The Art of Practice

How to take the lessons of special operations to your next presentation


A lot of folks ask me how special operators execute missions. How do you execute when you know there’s going to be violence, there’s going to be chaos, explosions, casualties? How do you wade into the chaos that most people would run the other direction from?

For Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Green Berets, the answer is the same: we train. We have a deeper and better relationship with practice than anyone around us. We master the art of practice.

We do so many reps on a target that by the time the mission is executed, it’s like second nature. It is literally in our bodies as muscle memory. We’ll do tape drills, we’ll crawl, walk, run, and incrementally build up speed. We introduce live-fire ammunition. We do the operation at night. We introduce complexities, like contingency plans, and casualties.

What if you had that kind of relationship to practice in your life? If you had that kind of life-and-death intensity and relationship with practice, how would that show up in your day-to-day work? It is absolutely possible for any person in any discipline to have that kind of mindset when it comes to practice.

Let’s say, for example, you have to give a big sales presentation to high net worth clients. How do you bring this highly focused art of practice into play?

First, practice your story, your presentation, your pitch, on your own. Actually get on your feet and practice what you’re going to say. Then practice it in front of people. Add a level of complexity and intensity to it, make it realistic.

Next, move with a purpose. Don’t just stand there. When you’re speaking, move a little bit. Your movements should be deliberate, not wavering back and forth, or drifting, or shuffling. That shows that you’re not grounded, that you don’t trust yourself and that we can’t trust you. Practice how you move.

Just like any high stakes situation, breath is key. Breath is what grounds you. Breath is what allows you to connect with other people and be connected with your audience. Practice good horizontal breathing while you speak. Expand your belly on the inhale, squeeze belly to spine on the exhale. Ideas are carried on our breath.

Practice your human connection. Eye contact. Focus on one person at a time and make a connection. Don’t focus on the back of the room or imagine the audience naked. Hold their gaze. Don’t shift your eyes to the floor or off into the distance. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, you need eye contact to make a connection.

Muscle memory is essential. REPS. Reps, reps, and more reps. Practice over and over until you nail it, and then practice again.  Practice until you have achieved muscle memory until it’s down in your bones. When your body conveys your message, that is 60 percent of human connection. Your voice tonality will account for 30 percent.

That 90 percent of the human connection you want comes from those reps.

This is not rote memorization. This is becoming fully expressed. This is ultimate performance. This is the art of practice.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business News, and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit

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