Before we get started, let’s quickly establish that there is no point in trying to be awesome.
Especially since you already are.
The act of trying implies that you need to prove something, and that will interfere with your general awesomeness.
When we are preparing for a big interview or an important pitch, the most common thought is along the lines of “how can I convince them that what I have to offer is awesome?”
This is the same thing that an actor asks him/herself before every audition. We are all looking for the magic words, the secret method to convince those around us that what we are selling or that what we have to say is important and worthwhile.
(and to make sure that this never, ever happens)
The trouble with this thinking is that the focus of it is entirely on the other person. We are essentially setting up a dynamic where we will only believe that we are worthy if the other person believes it as well. It’s like trying to convince other people on the dance floor that you can really dance. It usually leads to awkward and self-conscious movements.
(or, you know, white people)
I once talked with a friend who was auditioning for a lot of film and television shows and asked him how he prepared and how it was going. He said that at first he spent a lot of time just wanting to be what he thought the casting directors wanted to see. He went in trying really hard to prove that he was talented and that he was exactly what they were looking for. The result was that he rarely had a call back (which means they didn’t like him for the part) and that he often felt embarrassed and uncomfortable during the audition.
When he stopped trying to seem good and just focused on being good (in other words, trusting that he already was awesome), he went in more naturally and wound up with more call backs and more opportunities. He also started to have fun with the process.
The key was in eliminating the “trying” and instead focusing on just being.
How do we do that?
1. Stop Watching Yourself
First, no matter what you think they think about you, you are most likely wrong. You don’t know. You can’t know. Why bother wasting your time? I have listened to people tell me in detail what they want from a presenter, then get totally excited when they see something they totally didn’t expect. The more authentic you are, the more present you are in an audition, interview, presentation, important meeting, the easier it is for the audience to appreciate what makes you special.
This was most famously true for the movie E.T. and the casting of the character Eliot, the young boy who finds and befriends the alien. They had originally cast the “perfect” young boy for the part. He was exactly what they thought they wanted, until they found out that he couldn’t connect with other kids. (I guess he wasn’t a very nice kid.) Then they brought in Henry Thomas, who was a huge fan of Indiana Jones and wanted the part really badly. (He dressed as Indiana Jones to the audition.) At first the interview didn’t go so well because he was really nervous. Then Spielberg got him in front of a camera and asked him to improvise a scene from the movie. Henry gave up trying to impress and just lived in the moment.
Here is the scene (if you haven’t seen it, watch it. You won’t be disappointed.)
2. Don’t Fret About What You Don’t Have
Nothing will kill your confidence and your presence more than focusing your energy on what you don’t have for the part. To borrow from another Hollywood legend, Dustin Hoffman became famous for his portrayal of Ben Braddock, the lost youth in the movie The Graduate. What is not always known is that the part was meant for someone like Robert Redford (blond hair, blue eyes), but Redford was “too old” and they couldn’t find anyone who fit the part. When they auditioned Dustin, he made this strange squeaking noise that seemed to imply extreme nervousness. Mike Nichols loved it and they wound up casting him against type. (Spoiler alert: Dustin looks nothing like Redford.)
If Dustin had focused on how he wasn’t the right look or that he needed to pass as someone else, he wouldn’t have had the courage to try something new in the audition and we would have missed out on this:
3. Don’t Apologize For Being Awesome
There is a famous story about how Barbra Streisand got her big break on Broadway. She was not your typically pretty, blond girl and many directors turned her away simply because of her looks. (Most of the time just saying basically, “you sing well, but you are ugly.”)
She arrived to the audition late, wearing shoes that didn’t match and chewing a mouthful of gum (which was a pretty big no-no). She asked for a stool on the stage after only singing a few bars, and then she stuck her gum on the bottom of the stool. Then she sang her song beautifully. The director was obviously furious and after she left asked someone to get the gum from under the stool, saying that he would never hire ugly women for his shows.
When they went to take the gum off the stool, they discovered that there was nothing there.
It was all an act. She had pretended to be a mess so that they would notice her. And they did. They cast her in Funny Girl and her career took off after that.
She was 18.
The lesson here is that Barbra knew that no one was going to take her seriously because of her looks, yet she also knew that she could sing like no one else. So, she decided to show them just how great an actress she was by playing so completely to their stereotype of her.
She decided to just be awesome, without any apology for not being the kind of awesome that they wanted.
When we let go of the idea that we have to be what people expect, and focus instead on being our true selves and doing what we know how to do, good things usually come. There is no guarantee that you will get the job or that you will impress the audience, but at least you will have been your authentic self.
At least they will get to see you being awesome.