So you’ve decided to work on your presentation skills this year – great! As you start out, have you ever thought about the best place to set your expectations for improvement? Should you aim high, setting big-stretch targets for yourself? Or low, so you don’t get too disheartened if you don’t make it?
If you’re one of my readers who feels horror at the very thought of public speaking, you may be thinking at this point that I don’t understand where you’re coming from: simply mumbling a few coherent words without collapse would be good, and high expectations are just a distant dream. Bear with me, as today’s tip does also apply to you.
So why should you bother thinking consciously about your expectations?
Firstly, let’s define expectations: my definition is “the demands which you place on yourself that you should do/be something different”. And why do they matter? Well the latest neuroscience research is telling us that our expectations are central to forming upward and downward spirals in our brain. They greatly impact not only our moods, but our outcomes.
So, should you aim high or low? Here’s what I’ve seen work for my clients:
Aim very high long-term, and low, short-term.
Setting the bar high for your long-term goals is important, so that you have something worthwhile and meaty to work towards. But focusing high in the short-term – as in today or this week? Here’s why this is a bad idea:
- You’ll never get started: the effort needed to overcome starting friction will seem completely overwhelming, because starting anything is hard.
- If you do start: when you set the bar too high for your ‘inner world’, you’ll sabotage your confidence if you already have some, and squash flat the possibility of building confidence if you don’t yet have any.
- You won’t make it over the high bar. You’ll fail in the outer world. Because you realised in a moment of horror that to give that polished, engaging speech (high bar) required you to make 74 changes to your body language, delivery, wording…and you tried to make too many changes at once, panicked in front of the room and imploded, never to be seen speaking up in a meeting ever again.
Bear in mind that you won’t ever be required to make 74 changes to become a better speaker. I exaggerate to make this point: that trying to change too many things at once is disastrous both for your improvement and your sanity! (And if any speech coach starts heading you in the “much more is better” direction, run for the hills.)
So there you have it: remember to aim high long-term and low short-term, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your skills. In my next post, I’ll give you a few practical ideas on how to make this happen. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too! Feel free to comment below.