December 2, 2008

You don't have to prove how smart you are

I recently came across a blogger who wants to follow "smart people" on Twitter. His definition of smart is that you teach him something. Fair enough.

This brought up a typical insecurity for me. I'm smart. At least I think I'm smart. Smart enough, anyway. But what if my audience doesn't think I'm smart?

As a speaker, do you worry about your audience perceiving you as smart? Is it important to you to impress them? Are you concerned about saying something stupid and blowing your whole "smart" persona?

Welcome to being human!

We're all going to sound like idiots at one time or another. Or if not idiots, we will certainly come across as less than brilliant.

And what if that happens? Do you hang your head in shame? Apologize for not being perfect? Skulk away and go into hiding, never to speak in public again?

Or do you make a quick self-effacing joke about messing up and then move on?

It's especially easy to feel pressure to be smart and cool on the Web. After all, people have only your picture and your words to go by. They don't know you. They can't speak to you. They can't have an unscripted conversation with you.

Whether you're writing a blog post, commenting on Facebook or "tweeting," you are free to edit who you are, and the temptation is there to present only a clever and witty version of yourself.

But I'll say this again: people want to connect with fellow humans. They want a relationship. This is true on the Web, and it's true with your audiences. The more they can relate to you, the more effective you will be at reaching them with your message.

If that means you seem less than "smart" sometimes, so be it. If it means you're less than witty sometimes, okay. If you're a big dork like I am, embrace it.

Don't give in to the pressure to be "smart" all the time. Believe me, I've been there, and it's no fun. And it's not realistic or productive. You also run the risk of revealing yourself to be a big phony. Not smart at all.

Yes, try hard. Yes, make an effort. Take time to prepare and learn your material so you know it inside out. Take time to learn about your audience so you can serve them to the best of your ability.

But don't focus too much energy on being perfect and smart (or virtuous or funny or serious, or whatever your insecurity is). Know who you are. Be comfortable with who you are. You're already smart. You don't have to prove it.

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

Know who you are - that is so true. I always tell people be authentic! When I made that realization as a speaker I felt so free. These days I worry less about being smart and more about providing a connection to the audience, relating and letting them know I'm human. Sharing stories is a great way to do that because that is authentic - the experiences are mine, the learning is mine, but the message can be applied in so many ways.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Stacey. That's my philosophy, too.

Anonymous said...

I find those people who try to be smart end up being the people who come off as arrogant.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

No kidding!

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