It happens every semester without fail. My students are quick to place themselves into one of two distinct camps: “good at public speaking” or “not good at public speaking.” Most of us were told at some point in our lives, often as early as elementary school, which camp we belong in. And what’s bewildering to me is that we’ve resigned to accept our camp assignments without question for most of our lives. And so my students shrug and say, “I’m just not good at this.”
It then becomes my mission to convince them that they can be good at public speaking with a combination of theory and practice. I’m essentially asking my students to adopt a growth mindset when it comes to speaking. The term growth mindset comes from decades-long research conducted by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Here’s an overview of what she learned in her studies.
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
So when my students come to me with the belief that they aren’t good at public speaking, they’ve adopted a fixed mindset, believing that public speaking is a talent you are either born with or without. I have to work hard to convince my students that public speaking is like any other skill. Sure, some people have natural gifts for public speaking, but everyone can get better at it with the right tools, experience, and hard work.
Adopting a Growth Mindset
If you believe you aren’t a good presenter, you might start by convincing yourself that you can get better. If jumping over to the “good at public speaking” camp seems too far of a stretch, you might begin with what Dweck calls the power of “yet.” You might change, “I’m not good a public speaking” to “I’m not good at public speaking yet.” That simple word ushers in room for improvement and growth that didn’t exist before.
In addition, make sure you aren’t wasting valuable emotional energy on a label that was attached to you long ago. Instead, spend that energy on challenging yourself and improving your skills. Speak whenever you get the chance. Public speaking is like any skill, it gets stronger with practice. You become a better runner by running. You become a better swimmer by swimming. You become a better speaker by speaking.
And for those of you in the other camp, if you’ve always been someone who is a good public speaker, don’t rest on that. Instead, challenge yourself and continue to improve your craft. Good speakers can become great speakers, but only with intentional effort.
Check out more of Dweck’s transformational findings in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. And get started on your journey to become a better speaker, no matter which camp you think you’re in, by registering for our online presentation skills course now.