How do we communicate our best self to the world around us?
How can we go into a job interview, an audition or an important pitch with confidence that we are giving our best?
Working in the field of communication has brought me to a better understanding of the ways that we interfere and interrupt the channel between our value and our audience. So many of us just can’t seem to get out of our own damn way.
Last year at the Oscars, Bryan Cranston (he of Breaking Bad fame) was asked what advice he would give to young amateur actors. The gist of his advice is, “know what your job is.” Your job is not to “get the job” or win the interview. He says “you’re not going there to get a job, you are going there to present what you do. You act.” Once you focus your energies on the things that you can control, and let go of the belief that you can control the outcome, you are empowered. You are powerful.
(You can watch the interview here)
While this advice is helpful to young actors, it can also be incredibly valuable to the rest of us who are eager to communicate our value to the world around us.
The message that “trying too hard” might be interfering with the value of what we can do is not new. People have been giving this advice for years.
For example, how many times has someone given you this advice?
“Just be yourself”
This can be confusing advice if you feel that who you are is essentially a ball of anxiety and insecurity:
That kind of authenticity often creates a feeling of neediness and a lack of confidence. Probably not a good idea to double down on that strategy.
It also doesn’t work to suppress those emotions before going into an important meeting or job interview. Why? Because even though we may think that we are repressing the feeling, burying the fear and the anxiety deep down inside, that emotion still leaks out to the room. People can sense the fear and the neediness even when they don’t see it on the surface. (For more information about how emotions do this, I recommend you read Daniel Goleman’s work and Heidi Grant Halvorson’s research.)
Fact is that the emotions leak out without our knowing it, and the suppression of them can lead to weird behavior. I often think that a lot of arrogant behavior comes down to repressed fear and overcompensation:
At any rate, if you are thinking that you can fake your way out of it, that too won’t work.
What to do?
Answer: Show up for the work
Bryan Cranston’s advice is accurate. Just focus on your work and forget about the rest. When we are able to communicate our excellence without being self-conscious, we give people the best chance to see who we are and what we can do. When you let go of the absurd expectation that you can control the outcome of a situation simply by willing it to happen, you free up your brain to focus on the task at hand. It is important to know that thinking about yourself does not help. Thinking about what you are doing or about what you want people to hear, does help.
And what is your job in an interview, a pitch, or an important Q&A?
To communicate your value.
How do you do that?
- Recognize that you are dealing with another human being (or beings) who are completely unknowable to you. You have no control over them, nor any way to make them think or do what you want. Let that fantasy go the way of the Tooth Fairy.
- Remind yourself that you are here because you have something to offer. I’m going to assume that if you are at the interview, the pitch, or the Q&A it is because you have certain qualifications and talents. Live in the reality of those qualifications and talents, rather than try to convince others that they exist. The first is empowering, the second makes you dependent on the audience’s validation.
- Practice, practice, practice. Do all of your work beforehand and then let go. No matter how good you are at winging it, you are probably not that good. The gift of practice (when it is about the work and not about the outcome) is that it gives you the confidence to trust your skills and to know who you are. People who know themselves and trust themselves can say “I don’t know” with confidence. They can be vulnerable because they don’t feel like they will be found out. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They focus on their work and let the chips fall where they may.
All of this is hard because we want to believe that we are in charge of the outcomes. We want to believe the story that if we can control the outcome of a situation by our force of will. Bryan Cranston’s point in this interview is simply that this isn’t how life works.
The better we are at letting go of the expectation that we can control outcomes or that we can force people to see us a certain way, the better off we are at presenting our best selves.
The less intellectual we are about how we are doing and the more present we are with the people around us, the more in our bodies we get to be. People who are more in their bodies typically resonate a kind of calm, quiet presence that instills confidence and authority without having to be forced or controlling.
Deep breath and let yourself be awesome.