You’re a perfectionist and there is only one rule: you should deliver and expect 100% performance…all the time.
This is black and white, it’s 100% perfect or it’s a failure.
“If it’s not perfect, it’s wrong.”
You hold yourself to these high standards, it’s expected of you from others, but more importantly, you demand this for yourself.
While these standards have motivated/pushed you to achieve success in your field and become very competent, there is a price to pay for these expectations.
“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is the pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will be good enough-that we should try harder.”
I’ve observed this with my clients, as speaking in public is a pressure cooker situation that brings your insecurities, negative thoughts, and beliefs from beneath the surface to the forefront.
In our public speaking training, this is an area we specialize in as perfectionism has a negative impact on business professionals ability to communicate with confidence, as it holds them from seizing opportunities, creates massive self-doubt, and reduces your energy to meaningfully connect.
Here’s a few common scenarios our perfectionist clients experience:
* The perfectionist will avoid speaking in public because they know they can’t do it perfectly, so won’t do it at all.
*They avoid public speaking because they’re afraid of how much they will beat themselves up for their performance after.
*Knowing that their presentation is coming up, the perfectionist will feel anxiety build and will often go into a procrastination cycle, trying to avoid the discomfort of thinking about their presentation, until it’s right before, so then they’ll stress out as they scramble to get ready and get upset with themselves for having waited so long.
*When the perfectionist does speak in public, they will feel overwhelmed as while they’re speaking, they’re focused on what the audience is thinking about them and how they’re being judged
*They will be tired and stressed out before speaking public because they have spent hours scripting their presentation, then many more hours practicing to get it perfect. This often leads to having a limited sleep the night before a presentation because they’re worried about humiliating themselves.
*They show up to the presentation sleep deprived and stressed out, then having all those people stare at them feels very intimidating and they feel vulnerable.
*They won’t connect and engage with their audience, because as they’re speaking, their focus is on remembering their script and getting every word “right” so they come across cold, robotic, and dry.
*After the presentation, they get an applause, which feels great for a few minutes as it’s over and now they can rest. That is until they start reviewing their presentation and begin picking apart every thing they did wrong.
“Did the audience notice I said the wrong word?”
“How could I have missed that point, what’s wrong with me?”
“I should be better than this, what’s wrong with me.”
These statements cut deep, they cut to your core, it’s telling you that you’re not good enough, that you don’t measure up, that you need to be better. This is often a pattern as they’ve been a high-achiever for a number of years, they’re known for this, it’s what people expect from them, and what they expect from themselves.
Often my clients will try to rationalize this behaviour, saying that it’s actually a good thing, that they’re focused on improving.
Focus on improvement is great, but there’s a spectrum between having a healthy drive for improvement and holding the unrealistic standards of perfectionism as your baseline.
There is a dark side to perfectionism and it comes at the cost of your confidence.
With perfectionism, when holding yourself to these unrealistically high standards, it’s not a matter of if you will let yourself down, but when.
This leads to a cycle of self-sabotaging your success as you’re constantly trying to achieve your impossibly high standards and the pressure gets too high. You keep pushing yourself and with each success, you get closer to having the disappointment, that is inevitable.
I help business professionals gain perspective with perfectionism and channel their desire for achievement into a productive, confidence-building format. This is accomplished through our Communicate With Confidence training. In the training, you are video-taped while speaking and then we watch the videos and identify how to refine your delivery.
This brings many of your thoughts and beliefs that are below the surface to the forefront as during this process, you quickly identify how critical you are on yourself.
Left to a client’s own devices, the natural reaction to their video is to create a huge list of things they hate about themselves, how they look on camera, and their delivery.
“I can’t believe I look like that…what happened to me?”
“I sound like that…why didn’t anybody ever say something?”
“That doesn’t look like a leader, how did I get promoted?”
“I look so old and I need to lose weight.”
If we left this as is, all that would happen is you would find speaking on video to be an uncomfortable process that you never want to do again, which would be counter-productive.
