If you’ve ever been to an individual speaker coaching session at my apartment, you may have discovered that I like to bake — and last winter, I set a goal of learning how to make a killin’ holiday cookie.
Is this a goal that can be achieved?
Not in the words I stated above.
To Set a SMART Public Speaking Goal, Get S.M.A.R.T.
If you’ve been around any mainstream business, you may have heard the acronym SMART. There are many versions of what these letters stand for, and my favorite one is:
- Relevant, and
The goal “make a killin’ holiday cookie” fails every one of these tests. (Most importantly, it’s not actionable, in the sense of what do I do to reach this goal?)
A fuller statement of my goal would have been, “Before Christmas, I will define and master all the steps needed to create my best approximation of an iced bakery cookie, and delight my friends.”
That’s a much clearer benchmark, and the steps to achieving it have so far involved choosing a cookie recipe (from 5), choosing an icing recipe (from 3), trying different icing delivery systems (haven’t found one that works for me yet), buying new cookie cutters, and practicing a lot.
What do SMART Cookies Have to Do with a SMART Public Speaking Goal?
Aside from that everything goes better with cookies, the answer is: they’re parallel processes.
To make even my pale approximation of bakery heaven, I had to start by identifying the necessary tasks.
I do this every day as a public speaking coach, because almost all of the people I work with say the same thing when we meet:
I want to be a better public speaker.
This statement might mean many, many things. Among them are, “I want to…
- Have more confidence in my own ideas
- Project a more mature executive style
- Stop saying “uhm” and “like”
- Be more dramatic (stop boring my audience)
- Not panic when I’m speaking
- Organize my thoughts more effectively
- Spark joy in myself and my listeners
- Etc., etc., etc.!
My first step when I hear the words “better speaker” is to get specific, and help my client define a SMART public speaking goal. For example, I might ask,
- If you want to speak better, what does that mean to you? (And if by “better” you mean “I will never have a moment of discomfort, and I’ll never make a mistake,” I have a bridge I’d like to sell you!)
- If you don’t like the sound of your voice, what don’t you like? Are you unhappy with how loudly you speak? With the tone, the actual sound you make? With your accent?
- If you want to be more confident when you’re speaking, what does confidence feel and look like to you? Is it better posture? A big smile? Moving around the stage? Or is it an understated style of authority?
Once I understand what my client is specifically trying to achieve, it’s much easier to map out an action plan that they can follow on their own, or with my continued guidance.
Be Sure Your SMART Public Speaking Goal is Achievable!
Just a word of caution about SMART goals: Admirable thought the concept is, it only works with goals that are actually possible.
I once had a young, female client who said that her goal was to communicate more effectively with her boss. Since it quickly turned out that her boss was a sadistic narcissist who liked to “talk” by throwing things, her goal was not achievable, and with my encouragement, she switched to a goal of finding a new job.
Similarly, goals like “I will not feel nervous” or “I will persuade everyone in the audience” are not achievable (see my note about the bridge I want to sell, above!). That’s because you have no control over other people’s reactions, and often (thanks to your amygdala), little control over your own.
If, on the other hand, you switch to SMART goals like “I will manage my nervousness” and “I will do my best to persuade the entire audience,” you’re now in the realm of what can be achieved.
Start digging into the specifics… identify the skills you want to work on… come up with an action plan… wrap it in a timeline… and you’re well on your way to SMART public speaking!