Where's Your Blind Spot?
Are you ready to look at yourself
Did you know you have blind spots? It's OK, we all do! There are things about you as a speaker and leader that you cannot see, hear or independently know about yourself. The good news: Once you learn what’s in your blind spot and incorporate this information into your own development, the more likely you are to win contests and elections and garner the trust and confidence of colleagues and clubmates.
When you drive a car, despite rear and sideview mirrors, there is an area that you, as a driver, physically can’t see, a spot where another car, motorcycle or bicycle may be lurking, yet you are not aware of it.
How do you, as a speaker and leader, deal with your blind spots. Only when others reflect back to you what they see do you gain insight into how you’re perceived. And many times it’s not as you intended to be seen or heard. Therein lies the disparity.
Feedback Illuminates Your Blind Spots
To compensate for natural blind spots, we rely on tools like mirrors when we're getting dressed and 360-degree reviews in our employment appraisals. As speakers and leaders, we don’t know what we don’t know, but key members in Toastmasters clubs can help illuminate our blind spots.
Key members, for example, can include a speech evaluator, an assigned mentor or a guidance committee for your hand-picked High Performance Leadership project. These colleagues can help you see what you cannot, and help you know how you come across to others. Through their feedback you improve and grow as you harmonize your projections with the perceptions of others, and your intentions with actual results.
Opening the Doors to Perception
One speaker sees himself as bold, but audience members perceive him as arrogant. Another speaker sees himself as the ultimate improviser, while others regard him as unprepared. Perceptions are often in the eyes of beholders; they don’t often match our own sense of how we are perceived. Worse yet, we don’t even realize the disparity.
Universal Blind Spots: Our Leaky Face and Leaky Tone
"Some blind spots are common to all people," explains co-author Stone, the founder of Triad Consulting and a lecturer on law, Harvard Law School. "Our face when giving a presentation is a literal blind spot. We tend not to be aware of the unintended signals our facial expressions may be conveying." Our eyes literally can't see ourselves when we are speaking. Our audience not only sees but also interprets our facial expressions (whether correctly or incorrectly), which may belie our words. For example, a speaker's furrowed brow or look of disdain will contradict a verbal message which is intended to convey concern, care or love.
"We also have trouble hearing our voice the way others hear it," writes Stone, explaining the physiological reasons for this. From the time we are infants, we humans develop an ability to hear through our superior temporal sulcus (STS), located just above our ears. This helps us interpret human sounds and the emotions embedded in them, and helps us decipher tone and meaning. Yet when we speak, our own STS turns off. We literally can't hear our own tone the way others can. We don't realize how we sound. It's often a big surprise when our evaluator, mentor or loved one tells us we sound sarcastic, tired or disinterested, distrustful or dismissive. It's a blind spot we all have. Stone recommends coaching and videotaping in instances where blind spots exist.
When Perception Doesn't Match Intention
"Many of us have trouble understanding the impact we have on others—whether through behavior, body language or anything else" explains Stone. "It's because we tend to judge our impact based on our intentions, and they are often very different than how others perceive us." While some people are better than others at understanding how they come across, the good news is that we all get better through practice, Stone says. Some people are naturally more empathetic, and some less so. How aware are you of how you "come across" to others?
Sometimes feedback from listeners derived from this gap between a speaker's intention and the audience member's perception can range from mild surprise to disbelief. Seemingly innocuous feedback from a speech evaluator that illuminates a speaker's blind spot may nevertheless land harshly. While it's no big deal to the evaluator, "to the receiver, feedback that illuminates a blind spot can (sometimes) be devastating. It impacts a speaker’s sense of who he or she is, and wants to be, in the world ." Both speaker and evaluator should be aware of the potential power of feedback tied to a speaker's blind spot. It's all in how it's received. Many factors may be at play, including one's upbringing, past traumas or psychological make-up.
If the parties know and trust each other, the degree of feedback and candor can be calibrated to what the speaker is able to handle. Yet the evaluator often doesn't know the speaker well, and therefore well-intentioned suggestions or critiques can hit a vulnerable speaker hard and deep when shared right after a speech is delivered, despite the evaluator's best intentions.
