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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Silencing the Voice

A lesson in how avoiding self-censorship will pave the path to differentiation

During the PPAI Expo a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting an education session where I shared how critical it is to understand every aspect of a client’s brand if you want to be a trusted advisor and resource. It was one of the larger groups I’ve spoken in front of (just north of 400), and candidly, I was a bit nervous leading up to showtime. To further exacerbate my anxiety, there was a glaring camera in the back of the room, ready to record the session for posterity.

As a public speaker, I can sense within the first few minutes of any presentation whether the session will be good, great, or just “okay.” Primarily, this depends on my ability to connect with the audience, their level of interest and engagement, and whether I communicate my perspective in a way they can fully embrace. Even though it was a large crowd, it was one of those rare occasions where I knew I was in complete synchronicity with the audience. In other words, I was “on.”

After the hour-long session, about three dozen people approached me as I was packing up my computer to exchange business cards, ask a question, or otherwise say something nice – something I always find gratifying after a presentation. In particular, one person handed me her business card and said, “you have a strangely wonderful way of looking at things.” At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a condemnation of me and my speaking style, but her smile reassured me that it was the former.

That compliment has stuck with me for almost two weeks now, and I believe I finally figured out why: it was concrete approval that the unique way I look at things connects with people.

It may be surprising to find out that every time I get up to speak in front of a group, I have thoughts that this is the time people figure out that I’m not an expert on the subject matter, I’m not entertaining enough to keep the audience engaged, or that I’ll finally be exposed for the fraud that I am. While I may outwardly display poise and confidence, inside I’m silently doubting everything about the presentation and, more to the point of this blog, myself.

To be clear: I feel this way EVERY SINGLE TIME I speak in front of a group, and I’m convinced I’m not the only one. Whether admitted or not, every person I know fights their particular self-censorship voice that lives inside them. My personal voice is the one that says:

  • “Will people laugh at me for using a hamburger analogy to express that idea?”

  • “Will my peers lose respect for me if I say that on the podcast?”

  • “Will people I respect think I’ve lost my marbles for writing this?”

At some point during the maturation process, we become hard-wired to defer our self-censorship voice, which has both positive and negative consequences. While there are obvious reasons to self-censor – like not answering your spouse’s question of, “do you like these shoes with this outfit” with complete honesty – most of the time, we end up denying who we are to ourselves and the world at large.

By limiting self-censorship – by embracing your uniqueness – you separate yourself from the status quo. When you reduce your self-censorship, you become different from your competition which is critical in an industry where everyone sells the same product, at roughly the same prices, to the same target audience. It takes courage to share the things you see differently, but it helps connect the dots for your prospects and clients in ways they either can’t or won’t.

In my case, I tend to be very transparent about things and draw analogies using stories. I’ve been told repeatedly that the way I present to a group is different than most others, which gives me a tremendous amount of pride. If I listened to that self-censorship voice, I wouldn’t be authentic, transparent, or, frankly, me. Limiting my self-censorship voice is THE vehicle for me to be different, and the compliments I receive are the fuel that gives me the courage to push forward.

Remember, different isn’t always better, but better is always different.

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