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​Practice Makes Perfect (or at Least Better)

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​Lately it seems that I've been getting a lot of inspiration for my blog through my five-year-old son, specifically through what I have observed from his T-ball and soccer teams. I recently blogged about what internal auditors can learn about teamwork from observing children's sports. This time, I am inspired by the importance of practice and repetition to improve one's skills. 

Last Monday, when I took my son to his T-ball practice after school, I noticed that in a team of 12 children, only five children had actually shown up for practice that day. I realize everyone leads busy lives and making it to practice can be difficult, so I don't judge those who weren't able to attend.

That said, at the game the team played just a few days later, I observed that the children who had attended practice earlier in the week were those who played best in the game (keep in mind, these were five-year-olds). I noted the same thing through watching his soccer teammates who routinely showed up at practice. There appeared to be a direct correlation between participation in practice and performance in games. I don't think this is a coincidence, although natural skill obviously also plays a role.

I've often heard the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a given area. This theory was made popular by Malcolm Gladwell's book from a few years ago, Outliers. I realize there are different schools of thought on the accuracy of this theory. However, I do believe that the more time a person spends focusing and practicing in any one area, the better skilled they become at that particular area. 

Many people fear speaking in public. I've noticed this is particularly true for some of the internal auditors with whom I have interacted over the years, especially some of those who were early in their professional careers.

I have fallen into this group as well, particularly as I was just starting in internal audit. I always was very nervous at the thought of speaking in public. For days leading up to the presentation or event, I would stress and worry. Then right before going up to speak, I found that my coping mechanism was constant coughing (a bit odd, I know). 

I'm not going so far as to say I am completely over my fear now. I find it is natural — and good for me — to get somewhat nervous before speaking in public because that helps me ensure that I prepare enough in advance to overcome the fear. However, what has really helped me get over this fear is practice and repetition. As I realized that speaking in front of groups — whether large or small — would be something that would help me advance in my internal audit career, I decided to proactively embrace any opportunity to present in front of groups to improve my speaking skills.

Every person has a different area in which they want to improve, whether that area is something that is a personal goal or something that has been identified through conversations with his or her performance manager as part of an evaluation or performance review process. That area may be public speaking, audit report writing, interviews, workpaper documentation, or anything else that internal auditors are regularly called on to do as part of their jobs. Whatever the area for improvement, I believe that repetition and practice will help internal auditors develop their skills and abilities.

Moreover, communicating the specific areas that a person is focused on improving — perhaps sharing with a performance manager or trusted colleague — will provide further opportunities for accountability, hands-on training, and an increased likelihood for direct performance feedback. And that feedback may include what can be done to elevate one's skills in the given area.

To improve in any area, repetition and practice are key — no matter if the area is children's sports, internal auditing, or anything in between. After reading this blog post, I'm interested to know what area you are going to emphasize for continued focus and practice, and how you plan to accomplish that goal.

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