Great speakers are self-aware but not self-conscious. What‘s the difference and why does it matter?
Self-awareness is the ability to accurately monitor one’s own behavior and the effect it has on others even while doing it. It allows a speaker to critique their own performance and make adjustments as necessary, whether real-time corrections or by finding things to work on to improve their skills. Self-awareness is objective and non-judgmental. As I wrote in my last post, the best speakers over time are those who know their improvement opportunities and are eager to work on them. No one becomes a great speaker without self-awareness.
Self-consciousness, on the other hand, is one of the greatest impediments to public speaking success. It’s different from self-awareness in two ways, both of them harmful to your performance and growth as a speaker.
First, it’s an acute form of self-awareness. While it’s helpful to know how your speech or presentation is affecting the perceptions others have of you, it can become debilitating to become overly concerned about what they think. In fact, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, someone who is afraid of being perceived as nervous by the audience can tie themselves into knots of anxiety and just make themselves even more nervous.
If you’re nervous about looking nervous, keep in mind that it’s not that easy for others to read your mind. I’ve had so many participants in my sessions tell me they were extremely nervous, and I assured them that no one noticed.
That’s because you’re probably wrong about what others think of you. Most of us overestimate the extent to which people actually pay attention to us, and we usually think the worst. If you’re wearing a shirt with a stain on it, you think the whole world is laughing at you, but the fact is, they most likely don’t even notice, and even if they do, they just don’t care, and even if they care, they won’t remember it.
If you’re skeptical, try this experiment. Go to work wearing a mismatched pair of socks, and pay attention to two things: how many times you think about it during the day, and how many people actually say something to you about it. If you enjoy the experiment, you have a healthy level of self-awareness. If you’re nervous about it all day, you’re probably a little too self-conscious.