I spoke with a woman the other day who told me that one reason she contacted me about coaching after seeing me in person was that she could tell I was someone who presents myself well.
She's a personal organizer and pointed out that she wouldn't make a very good organizer if she wasn't organized herself, and that she would never hire a business coach who didn't demonstrate the kinds of qualities she wanted to achieve.
On another note, I have a friend who's moving up in the world of public health nursing after putting in some 30 years in the field, then getting her masters degree and now her Ph.D. She mentioned a conference she's going to this summer with a bunch of bigwigs in the industry for whom she wants to make a good impression.
She is in the process of losing 60 pounds and realizes that she won't make a very good representative for the health field if she's not healthy herself.
These comments resonated with me.
How many of you "practice what you preach" when you're not onstage?
Because I speak about public speaking, I absolutely have to model what I'm teaching to the best of my ability. There's no way to hide when I'm onstage doing the very thing I'm talking about.
Some of you may be presenting yourself one way onstage, but in another way when you're out of view of the audience.
Are you a finance expert with lots of debt?
Are you a fitness expert with a pot belly?
Are you a relationship expert who's in the midst of a divorce?
The difficult thing here is in the reality that we're all human. We all have problems. No one is perfect.
So you may be a finance expert who came upon some hard times, and now you're suffering for it. You may be a fitness expert who is quite healthy but dealing with aging in a not-very-graceful way. You may be a relationship expert who didn't see your own forest for your trees.
Does this make you a hypocrite? Does this make you unqualified to speak about your topic? No.
But how does your audience perceive you? This is really the key issue. The question is not whether you are or aren't qualified. The audience's perception of you is, unfortunately, all that matters.
So, when you've done everything right, but still face a skeptical audience, what do you do?
Use yourself as an example!
As I've mentioned before, I know I'm not perfect as a speaker.
I'm very open about my own quirks, and I use them as examples when I'm speaking. I talk about the time I realized that I was jangling my bracelets right in the middle of a presentation. I talk about how I struggle with certain "catch phrases." I talk about how, just when I've eradicated one bad habit, another one springs up.
Do I put myself down or overexaggerate my problems? Never. There's a fine line between "keeping it real" and making yourself look like a big fat mess.
But it's okay for the audience to know that we all struggle to achieve our goals. Even the pros. Even the experts. Even those of us who've been doing what we do forever.
The audience wants to know that they can achieve success. If I stand up onstage, and I have no flaws and no imperfections, how will the audience be able to relate to me? My achievements will seem unattainable to them.
By presenting myself as a whole, real person, I demonstrate that it is possible to overcome challenges. New challenges arise and I face them, too. I'm not perfect, and I don't need the audience to think I am.
But I'm always working on those issues, because I'm not a hypocrite, either. I don't say one thing and do another.
If you're an anti-smoking crusader, you better not light up when you're away from the audience.
If you give relationship advice, you better not be the one cheating on your spouse.
If you promote nutritious school lunches, you better not have a shopping cart full of junk food.
Make sure your image is consistent with your message, and when it's off for a short time, use it as a teaching tool.
But always keep working to bring your image and message into alignment as much as possible. Too much inconsistency over too long a time period and you lose all credibility.
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