“I think self-awareness is probably the most important
thing towards being a champion.”– Billie Jean King
A senior-level insurance executive I coached for her first industry keynote called me excited after she walked off the stage to tell me how she did. “I think they liked it because they applauded cheerfully. But I was so nervous that I don’t remember much else.”
Zoning out while giving a talk is not uncommon. Sometimes we are so fearful about what people will think of us when we speak in public that we stop being fully conscious of what is happening around us. We become so engrossed in our thoughts that we forget why we chose to communicate in the first place.
Self-aware people are conscious of the impact they have on others. Speaking honestly and with lasting impact requires a high degree of self-awareness and mindfulness. If you are not self-aware, you may end up operating on automatic or consumed by inner narratives and judgments about your performance. The more aware you are of yourself and in tune with others when you speak, the more you will transform their thinking, persuade, and move them to action.
Communicating consciously opens the door to mutual understanding. Whether you are speaking one-to-one, to a conference room of 10 people, or an auditorium of 1000, you owe it to your audience and to yourself to be fully conscious. You could be doing a pitch, an informal talk, or a luncheon address. In any setting, you can’t afford to be on automatic pilot when you speak, or you will undermine the very purpose of your talk. When you are fully present, you can adjust and harmonize with your audience to ensure your message resonates.
Here are some reasons why heightened self-awareness can be the hidden key to exceptional public speaking.
Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
According to legend, “know thyself” was carved into stone at the entrance to Apollo’s temple in Delphi, Greece 2,000 years ago. Influenced by this, Socrates famously said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”
Experienced speakers are self-aware and conscious of their abilities and limitations. That knowledge is the foundation for rapport and connection. For example, if you have a sharp sense of humor and tell good stories to match, use them appropriately. If you are inexperienced speaking without notes, use note cards with bullet points to help you remember.
What are the gifts of ideas and inspiration you bring your audience? How are you putting your natural talents and acquired skills as a communicator into service?
Convey authenticity and credibility.
Audiences are quick to detect when you are not being genuine. A self-aware speaker understands their own values, beliefs, and personality, and can convey their message with authority and credibility. Authenticity builds trust. People are more likely to listen and respond positively to someone they perceive as honest and real.
Demonstrate emotional intelligence.
Self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with emotional intelligence. A presenter who is in touch with their own feelings can take the emotional temperature of the room better. This skill allows them to navigate sensitive subjects with empathy and to adjust their communication style to suit the emotional tone of the room and connect with their audience on a deeper level.
Adapt to feedback.
Constructive feedback is invaluable for personal and professional growth. Self-aware individuals are open and receptive to audience reactions—both good and bad—and use it to improve their content and performance. They understand that some presentations may be better received than others, that some pitches may land well, and others may flop. In the ups and downs they find room for growth. By embracing critique as a positive force, you can refine your message and delivery and become more effective with each presentation.
Even the most experienced public speakers feel nervous before taking the stage. It comes with the turf. Self-awareness can help speakers recognize and manage their jitters. By understanding the source of their anxiety, whether it’s fear of judgment or a lack of confidence in their material, speakers can develop techniques like visualization, breathwork and mindfulness to calm their nerves.
Tailor your talk to the audience.
A successful public speaker knows their audience well. Self-awareness extends to understanding the demographics, interests, pain points and needs of the people they are addressing. This knowledge enables you to tailor your content and approach to make a lasting impact. Effective speakers know how to connect with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of individuals on a personal level, making their messages more relevant.
Maintain focus and presence.
Public speaking requires a high level of concentration and presence. A self-aware speaker can recognize when their mind is wandering or when they are starting to zone out and succumb to distractions. They can then refocus their attention on the audience and the purpose of the talk they are delivering. This ability to stay present in the moment is crucial for maintaining engagement and conveying confidence.
Self-awareness isn’t just a trait; it’s a tool that empowers public speakers to motivate, educate, and influence others with confidence and credibility. Being more fully conscious of what and how you communicate will make your speaking experiences more enjoyable, memorable, and meaningful for you and the people listening to you.
Exercising more awareness will transform the outcomes of your speaking and help you connect better, achieve greater understanding, and leave your imprint on the world around you.