Four Stages of Learning for Public Speaking Mastery

When working on any skill, especially one that has to do with public speaking, it helps to remember the four stages of learning that can lead to public speaking mastery. Let’s look at these levels with a presentation-style lens.

You could apply the four stages of learning to any skill you are attempting to master, but for today, I’ll use one of the most common presentation issues: saying “um” a lot.

STAGE 1: Unconscious Incompetence

You are “um-ing” away without a care in the world. Others notice, but you have no idea. They say ignorance is bliss, but in this case, ignorance could be making it hard for others to hear your message.

STAGE 2: Conscious Incompetence

Let’s say someone tells you, “hey, did you know that you say um and uh a lot? You shouldn’t do that.” And then they leave you high and dry. You now know that you are doing something that you want to stop, but darned if you know how to do it. This phase can make people self-conscious. It’s painful. I’ve been there. (This is why in our Style and Delivery open classes, we always practice how to correct a presentation style issue.)

STAGE 3: Conscious Competence

I call this the grind. You can fix the problem— when you think about it, you can give a presentation without saying “um.” But, you have to concentrate on what you are doing the whole time. If you lose focus, the “ums” come roaring back. This takes time and effort to move past. Many, if not most, people get lost in this phase. It’s dull. It’s tiring. It’s incremental improvements, moment by moment.

STAGE 4: Unconscious Competence

Unconscious competence is what we all are seeking. When you achieve unconscious competence, you no longer have to think about it; you just don’t say “um.” You just fly.

Now, the catch. The path to mastery looks linear, but it’s not. It’s fluid. You may hit one level and the next day find yourself back at the previous level. This is where outside feedback is most helpful.

Be patient. The path is not the way. Those who can stick through the grind will be the ones who achieve mastery. Then one day, others will look at you and say, “you’re a natural.” And you can smile and tell them otherwise.

Looking for coaching so you can kick-start 2019 with new and improved presentation skills? Be sure to join us at our final Articulation open class of the year. Register now for the Content Framing and Storytelling session on December 7.