Experiential Learning: Learning by Doing

Learning by doing is different from learning with the intellect where you are collecting concepts.  When learning intellectual concepts, you can go as fast as your mind can grasp the concepts.  But, just because you can grasp the concept does not mean you can do the skill associated with that concept.

When you need to learn to be able to do something or to be something, you must go slower.  You have to slow down so that you can practice the skill and integrate your physical and emotional aspects into the skill being learned. If you go too fast, you may understand the concept but you won’t be able to do it comfortably.

I just flashed back to a time when I was hired by a radio station on Maui to read the news on the air. The station manager wanted to use me for more than the reading news.  He thought I could run the remote sound board while a DJ was out in the field. He asked one of the old-hand DJs to teach me to run the sound board. This guy went over the dials and buttons, switches and levers for two days with me. Then the third day, they put me in the studio to run the board while a DJ went out to a shopping mall to broadcast his show.  I completely messed up the broadcast.  I froze and did not know what to do with all those dials and switches.  The poor DJ was out there with no support for his show.  That experience was so disastrous for me and the radio station that I can’t even recall what happened.  Someone must have come in to take over, because I could not run that board.  I needed to learn slowly, step by step.  I needed someone to break it down for me and teach me one step at a time instead of explaining all the equipment.

Public speaking is the kind of skill that needs to be learned slowly and in step-by-step fashion. Seems to me that many presentation teachers tell you what to do; then, they ask you to get up and do it.  Of course then, they tell you want is wrong with what you just did. That is learning by critiquing what is wrong.

I like to guide people through slow steps, breaking complex subtle skills like getting comfortable in your skin into a process that allows people to make discoveries for themselves. If you want people to learn to be comfortable, then start by making it right that they are not comfortable and work to add skills that allow them to experience comfort.  I don’t want to give away all my secrets to my Zimmer Method, but I do start with allowing people to feel the discomfort.  Instead of running away or covering it up, we let it be a part of the experience.  Then we do a series of exercises that allow comfort to come in until they are experiencing comfort being in front of a group. So they learn by doing to be comfortable.  No speaking yet, just getting comfortable.

Once people can experience some comfort, then they can learn to connect.  After that, they learn to think on their feet.  Still not giving talks yet!  Each step of the way gives them plenty of time to learn to do the next step. By the time, we get to speaking, they are so ready to talk!  Their stories and ideas come bursting forth from them, because they have learned by doing.  It takes time to learn by doing, but the reward is that a person can really do it!