Project Management Institute

Talking points

VOICES | In the Trenches

Lessons learned from public-speaking training can have universal application.

By Peggy Pleasant, PMP

AFTER PARTICIPATING in public-speaking training for more than a decade, I've learned numerous communications skills, including how to organize a speech and speak off the cuff.

But I've come to realize that the leadership lessons I've learned from public-speaking courses not only help me talk in front of crowds but also make me better at all aspects of my job.

Sing Praises, Not Process

The speech workshops I've attended are extremely motivational. Participants are encouraged to support each other and applaud one another's efforts. My peers help me accomplish my speech goals, and vice versa.

Project managers should do the same for their teams. Like many project managers, I am responsible for the success or failure of a project, although I have no formal authority over my team members. Yet I still have to move team members to follow processes that will help us reach our end goal. To do so, I motivate team members, instead of pushing process on them.

For example, I take advantage of my company's employee-recognition program by shooting a kudos email to a team member's manager. Then I pass that praise on to human resources so that the team member's good work makes it into the monthly company newsletter.


Talk About Solutions, Not Problems

I've worked on projects with a variety of issues such as timeline concerns, scope creep and overbearing customers. To maneuver past these challenges, I've learned from public-speaking training to focus my communication with team members on solutions rather than problems.

If the project is off schedule, I ask, “What steps can we take to adjust tasks and maintain the critical path?” as opposed to “How did we get so far off track?”

Such a communications tactic encourages a collaborative environment and eliminates any potential for a “woe is me” atmosphere.

Speak of Strengths First, Not Weaknesses

In my speech workshops, participants are encouraged to critique each speaker and provide a list of “glows” (things they did well in the speech) and “grows” (things they can improve).

Evaluation is just as important in project management. But while lessons learned are a must, giving feedback on a project that was less than flawless (is there such a thing as a perfect project?) can make team members uncomfortable. This process can be so distressing for the team that there's a tendency to quickly move on to the next project without discussing the project issues that can be improved for future efforts.

Again, the focus in my lessons learned meetings is on solutions, not problems. This eliminates stress and improves relationships and trust among team members.

While great project managers don't have to be great public speakers, the skills you learn to become the latter can increase the chances of project success. PM


images Peggy Pleasant, PMP, is a utility analyst of the watershed protection department, City of Austin, Austin, 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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