“I hate watching myself!”
Analina was very specific about the help she wanted from me.
A long-time listener of my podcast, Analina wanted me to review some tapes of her presenting, then meet and share my notes with her.
On the phone she told me, “I have more and more opportunities to speak. I need to get better. The good news – well, good for you maybe, not so good for me – is that everything we do here gets taped. Our people are all over the globe. All our staff presentations are taped. There’s lots of me you can see.”
I asked, “You said watching yourself on tape isn’t good news for you. Why’s that?”
“Oh, you know,” she said in a dismissive tone, “nobody likes watching themselves on tape.”
“But you’ll watch with me?” I asked.
“If I have to,” she said.
“I’m afraid so,” I said. “And maybe I can get you not to hate watching yourself on video quite so much.”
“Ha! Don’t count on that!”
After our call, her IT group sent me videos of her presenting. She was pleasant to watch. I noticed two things she might improve. I felt she could lift her eyes up off the page more while speaking, and I felt she could end her sentences more firmly. But in general, Analina’s presentation skills were fine.
In person, I found Analina to be hardworking and to the point, brief and targeted. We didn’t chat much. But we got lots done. It was mentally exciting.
Starting with the positive
During our first hour together, I showed her several things I thought she was doing particularly well. I also pointed out her tendency to talk with her eyes down. She marked it on her pad. I had the feeling she’d rarely do it again.
Seeing how convinced she was, I couldn’t resist revisiting our prior conversation.
“You said you don’t like to watch yourself on tape,” I said.
“But look what just happened. You saw yourself talking with your eyes down on tape and you knew, immediately, there’s a better choice. How could that have possibly happened without video?”
“Well, I suppose.”
“Well, I know for sure. I’ve done it both ways. Really, Analina, without playback, I’d still be describing it to you and you’d be wondering if I was right.”
That made her laugh. “I can imagine that’s true! But that doesn’t mean I have to like it!”
“Look how efficient you are!” I protested. “You would never waste a resource this valuable. Why not be grateful for it instead of being uncomfortable with it?”
That idea struck her. “Because really looking at ourselves is uncomfortable, isn’t it?”
That struck me. I smiled and said, “Boy oh boy, it certainly can be!”
She gave a little laugh. “What’s behind that remark?”
Acceptance and empowerment
“My own experience being uncomfortable when I saw myself onscreen. When I transitioned from being a theatre actor to a television actor, I had to start watching myself. And it was weird.”
“I’d been acting since I was about ten. I’d always wondered what our plays looked like from the audience. And I wondered what I looked like. Then it started happening. I could turn on my television and watch myself work. It was weird!”
“I hear a lot of actors hate watching themselves on film,” she said.
“Mostly actors who are fairly far along in their careers, I think. And I understand it. Acting is intuitive. Like great athletes are intuitive. You don’t want to get too self-conscious about what you’re doing. Overthinking can kill it.”
“But athletes use video review.”
“Right! And at that stage in my career, I wanted to use it, too. If you want to improve your skills, video review is the best tool there is.”
“And we all have access to it now,” she said, nodding at her phone.
“Do you know what video helped me with?” I asked.
“What?” she asked.
“It helped me distinguish what I could change from what I couldn’t. Watching myself, I had to accept certain things about myself. My nose. My face. The slope of my shoulders. I wasn’t going to do anything about those things so I might as well accept them. But, oh my, almost everything else – certainly all my behavior! – everything was changeable if I wanted. It was empowering.”
She said, “I’m thinking of one of my direct reports. Sarah. I think she’d benefit from video review, but I worry that she’d just beat herself up. She’s critical of herself enough as it is.”
“Then ask her to build a list. Ask her to write down at least two things she likes about herself and two things she’d change. Make sure she finds things she likes.”
She smiled at me. “You did that with me here today. You started with things you thought were going well.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Starting with what’s going well is important because people expect video review to be painful. I see it all the time. I do a lot of video feedback with groups. In the morning, they come in and see the video setup, and I can tell, to them it looks like a drill in a dentist’s office where they just ran out of Novocain. But by the end of the day, they’re saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this was so helpful!’”
“That can’t all be about starting with what’s going well,” she said.
“True. That’s one part of it. Another part of it is I teach them to watch themselves in the third person. If I were working with that direct report of yours, Sarah, I’d get her to talk about ‘that woman’ on the screen. Not ‘I’m doing this’ or ‘I’m doing that,’ but ‘she’s doing this’ or ‘she’s doing that.’”
She looked away, considering. “I haven’t been doing that. As I’m watching myself, I’m trying to recall what I was feeling in the moment.”
“I think that’s pretty natural. But that keeps you connected. And when you’re connected it’s harder to be objective. I think you get more value when you can watch yourself as a third person.”
“I’ll try that,” she said, turning towards the screen. Then she turned back to me saying, “What do I do about the fact that I hate hearing my voice?”
“Ah! I understand. Can I give you my spiel about that?”
“Go ahead,” she said.
“I hate my voice!”
I pointed at her chest, saying, “Your voice is the only voice on the entire planet that you experience inside your body. You feel your voice vibrate in your chest and in the cavities in your head. That’s why when you have a cold and you’re all clogged up, your voice sounds so different to you.”
“Right? You hear your voice inside your body. It’s not like your voice comes out of your mouth and zips around and then comes in through your ears!”
She laughed. “I never thought of that!”
“So when you hear your voice played back, as external stimulus only, all the sensations are removed. There’s nothing recognizable about it. It sounds completely foreign. So we say we hate hearing it. But really it’s that we don’t recognize it.”
“So it’s another version of accepting what you can’t change.”
“I suppose! It might not sound right to you, but it is what you sound like to everyone else!”
She considered a minute, then said, “More separation.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, accepting your voice on playback is like watching yourself in the third person. It’s getting some distance and seeing it as just another tool, like a feedback report or something.”
Analina had me work with her direct report. Sarah learned to use video feedback to develop her executive presence. As did Analina. Getting past their initial resistance to seeing and hearing themselves on tape allowed them to make much faster progress towards The Look & Sound of Leadership.