfect master of his art;

Each section is a subject for study. In each area, a person could study and practice. The whole process, put together, is opportunity for experimentation and practice and coaching.

Here’s the outline:

1. learn about people (how do they think? How do they decide? How do they reason? How do they feel?)

2. learn about your subject matter (marketing, medicine, theology, writing, public relations, sales, management)

3. understand people and subjects in the classroom, in an ideal setting

4. understand people and subjects in real life

5. understand how to apply the one to the other in theory and in real life (practice the application, the diagnosis, the writing. Take notes. Make observations. Have a teacher watch you. Have a mentor guide you)

6. understand when to apply the one to the other (Timing. You have to learn timing, or as Plato called it, kairos.)

7. understand the fine points of applying the one to the other.

This progressive pursuit of understanding, done deliberately, will consume you. This progressive pursuit, done deliberately, will work.

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