How to Get Good at Something: 5 Simple Lessons

Since June, I have been involved with Toastmasters. I like the atmosphere and the way it encourages people to improve their public speaking skills.

Toastmasters holds contests regularly, and I recently joined an evaluation contest through the group. It’s a unique contest because it’s not about giving a speech. Instead, it’s about evaluating a speech. There is a test speaker, and the contestants have to give two to three minutes evaluations of the speech.

Evaluation was something new to me. Prior to the contest, I had given just one evaluation at my club, and it was horrible. But then I made some preparations and managed to win the club-level contest. I proceeded to the area-level contest and was lucky enough to win it. I eventually lost at the division-level contest though.

I still have a lot to learn, but the experience teaches me some lessons on how to get good at something. Here they are:

1. Find your motivation.

Getting good at something takes time and effort. You might also experience some setbacks along the way. That’s why it’s important that you find your motivation: it helps you go through the difficulties.

My motivation for the contest is twofold. First, I want to challenge myself to be the best that I can be. Losing is fine as long as I have done my best. Second, I actually began to enjoy speech evaluation. I see it as the art of making a good speech even better. It’s challenging and fun for me.

Whatever it is you do, find your motivation. Having a strong why is essential.

2. Know how to measure progress.

To get good at something, you must know how good is measured. What are the metrics? How do you know that you are making progress? Knowing them will help you focus your effort.

I’m lucky because the contest has clear criteria. I know what the judges expect, so I can improve myself along those lines.

3. Learn from the winners.

Don’t waste your time with trial and error. Instead, find out how the winners do it. In my case, I read articles from evaluation-contest winners to learn how they did it.

Who are the winners in your field? Learn from their experiences.

4. Practice.

It’s not enough just to know what to do; you must also apply it.

In my case, I did that by practicing evaluation. I watched speeches on YouTube and tried to evaluate them. I would take notes and practiced giving two-to-three minute evaluations of the speech. It’s useful because it helps me realize issues to work on, such as how to manage my time.

Practice what you have learned. The more you do it, the better.

5. Take risks.

To get good at something, you must take risks. Not taking risks means not growing.

In my case, I know that I could make mistakes (such as going overtime and getting disqualified) and embarrass myself. But that’s a risk I have to take if I want to grow.

Don’t aim to be perfect. Why? Because you may get discouraged if you fail. Instead, aim to be the best that you can be. There is nothing to regret as long as you have done your best.


Any thoughts on how to get good at something? Please share them in the comments.



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Photo by Geraint Rowland


  1. Donald, maybe you have to start with belief which I think is core to motivation. If you believe you can then you’ll try, otherwise at the first set-back you use it as “evidence” that you weren’t going to be able to do it.

    There also a lot of things we shouldn’t believe like being born gifted and you can only learn when you’re young. We can all improve and get to the next level with our chosen skill if we want to. Age is not a barrier, attitude is.

  2. You also have to be patient. It’s been oft repeated that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a skill. That’s a long time and requires all the attributes you suggested and patience to keep practicing, improving, pushing yourself on.

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