How do you avoid comparing yourself to others as a speaker…and maintain your confidence?
How do you stop comparing yourself to other people and thinking that they look like they’re doing fine — just great in fact — when you’re feeling vulnerable, and not confident at all?
The most common triggers are often our work colleagues, peers or our competition.
Firstly, some thoughts on comparison:
1. We’re wired to compare ourselves to others
We’re wired for comparison: particularly when we’re feeling insecure, which just makes it harder to deal with.
In general, we compare for two main reasons: one positive, the other less so. We’re trying to:
- Understand ourselves better and learn something new —this is good
- Feel better about ourselves by hoping that the person we’re comparing ourselves to is lower or “less” than us — this is not so good
These ideas are termed social comparison theory and were originally explored in depth by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 (though the concept itself has been discussed for centuries of course!).
Festinger’s main idea was that humans are driven to evaluate and define themselves through comparison with others. And that we can only really define ourselves in relation to other people.
If we lived permanently and completely alone with no interaction, we’d have no-one to compare ourself to, and would basically be living in a vacuum. There would be no comparison, and it would be harder to understand ourselves and our place in the world.
And because of this wiring, and natural tendency to do even more comparing when we’re feeling low ourselves, it can be unsettling and destabilising when we see colleagues, clients or competitors — even friends — who appear to be the epitome of confidence when they’re communicating.
These people just seem to know what they’re doing, to stride to the front of the room or light up the computer screen with that glow of inner certainty.
And in today’s carefully curated world that can be a real issue, especially when we compare an aspect of ourselves that we’re concerned about to the shiny image our competitor is showing — on LinkedIn for example (my main social media platform, so I speak from experience here!).
2. Comparison is a true confidence thief. And a trap
Even if we know that their confidence might be a facade, it can look totally convincing, and really push up our anxiety levels. “How come they’ve got their act together when I’m struggling?”
We all have days where whisperings of doubt or fear sneak into our minds. Maybe more than whisperings. Maybe we feel like an imposter…or as though we’re dull, not interesting or witty enough as a speaker.
That our presentation slides are out of date or our main points aren’t clear enough. Or – big imposter syndrome drum roll here…that we’ll be caught out during Q and A and shown to be a fraud who doesn’t really know their stuff.
3. Our emotional landscape is never static
Our emotional landscape, like the tide – hence the sea image above- ebbs and flows. Into positive, then negative territory. One moment we feel great about ourselves, something happens and then…not so much.
When our emotional tide starts to flow into the negative, it’s worth considering that those confident friends, colleagues or clients might be looking and thinking the same about us in reverse!
Perhaps to them, we seem confident and comfortable too.
I’ve spoken to a few people recently where we’ve started opening up and talking freely. People who I would have said were feeling successful and good about themselves, their lives, their presentation skills. And we’ve realised once we started chatting openly, that looks on both sides can be deceiving.
People may look like they’ve got their act together, but that’s often what it is — an act.
What works for me is to remember that’s it’s about fundamentally about self-kindness. Sounds soft, but it’s so true.
And being kind to ourselves is a choice.
It also helps to remember things like this:
- Not to compare the start of my journey or process with their middle or advanced stage
- Not to compare my insides with others’ outsides
- That what we see projected from others isn’t always true
- Even the most confident people have bad days, insecurities and pain
- To think of my own past successes and wins – and feel grateful for what I have
- To focus on something that went well for me earlier in the day, or yesterday
- To think of my strengths and abilities and how far I’ve come
- To tweak my body language to sit or stand tall and ground my feet firmly
- That I’m running my own race (a cliche but true)
Final thoughts to avoid comparing yourself to others as a speaker
So the next time you’re struggling with insecurity or having a low day, you can either try and bypass the comparison trap altogether, by reminding yourself that although we’re wired to compare, Just knowing that wiring is happening can be enough to allow us to move on and be ok.
And you can also remind yourself not to compare someone else’s outsides to your insides!
Comparing ourselves to others can be a good thing, if our motivation is to improve ourselves and to grow. But it’s important to be really careful of comparisons when we’re feeling fragile.
I also discuss resilience as a speaker, and three ways to maintain confidence here.
And we’re all just doing the best we can.