Project Management Institute

Communication Catch-Up

How a Public Speaking Club Helped One Project Manager Refine Skills

By Ronald B. Smith, PMP

In my 30 years of project management, I have found the majority of new project managers lack skills around giving presentations, conducting meetings and listening. This communication skills gap can be particularly large if the new project manager came from a role in a very technical area like databases or IT security.

When I started my career, my own communication abilities were not up to the challenge either. To improve, I joined a Toastmasters International club. This global nonprofit organization helps members develop their speaking and leadership skills. Through practice and feedback from other Toastmasters members, I saw my communications management capabilities and self-confidence grow. I also gained practice in respecting the ideas and viewpoints of others. In short, I became a better project manager.


Later in my career, I took a job as a senior project/program manager in the project management organization of an international software company. Because of my previous positive experiences, I decided to start a Toastmasters club at my new organization. The CIO heard about it and called me into his office to tell me it was a great idea. Client feedback surveys showed that his IT department did a very poor job with communications, and he wanted to improve this situation. So, with the help of local Toastmasters directors, I built up the club. Several months later, client surveys showed that IT had made great progress in improving its communications. As a side benefit, the company club helped strengthen relationships among employees, which enhanced the probability of having more successful projects.

I encourage project managers looking to improve their communication abilities to consider Toastmasters or other communications development opportunities. Falling short in these crucial skills is no minor problem in a career where communicating can take up 90 percent of your time. In fact, poor communication is a primary factor in 30 percent of failed projects, according to PMI’s 2016 Pulse of the Profession®: The High Cost of Low Performance. Project managers must take proactive steps to improve their skills—and ultimately their projects. PM

img Ronald B. Smith, PMP, teaches project management to technical graduate students at the University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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