And why you shouldn't either.
During the PPAI Expo a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting an education session about how to incorporate standards in a business to position it for sustained growth. It was one of the larger groups I've spoken in front of (just shy of 400), and candidly, I was a bit nervous leading up to showtime. To further exacerbate my anxiety, my wife was in the audience, and it was the first time she had ever seen me give an education session.
As someone who speaks publicly often, I can usually sense within the first few minutes of any presentation whether the session will be good, great, or just "okay." Largely, 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 understand. Even though it was a large crowd, it was one of those rare occasions where I struggled to sense, well, anything from the audience. Honestly, I found it a bit unsettling, which is why I fumbled through the first few slides.
After the hour-long session, about two dozen people approached me as I was packing up my computer to exchange business cards, ask a question, or 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 a month 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 quietly 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 voice is the one that says:
"Will people laugh at me for using that 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 individual self-censorship voice, which has both positive and negative consequences. While there are obvious reasons to self-censor – like not answering with complete candor when my wife asks, "Do you like these shoes with this outfit?" – we often deny 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 negative inner voice, you become different from your competition, which is critical in an industry where everyone sells the same product to the same target audience at roughly the same prices. It takes courage to share what you see and think 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 am very transparent about things and draw analogies using stories. I'm 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, there is only one "you," and limiting how you share that only serves to blend you in with everyone else.