Rich Williams, a former Toastmaster, has always set goals to motivate himself. A veteran bowling coach who has worked at the highest levels of the sport, he is a well-known subject matter expert who gives many presentations on bowling-related topics. Williams says his practice of setting goals, combined with his Toastmasters experience, helped him become a professional presenter.
“When I joined Toastmasters, I was surprised to learn that I had some serious refining to do to reach the professional presenter level,” says the resident of Chesterland, Ohio. “I achieved my presentation goals due to the goal-setting work I did.”
Setting tangible milestones to aim for helps him remain successful. In addition to setting goals for his career, Williams uses goals to stay on target in his personal life, which includes bowling and a regular exercise routine.
“At 57, I still run four miles four times a week and I do strength training at least three days a week,” says Williams, who, along with his wife, Doris, runs Williams Sports Consulting, which provides training to bowlers of all levels and ages. “Every time I lift a weight, there’s a goal involving the number of repetitions or the amount of weight in the lift. Every time I run, I reach for an ‘equal to the last time’ or ‘better than the last time’ performance.”
Tenaciously pursuing these fitness objectives, he says, has helped him reach his bowling goals. In one league he plays in, Williams has now raised his scoring average to 235 a game.
Goal-setting has also played a key role in Jana Barnhill’s life. When the 2008-’09 president of Toastmasters International first joined the organization and was working her way through speech manuals, she gave herself deadlines along the way. For example, she had to achieve her Competent Communicator award by a specific date. Years later, when she was running for a leadership office in Toastmasters and pursuing the Accredited Speaker designation, she used similar incentives – promising herself that she’d call a certain number of people by a certain date or that she would give a speech by a certain time.
“Goal-setting has played a major role in my advancement in Toastmasters, both as a speaker and a leader,” says the Lubbock, Texas, resident. “My personality is one that can be easily distracted. As a result, if I don’t set goals for myself, I find myself very busy but not necessarily accomplishing anything.” Having a plan for how to accomplish certain tasks or objectives also gives Barnhill a sense of accomplishment once those tasks are completed. She makes sure to share her intentions with mentors and fellow club members, so they can hold her accountable if she doesn’t accomplish her goal on time.
Be Aware of What You Want
The Toastmasters program starts with one goal – complete the 10 basic speeches and earn the CC award. But most members have broader objectives as well. This can require self-awareness, notes Rus McCarter, a leadership and training consultant. “What are you passionate for in life? To motivate yourself, you must first be aware of what needs you are trying to satisfy,” he says. “It’s never just about being a better speaker,” adds McCarter. “Your underlying needs – acceptance, money, admiration, being seen as successful – drive your pursuit of your goals.”
While most people set goals for themselves, not everyone does so correctly. A pair of psychologists, Gary Latham and Edwin Locke, published the first real research on the subject in the 1960s. The results showed that productivity increases when people set goals. Subsequently, managers around the country began setting ambitious quarterly and yearly goals for their employees. But they had to be the right kind of goals. Locke and Latham recommended following these general guidelines for setting goals:
- They must be specific, measurable, relevant and time-bound.
- They must be challenging enough that they can inspire.
- They must be something people want so that they remain committed.
- They should be flexible. People should check in every few weeks on their progress and leave room to rethink or reinterpret goals.
- They must be attainable. If they seem impossible to reach, people tend to give up.
There is a well-known acronym that’s often used to characterize the goals people should set for themselves: It’s called SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
While the seminal work of Locke and Latham has long been the definitive word on goal-setting, more recent researchers have also sounded a cautionary note. “The problems come when you take it too seriously,” says Lisa Ordóñez, a professor at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. “You put too much weight on the goal, and you’re too stressed out.”
Experts say that when you take goal-setting too far or become consumed with certain professional aspirations, it can be detrimental. Examples abound in the corporate world of unethical behavior that’s been demonstrated in pursuit of financial or other goals.
“Goals do work,” says Ordóñez. “They work to focus our intentions and focus our energy. But sometimes they have unintended consequences.”
