It’s the season of wish lists. What is it that you are wishing for this holiday season?
It’s not something you can get on Amazon, but many of us wish we were better at public speaking. But wishing to get better at giving presentations is like wishing to learn to play the piano. Or wishing to improve our golf swing. Presenting is an art form. A skill. It’s something that takes time and training and practice to improve. It takes intentionality.
If becoming a better presenter is on the list of things you’d like to accomplish, set SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a theory that has been adapted by different theorists. But it’s largely attributed to George T. Doran who wrote about SMART goals in his 1981 article “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” Some of his original terms have been adapted over the years, but the concept remains the same.
Let’s use Doran’s theory to help us move from wishing we were better speakers to actually achieving our goals.
First, “I want to be a better presenter” is a great goal, but it’s too broad. You need to zoom in. What is it specifically that you want to improve on? If you have a presentation coming up, record it. If you don’t, simply think about the things you feel you need to get better at. Then, make a list of at least 5 specific goals. They could be things like, make better eye contact with my audience members. Or develop content that flows more smoothly from the beginning to the end of the presentation. Or reduce the number of filler words (um’s, uh’s,) and use pauses more thoughtfully. Or increase my volume and vocal variety.
Once you have a targeted list of things you will work to improve, you can move on to examining how to measure them.
How you measure your goals will depend on the specific goals you’ve identified in the first step. Many of them can be measured by simply recording yourself every time you present and then going back to watch yourself and assessing your progress.
Other goals will take a little more work. You might need to enlist the help of audience members to give you feedback via an anonymous survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey. Or you might find it helpful to enlist the help of a presentation skills coach who can give you expert feedback on your progress.
I’m tempted to leave this letter blank. Why? Because I wholeheartedly believe that every single person who wants to get better at public speaking can. Are there some people who are naturally more gifted in this field? Sure. Just like there are some people who have natural music abilities or natural athletic abilities. But no one gets great just on natural abilities. Every skill takes work.
So yes, any goal you make toward improving your public speaking skills is achievable. In an article for NBC News, Sarah DiGiulio cites Marjorie L. North, a speech pathologist and lecturer at Harvard University who has been teaching public speaking for over 35 years. North says that everyone, regardless of personality traits, feels nervous when they are in front of a large crowd because it’s not a natural activity. And everyone can improve with preparation and practice. This is because public speaking is “a skill, not a talent.”
This is another letter that it’s tempting for me to want to skip over. Very few things are more valuable than strong communication skills. In fact, the CNBC article “The 10 Most In-Demand Skills of 2019, According to LinkedIn” lists persuasion (the ability to communicate in a way that influences and moves) second. Second. So if you are wondering if your goals to improve your presentation skills are relevant, they are.
This last element of SMART goals holds you accountable. For goals that seem scary or unattainable, you can delay progress indefinitely. If you don’t start, you don’t risk failing, right? But to get serious about achieving a goal, you need to instill progress markers and deadlines.
SMART goals can help you stop wishing and start working. Begin now. Write out specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals about what you want to accomplish as a presenter.
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