Don’t aim to be professional, aim to be you

Recently I wrote a blog about how in striving for professionalism, we often leave our personalities at the door. This can be detrimental for both our businesses and for us.

But it got me thinking about some professional situations, like job interviews, pitching or presenting, and whether we can inadvertently dial-up our professionalism to our detriment when required to impress or perform.

Personality is important across any business or work-based scenario. Decision makers, (whether they are open about it or not) will be thinking, “Would I like to work with this person?”

At Lucidity, I’m a ‘professional’ speaker, and I deliver presentations, team days, keynote speeches and facilitate workshops.

I remember when I was a fledgling presenter wanting to improve, I attended a three-day presentation skills course. I was filmed presenting and then critiqued. They picked up ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and weird nervous things I did with my hands without realising. I took the feedback. Practiced. Did it again. Received feedback. Practiced, and did it all again. It was a rather painful yet fundamental learning experience.

Everyone in the group finished the training and was able to present. We all completed the course ‘professional presenters’; presenting in exactly the same way. We were blank canvases – empty vessels waiting for our ‘professional’ content to arrive. We all stood straight. We all stood still. We spoke slowly. Our hands made the shapes that reinforced what we said. We were textbook.

Then I started to really pay attention to great presenters, and noticed that they didn’t stand still or do any of the textbook things I had learned. The best presenters, in my opinion, brought the best parts of themselves onto the stage. If they had humour, they were funny. If they were outspoken, they shocked. If they were experts, they bought expertise. So I decided to do the same.

The blank canvas was still an excellent start, and over the years my confidence has grown and I’ve practiced putting ‘me’ back in to my presentations. Just the good bits – not the bit where I stand with one hip slanted so it looks like I’m flirting with the flip chart, or the nervous lip-chewing or the over use of the word ‘like’ inserted anxiously into sentences.

I also began to realise what was holding ‘me’ back: I was terrified of being heckled or forgetting what I was going to say.

So I took improv classes to help me respond better ‘in the moment’, and to manage my fear of slipping up (which still exists by the way – I think you need a healthy amount of adrenalin when presenting, but it’s how you manage it that’s important). I am no longer afraid to respond to the audience, or to go off track. And I now get much better feedback and results than when I was a professional blank canvas.

My advice for you if you want to improve your public speaking skills is;

  • Learn the basics and create your blank canvas
  • Practice in front of the mirror, to friends, family and anyone who will listen
  • Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity to speak in front of an audience, for example team days, chairing meetings, speaking groups and clubs
  • Start to notice what other excellent speakers do
  • Recognise the areas you want to improve and focus on those, for example I knew my weak spot was fear of improvising – so I took an improv course with Hoopla.

As your confidence builds, you can add your personality back into the mix. It’s not a choice between professional or personality – it’s how you bring your true self to your professional life that will create the magic.

People work with people they know and like. Not everyone will like you, but if you over professionalise, you may accidentally lose the thing that makes you stand out. You.

Don’t aim to be professional, aim to be your best you.

If you’re interested in improving your public speaking skills, do get in touch. Lucidity delivers workshops and coaching in public speaking for all levels and abilities, from creating a blank canvas to putting personality back into your presentations.

We won’t train you to be professional, we will train you to be you.