Douglas Vermeeren, an expert on achievement who speaks to businesses about success, says that remembering why your objectives are important can prevent some of the negative behaviors associated with goal-setting. When speaking to a Toastmasters group in Antwerp, Belgium, Vermeeren reminded members of the influence they can have as speakers. “We think we’re part of a club to grow our own life or improve our personal abilities,” he said, “but we don’t realize we’re not just building skills for ourselves. Speeches can have an enormous influence.”
Keeping Yourself Committed
A benefit of goal-setting is that it increases one’s accountability – to yourself and to others. Toastmaster Dena Harris recalls a club meeting when the president of her group had all of the members stand and announce their goals – with timelines. He then e-mailed to club members a “goal list” that contained everyone’s stated goals and accompanying deadlines. The purpose of this, notes Harris – a member of the Blue Moon Toastmasters in Greensboro, North Carolina – was not only to hold members publicly accountable for their objectives, but also for them to use the list to encourage and support each other in their efforts.
Vermeeren says that we also need to think in the long term. You can achieve more meaningful goals by looking further in the future rather than just toward the next speech you give. He spent years asking successful business professionals, athletes and scientists about how they achieved their goals and noticed some common themes that helped him formulate his own guidelines:
- Recognize your potential to achieve the goal. Without that, you can’t produce the desire.
- Form a goal. Craft it as a clear possibility.
- Increase your probability of achieving the goal, either through developing the right relationships, getting the necessary financing or even simply placing yourself at the right place at the right time.
- Make yourself the type of person who could achieve a goal by looking at other people who have achieved it. Take the right kinds of actions.
Barnhill sets up short-term as well as long-term goals for herself. “Short-term goals are important because they keep you on track. They are smaller, incremental goals because you can’t accomplish something all at once.”
It took Barnhill nearly 15 years to reach her goal of becoming the president of Toastmasters International. She knew that aspiring to serve as the leader of an organization with members around the world would help her gain the leadership skills she believed she was lacking. Knowing her end-goal, Barnhill took the proper steps, rising from position to position within the organization. She used her experiences in lower offices to gain the skills and credibility needed for the role she was aiming for.
“Some people might want a title more than a position,” Barnhill says. “You can’t get your cart before your horse.”
Of course, goal-setting doesn’t do any good without follow-through. You have to set your sights on a target and then take action. Gary Blair is president of the GoalsGuy Learning Systems in Tampa, Florida. On his Web site, www.goalsguy.com, he stresses that accomplishing one’s objectives in life takes a great deal of energy and work – that “every action, word and thought has a direction that either moves you closer to, or further from, your goals.”
That means there’s plenty of effort involved, but also plenty of chances for achieving what you want.
“Each day,” says Blair, “offers an opportunity for improvement.”
Sushma Subramanian is a freelance journalist in New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Start the New Year Right!
Yes, it’s that time again – time to start in on those New Year’s resolutions. Time to turn over the proverbial new leaf – kick your exercise program back into gear, create a new filing system, read more books and, oh yes, that old standby: Shed some extra pounds.
If you’re like many people, the annual goals tend to lose traction as the months roll by. But here are three tips for making your resolutions stick:
- Write them down. The simple act of writing down your goals on a piece of paper (or an electronic document, if you wish) helps you remember and act on them. Ideas that stay in your head don’t carry the same power as those committed to a document of some sort.
- Schedule them. Once you’ve decided on a few realistic, manageable goals (cut down your candy intake? re-organize your garage?), mark your specific goal dates on a calendar. Use that as your motivation and guiding force.
- Share your goals with others. If you make others aware of your aspirations for the new year, you’ll establish a support squad of well-wishers who can help encourage and motivate you in your pursuits. So spread the word with family, friends and fellow Toastmasters!
What Toastmasters goals will you set this year? Helping your club to earn the DCP award? Entering two speech contests?
Perhaps one objective could be to find more diverse topics for your presentations. The Toastmaster magazine has some helpful advice. Check out “Eureka! A Speech Idea!” on page 20 and “Finding Inspiration all Around You” on page 21 for help on ideas for speeches.