In our training, we support you to boost your communication confidence, and build your abilities.
7 steps to seek excellence without the overwhelming pressure to be perfect:
- Recognize that perfectionism inhibits success. Without awareness, you’re unable to filter what is productive and what’s holding you back. This allows you to counter the rationalization of perfectionism and challenge perfectionist thoughts.
- Sometimes “good enough” is good enough. This was something that took me some time to accept. Often I would be working on a post, then as I got close to finishing, I would be overwhelmed with self-doubts, that it wasn’t good enough, that I just needed to refine it a bit more. When in this cycle, there was always some new change to make, the harsh reality was it was never perfect. There will always room to improve, the real success comes in taking action, so if it’s good enough, it’s good enough. Take action and you will improve with experience.
- “Not everything deserves 100%.” To the perfectionist, it’s 100% or nothing. Unfortunately, we have limits to our time, energy, and what we can focus on. When allowed to rule your world, you will be pulled apart as 100% in everything will lead to you burning out. The key here is to pick your spots. This will require a few changes to make this happen. This will require you to delegate, say “no” to take tasks that are not in your best interest (this goes against saying “yes” just to be nice) and be realistic in how much you can do, this allows you to reduce task overwhelm.
- Your setbacks aren’t as magnified as you believe. I see this especially in our workshops, when clients are shocked that their mistakes are as glaring as they believe. That when you’re speaking in public, missing a word or sentence does not ruin your credibility as a professional. That the audience doesn’t walk away thinking “I can’t believe they forgot to say x.y,z,” Mistakes are part of learning, setbacks are essential. It shows that you’re stretching as a professional and just like learning to drive, public speaking will be uncomfortable in the beginning, but then with time and repeat practice, you will improve and it will become easier, perhaps even fun 🙂
- Be your own #1 fan. It’s easy, even a default to be your own worst enemy, to pick out what you did wrong when speaking in public and what should have done instead. To counter this, we have our clients ask 2 questions after every presentation. First, “what did I do well?” This is done to celebrate your successes, which are usually overlooked. Second, we ask, “what will I improve next time?” This is a more supportive way to frame mistakes/learning experiences you made and how to use them to improve the next time you give a presentation.
- Recognize you’re in the right place. One of the biggest frustrations and limit to you increasing your confidence is the feeling that you should be ahead of where you are right now. This will come from internal questions, such as “I’m xx years old, I should be more confident than this” or external comparisons, like, “everyone else is so much more confident than me, why can’t I just be like…” Freedom in this situation comes from the refocusing of your energy, the fact is you are where you are. This is where you’re supposed to be right now, so the only thing you need to focus your attention on now is “what CAN I DO to increase my confidence today.” This will lead to feeling more grounded and supportive of your current state, which leads us to the next step.
- Shift your perspective. One of the liberating, yet frustrating shifts is when you embrace that “there is no finish line.” Increasing your public speaking confidence is an activity that you will continue to do for the rest of your life. Similar to fitness, it’s not like there’s a magic number of squats or bench press you need to do, then you’re “fit for life.” The freedom to release the shackles of constant comparison to others and focusing that energy on what daily actions can I do, is a concept I call “Stacking Wins.” This is where we know our big picture, we see our potential as this provides the vision of where you’re going and then take it back to a daily level and ask “what actions can I take today?” When you do this, you will experience a greater feeling of happiness as the reality is there is always room for improvement, so appreciate your current situation and focus on moving forward every day as these daily small victories comound over .
If you’re a perfectionist and it’s holding your public speaking confidence back, our training will provide you with the techniques, strategies, and supportive environment to gain the confidence you need to achieve your potential, check our training here to see if we’re a fit: Public Speaking Training
I’m a perfectionist myself and so can relate to everything that you have written about. Thanks for sharing your insights and, in particular, your 7 Steps – excellent!
Happy to help Brett and hope the 7 steps are valuable! Thank you for sharing.
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