My daughter Clara is in 7th grade. Her middle school is doing something that I find exemplary and extraordinary. Each week the administrators and teachers challenge the students with what they call a “character dare.” It’s education intentionally aimed at helping develop students with good character. They learn about things like kindness, mindfulness, and growth mindset.
This week, they are learning the power of “YET.” It’s a concept addressed in the research and writing of Carol Dweck, who is perhaps most famous for her theory on fixed versus growth mindset. Fixed mindset is the perception that your abilities are predetermined and unchangeable. Growth mindset on the other hand, is the belief that skills can be learned and improve upon as a result of effort.
In her book, What’s Under Your Cape?: SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind , Barbara Gruener added the words yearn, embrace, and try to Dweck’s strategy of YET. This lesson is meant to help kids and teens meet challenges with the right mindset. But I know many adults, myself included, who still need help with this lesson. So today, we’ll employ the YET strategy to see how it can help us overcome our fear of public speaking.
I’ve talked before about the two camps of public speaking. We tend to either reside in the “I’m not good at this camp” or the “I am good at this camp.” The problem with those two camps is that they don’t encourage growth. They are fixed mindset camps. The first part of the YET equation is yearning to improve. If you don’t sincerely want to get better at public speaking or giving presentations, chances are, you won’t.
How do you know if you have fixed mindset, though? Dweck says to “Watch for a fixed-mindset reaction when you face challenges. Do you feel overly anxious, or does a voice in your head warn you away?” If so, that might be a clue that you need to change your inner monologue from warning words to yearning words.
The second step of the YET strategy to becoming a better presenter is to embrace the challenge. Learning any new skill comes with hard work. In Dweck’s TED talk, “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve,” she talks about a game she and other researchers developed to help measure YET. The game outlines benchmarks that help us measure success: effort, strategy, and progress.
She goes into more detail about the combination of effort, strategy, and progress in an interview with The Atlantic. She says, when we get stuck, we “don’t need just effort.” We don’t want to double our “efforts with the same ineffective strategies . . . know when to ask for help and when to use resources that are available.”
So don’t expect to become a master presenter overnight. See the big picture. Set your end goal. Then develop strategies to work toward those, embracing the bumps and bruises that inevitably come along the way. One strategy you might think about employing is making use of the resources available at Ethos3. It’s literally our business to help design presentations and train speakers.
In the south, we have a colloquialism for wasted time or effort. It goes something like this. All the yearning and embracing in the world isn’t “worth a pile of beans” if you don’t try. You have to get up and give presentations to grow and improve. All of the strategies and theories aside, it boils down to this. The best way to get better at presenting is to present. You have to put those theories into practice to see progress.
When it gets hard to yearn and embrace and try, remind yourself that people face hard things every day and people improve themselves every day. As Dweck says, “we know the world of the future is going to be about taking on ill-defined, hard jobs that keep changing. It’s going to favor people who relish those challenges and know how to fix them.”
It’s challenging to learn and improve on any skill. Public speaking especially so, because you are often learning and growing in front of an audience. But the next time you don’t feel like you are a good public speaker, use Dweck’s strategy and change your narrative. Instead of saying, “I’m not good at public speaking,” say “I’m just not good at public speaking, yet.”
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