Set SMART Goals for Speaking Progress

At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Michael Johnson made history when he became the first man to win Olympic gold medals in both the 200-meter and 400-meter sprints. Although there is no denying the man was fast, speed wasn’t the only attribute that helped him realize his dream. Johnson was a goal setter.

Well before the Olympics, he wrote down his intention of winning the 200- and 400-meter races – and the times he would run both races in. He then placed this “reminder” note inside one of his running shoes.

Although the Toastmasters program starts with one goal – complete the 10 basic speeches and earn the Competent Communicator award – each member is different and comes to the organization with varying expectations. To receive maximum benefit from Toastmasters, all members must analyze their needs and discover what motivates them to excel. 

Start With Self-Awareness
Rus McCarter, a leadership and training consultant, says all goal setting begins with self-awareness. “What are you passionate for in life?” asks McCarter. “To motivate yourself, you must first be aware of what needs you are trying to satisfy.”

Some people may join Toastmasters because their boss made them; others, because they dream of a motivational speaking career. Still others – while wanting to improve their speaking skills – may have a need for acceptance, a need to be liked or a need to overcome past failures.

“It’s never just about being a better speaker,” says McCarter. “Your underlying needs – acceptance, money, admiration, being seen as successful – drive your pursuit of your goal.”

Think big. Set a Big, Audacious Goal – a BAG. For example, a BAG for one Toastmaster may be to earn her living as a keynote speaker. A BAG for another may be to emcee his company’s award banquet. Toastmasters is but a means to an end. Why do you want to improve your public speaking and leadership skills? What’s the payoff? A promotion? A raise? Self-confidence? A new career? Setting a BAG for your speaking career is a daily reminder of why you joined Toastmasters in the first place. 

Create SMART Goals
Once you have a BAG and understand what motivates you, it’s time to set SMART goals. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-lined. Write down your goals and follow these SMART guidelines for effective goal setting.

Specific: “I want to be a professional speaker” is vague and open-ended. Be specific. “I want to give five speeches outside my club during the next quarter” is better.

Measurable: A popular adage says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” A measurable goal sets criteria so you know when your goal is accomplished. Using the first example, if you only have one outside speech completed by the middle of next quarter, you know you’re not on track to meet your goal.

Attainable: Setting a goal to earn $10,000 giving speeches when you’ve never been paid to speak isn’t realistic. But setting a goal to earn some income – even if it’s only $10 a speech – may be within your reach. Remember that goals change over time. So a goal that may once have been unthinkable may be within your grasp as you expand your speaking career.

Realistic: Setting goals too high leads to burnout. It’s good to stretch, but setting realistic goals means you’ve accounted for the availability of time, resources and your personal motivation. Using the first example above, do you have the time to prepare and practice five speeches in one quarter? Even if the goal is attainable – meaning you’re successful getting the speeches lined up – it might not be practical for you to devote the time to see them through.

Time Lined: Without a deadline, you lose the sense of urgency. Try, “I will complete my Advanced Communicator Bronze designation by September 2009,” or “I will give two speeches outside my club in the next month.” 

Anticipate Barriers
Even with good intentions, goal-setting sometimes fails to produce the desired results.

Some reasons are behavioral. You’ve set the goals, but are you doing the actions necessary to achieve them? If your goal is to achieve your Competent Communicator award by the end of the year but you never sign up to give a speech, there’s a disconnect. You may need to take a break and figure out why you’re not following through. Is it a fear of failure? Do you hold an underlying belief that your speaking ability isn’t funny enough, smart enough, good enough, etc.? Identifying the behaviors and beliefs that cause performance gaps will help you realign your vision, goals and actions.

Another barrier may be setting goals that are not your own. Perhaps you joined Toastmasters with the goal of improving your talks at work, but taking on a leadership role never interested you. Still, your group or your boss talked you into holding an officer position. You may set goals to achieve Toastmasters leadership designations, but without interest on your part there will be little motivation to achieve them.

Other barriers include setting unrealistic goals or setting too many goals. Especially for those interested in growing a speaking career, too many goals lead to confusion and an inability to determine what takes precedence. Joan Koerber-Walker, an entrepreneur who counsels small and growing businesses, recommends would-be professional speakers set goals in three areas: financial, product oriented and customer oriented.

Financial: “Speakers need to do the necessary research to determine what a realistic financial goal is for them,” says Koerber-Walker. “Then they need to break the goal into manageable chunks.”

For example, let’s say your BAG is to quit your current job and earn your living as a speaker. Your first six months may involve just finding places to speak – paid or unpaid – and networking for referrals. As your reputation grows, your next goal may be to earn a quarter of your current salary in speaking engagements for the coming year. The following year’s goal may be to double the number of speaking engagements and your income earned from speaking, and so on until you’re able to realize your BAG. Huge goals are overwhelming. Breaking big goals into smaller ones and setting SMART sub-goals will keep you on track.

Product Oriented: These are goals involving what your product will look like – your business cards, brochures, Web site and speaker’s bio.

Customer Oriented: This is an often overlooked area for goal setting, but without venues to deliver speeches there is no speaking career. A sample goal here may be, “By March 15th I’ll be meeting with two new organizations each month to pitch my presentations.”

Encourage Others
The president of our Toastmasters group recently had each of us stand and announce our goals, with timelines, to the club. Those not present were contacted and asked to send him their goals. He then e-mailed to club members a “goal-list” that contained all our stated goals and deadlines. His purpose was to not only hold us publicly accountable for our goals, but also for us to use the list to encourage fellow members in meeting their goals. For example, one member’s goal is to enter the next humorous speech contest. She’d had this goal the year before as well but hadn’t accomplished it. This year, with everyone in our club expecting her to enter and encouraging her, there’s no question she’ll check that goal off her list – moving her toward her ultimate goal of being a more confident and entertaining speaker.

Remember Michael Johnson and his slip of paper? That was just the first step. After writing down his goals, Johnson threw himself into an exhaustive training regimen designed to help him reach top speed in each event. He also petitioned the Olympic Committee daily to move the 200- and 400-meter races to separate days from each other. (One reason no one had ever won both events is because they were held on the same day, which didn’t allow for recovery time.) Johnson had the vision, then he took the necessary actions to see his dream come true.

You can do the same. Your speaking career starts with a dream. What is your motivation for achieving that dream? Once you’ve decided, break the dream down into manageable steps and set SMART goals for yourself.

Setting goals increases your chances for success. Once you discover what it is you’re seeking from Toastmasters, you can create the vision – and goals – necessary to move forward with your speaking career. 

Dena Harris, ACB, CL, is a member of Blue Moon Club in High Point, North Carolina.

Why Set Goals?

  • Goals force you to set priorities.
  • Goals encourage you to be responsible for your choices.
  • Goals allow you to measure your progress.
  • Goals align you with your vision for your business and your life.
  • Goals allow for growth and flexibility.
  • Goals increase your chances of success.