Video Practice is the Best Way to Learn

As a young Bullfrog at Bret Harte High, to win scholarships for college, I entered speech competitions. I’d stand in my bedroom, practicing gestures, making eye contact with pictures on the wall, and giving my speech out loud. Repeating the live motions, as close to the actual event environment as possible, was the best way for me to learn my speeches and provide a consistent performance.

The way we encode skills hasn’t changed. Humans must practice. Practice makes you consistent, but does that lead to improvement in a skill that matters? As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So, practicing the wrong thing just means you’ll consistently do it wrong.

Improvement requires the involvement of teachers, coaches, or mentors. In the business world, these are often in short supply. As highlighted in a fascinating Fast Company blog, promoting your top performers can be a mistake. They may do well for themselves, but lack the capacity for team leadership and engagement. However, we too often see top sales performers put in team leadership positions—where they must manage, encourage, and coach their sales reps, and help them practice the right moves. When sales team leaders fail to coach, their sales reps are forced to sink or swim. Sinking is far too common.

There is a better way. For my speech competitions, I improved when my speech was recorded on a VHS tape, followed by sitting down with my coach—to review what I was doing well and what I needed to do to improve. This suggests a course of action using today’s technology:

Video Practice + Coaching = Improvement

This formula for improvement is backed by research around video practice and feedback for athletes. A university study on video modeling and feedback found that the timing and ability to focus on critical elements of the performance are essential to successful video feedback. “Coaches should focus on critical elements of performance, minimize delay between performance of the skill and viewing, and that athletes should have control over the video to slow playback and replay when necessary to analyze their own performance during the feedback session.” But that is only one data point. Can the idea be applied more broadly?

Unless you have that hard-to-find coach sitting in a chair next to you (as I did), while you replay the video over and over, this type of video feedback is hard to put into practice. But fortunately video is no longer so limited. Here’s a revised equation, using today’s video technology and capabilities:

Interactive Video Practice + Coaching = Improvement

Today’s technology, in products like Viddler Training Suite, allow coaches to provide feedback remotely, and on their own time, at critical moments in the practice performance. You can play the same practice over and over, and at different speeds. You can even respond to your coach’s advice for further clarification.

So stop cringing at the idea of being on video. I hate it too. But those recorded sessions with my teacher and coach were the times my performances improved—and it paid off!