Roland is a dapper Australian. In conversation his language is a seamless stream of delightful metaphors and analogies. People love listening to Roland. Except when he presents.In front of groups, Roland is plagued with “um’s.” Unable to change this annoying habit, he came to me. Even in a mock presentation with just the two of us in a conference room, sure enough, the “um’s” leapt out in full force. So we began working to change his habit.
The first goal when trying to change any habit is not to do anything differently but to try to create awareness of the habit itself. When do I do it? When don’t I do it? Is there a feeling connected to it? What do I know about it? Try to get as conscious as you can about it.
I wanted Roland to gain awareness of his particular habit. Knowing his organization’s voicemail system, I gave him this piece of homework: “Listen to every internal voicemail message before you send it.”
Roland’s immediate response to this was, “Oh, I hate listening to myself on tape.”
I’ve heard this lament from so many people for so many years that I’ve come to believe it’s a pretty universal feeling. If you’ve felt that, too, I’d like to change your thinking. Why? Because taped feedback is a powerful tool for smashing old habits.
Think about your voice. You don’t “hear” it: you experience it resonating in your chest and the bones of your face. Unlike every other voice on the planet, you experience your voice inside your body. So when you hear your voice played back only as external stimulus, you don’t hate it, you simply don’t recognize it. To you it’s not your voice. But it is to us.
The disconnection you feel when you hear your voice on tape is natural. But stop telling yourself you hate your voice. Accept that that’s how we hear your voice and use tape as a development tool. Tape can give you more powerful feedback than any words a coach can say. If your voicemail system lets you preview your messages before you send them, do it for six weeks. It’s free professional development that’s worth a dozen classes. Or get a digital tape recorder and record your side of phone conversations. Play them back on the drive home.
Roland did both those things and it transformed him. Not only did he gain the upper hand on his “um’s”, he became more succinct and found he was able to think more quickly while he was speaking. Taped feedback gave him the ability to hear himself as others heard him.
Later, to further refine his style, Roland and I worked with video. I wasn’t surprised to hear him say, “I hate seeing myself on tape.” Having spent twenty years in front of television cameras, I know all too well how painful it can be to watch yourself on tape.
But I taught him what I’d learned from years of watching myself on TV: watch yourself in the third person. Say things like: “What is that guy doing now? Oh, he’s smiling now. Now he’s gesturing.” This separation gets you past the knee-jerk reaction of “I hate watching myself.” (By the way, if you’d like to see some clips from my old days as a television actor, click here.)
The point of this Executive Coaching Tip is not simply about conquering “um’s,” although you could use it that way. The bigger point is that taped feedback can help you polish your presence in myriad ways if you’re willing to manage your reaction to hearing and seeing yourself on tape. Approached openly, audio and video feedback will change how you see yourself. Over time, it will change how everyone else sees you, too.