Factors Affecting Feedback
Receiving permission to evaluate, provide feedback or coach a speaker or leader is the first step. Unsolicited feedback may be unwanted, untimely and thus unwise to bestow. Good timing is also essential. Often speakers are vulnerable right after they finish their speech; they haven’t processed their own performance yet and are ripe for bruising. Toastmasters are trained to temper criticism with praise, and lead and end with praise using the sandwich approach in an official speech evaluation.
Stone points out a common flaw in such an evaluation. Many times the praise given is general while the criticism is specific. Stone advises a more even-handed approach, "Too often we give general positive comments, specific and lengthy negative ones and then finish with more general positive ones. Better to be as specific with the positive as the negative."
Professional speaker and speech coach Max Dixon of Seattle, Washington, says one key to coaching speakers around perceived blind spots is to go slowly. In his speech coaching he emphasizes implementing that "one single, simple, doable thing" that eases a client into change. Too often speakers being coached are given too much to worry about, or to think about, or try to implement at once. His one-at-a- time approach is a gateway to more profound changes because it’s immediately replicable. Whether teaching stagecraft from his acting background, breathing techniques as a Reiki Master or wordsmithing a speaker’s script for more impact, Dixon's modifications are immediately visible to his clients, who taste success right away. Stone concurs, "A good guideline is that people can take in one thing at a time (if that)."
Longtime Toastmaster Gary McKinsey of Modesto CA recounts two blind spots he had as a speaker that he learned about through coaching. Early in his tenure, he was informed by fellow clubmate Jerry Ford of Toastbreakers that he exhibited "happy feet" while speaking. They seemingly danced all by themselves when he spoke. Ford implored him to "plant his toe-zies!" and speak initially from a stationary position. He results were immediate! Several years later he was challenged by evaluator Lee Means, after his speech, to project his voice and "speak to the back row." A few months later he applied this advice in a Washington DC presentation and garnered support of the entire room!
Professional Speakers Have Blind Spots Too
Like Toastmasters, professional speakers strive for continuous improvement. They have a vested interest in discovering blind spots that could offend or alienate clients and mitigate repeat business. The most astute professional speakers seek feedback from meeting planners, the economic buyers who hire them, and the speaking bureaus who procure them for clients. "Accountability is huge – off the platform as well as on it" declares Andrea H. Gold, president, Gold Star Speakers Bureau. She and her bureau work with hundreds of clients and speakers. Part of her job is harmonizing client expectations with a speaker’s performance. She appreciates speakers who strive to please clients, yearn to improve and are thus open to post-program feedback. Professional speakers need to be mindful of such issues as excessive selling from the platform, allowing their religious or political beliefs to filter into their business presentations and being respectful of the diversity in their audiences, to name but a few of the many challenges in the professional arena.
"There’s so much to learn. And things change over time, so that should keep speakers on their toes" explains Gold, the co-author of The Business of Successful Speaking: proven secrets to becoming a million dollar speaker http://www.goldstars.com. "The professional speakers who attend workshops and meetings to build skills or practice new ways, are certainly dedicated to continuous improvement." Among her concerns, "when a speaker thinks he's arrived and needs no further skill building. That's when things can turn sour! A dose of humility at all times is very becoming" When Gold addresses perceived blind spots with receptive speakers their improvement is often immediate.
Set Your Sights on Insights
"Our perception could either be our path to nirvana or an invisible cage that bottles us up," states author and technology leader Pawan Mishra. When you seek to discover your blind spots you create opportunities for growth and self-improvement. Are you ready to open your blinds?
Professional speaker Craig Harrison, DTM, of Berkeley, California,
Craig Harrison, DTM, PDG, is a charter member of the Silicon Valley ImprovMasters club in San Jose, California, and a professional speaker. Visit www.SpeakAndLeadWithConfidence.com to learn more about Craig's keynote speaking, training and coaching services for Toastmasters speakers and leaders.