As I mentioned in this article on Perfect being the Enemy of Good, Perfectionism is not our aim in public speaking, but a nervous habit that can be off-putting for our audience.
The biggest trouble with perfectionism is that it increases the fear of public speaking. There is an often-quoted statistic from Bruskin Associates that says that people are, in general, more afraid of public speaking than dying. I believe, this is, in part, due to the belief that when you speak in front of a group of people, you fear being horribly humiliated by making a mistake (unless you're perfect).
As Amanda Neville recently wrote for Forbes magazine in her wonderful article "Perfectionism Is The Enemy of Everything." :
Self-oriented perfectionism is problematic because it can lead to obsessiveness; inefficiency; and a multitude of serious mental health issues that affect attendance, performance, and morale. You’ll often see a perfectionist procrastinate because she’s afraid of failing before she starts.
This is a really bad way to relate to public speaking. We all have an internal dialogue that judges how we’re doing when we’re trying to speak in public. We've addressed this previously by discussing how to challenge your inner saboteur.
Psychologists have spotted four key behaviours of a perfectionist that I often see in my public speaking clients. If you have any of the following habits then you could be a perfectionist:
Perfectionists rely heavily on their success to feel a sense of self-worth, so if they fail, or are worried that they will fail, they will experience a high degree of distress or anxiety.
Counteracting perfectionism is a practice that you will develop by changing your thought patterns. Here are three useful thoughts to reinforce:
The best public speakers make mistakes and then move on. There have been countless professional speakers with malfunctioning technology, broken heels, and even forgetting their lines. It happens. What's different about each of these speakers is that they acknowledge the blunder, usually with humor, and then move on. They don’t bring undue attention to the goof and they don’t let it derail them from their message. They get on with it!
“If you look at the very best speakers out there,” Segnit said, “those with the most powerful stage presence – say Barack Obama or Tony Robbins – they make mistakes, and they make them all the time – but it makes no difference to their momentum and their message.”
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