Can You Take Self-Deprecation Too Far When You’re Presenting?

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Self Deprecation

A lot of speakers start off their presentations or speeches with a self-deprecating remark to get the audience on their side. It’s not uncommon that a powerful leader with established credentials wants to put the audience at ease so he uses self-deprecation to help the audience feel more comfortable. Sometimes he’ll start with a funny story about himself.

On the other hand . . .

Too many speakers, though, actually feel insecure and believe they are inadequate. They want to get in the first lick – to express their own failings before someone else can launch an attack.

Even executives with proven abilities grow insecure if they have a boss who constantly demeans them in front of colleagues. We were training a group of executives recently and one was using self-deprecating humor which was backfiring. It turned out that her CEO was constantly cutting her down to size, so she lost confidence in herself.

When someone repeatedly puts himself down, he begins to operate on the principle that he’s not as successful or as smart as anyone else. Then, before he realizes it, he’s in the habit of counting all the reasons he’s not good enough before he even starts to speak.


Typical Deprecating Thoughts

Some people aren’t even aware they’re putting themselves down because it’s become second nature to them. If you feel you’re slipping into this negative space, ask a trusted advisor or friend to listen to your talk and give you feedback. You can’t stop the behavior unless you hear what you’re saying, so videotape yourself, and then watch out for those self-deprecating remarks.

Audiotape your end of phone calls and listen afterward to become aware of how many times you lapse into off-putting remarks about yourself.

This negative behavior can affect your ability to get ahead at work.

People who put themselves down then wonder why they don’t get the respect they deserve. They’re passed over for promotions and not perceived as a leader. Women are especially prone to speak in “up talk.” They are afraid to make a definitive statement and their voice and body language reinforce that feeling.

Instead of a forceful sentence they end with a question mark in their voices: “I led in sales this month?” This signals they are not sure about themselves.

Speak With Authority

If you think this sounds like you, then you need learn to act with confidence if you want to get recognition or a promotion. Why constantly put yourself down? If you’ve been invited to speak at a company event or industry conference, it’s because you are knowledgeable about your subject. Otherwise, why would they have asked you?

Sharing a personal experience makes you more approachable and demonstrates you have the same challenges as everyone else.  Sharing something personal, though, is not the same as letting the audience in to see your faults.

If you find yourself making too many self-deprecating remarks, try these remedies:

  • Give yourself a pep talk. Make a list of your accomplishments and leadership qualities. Stop saying “I can’t” and say “I will” or “I can.”
  • Videotape yourself. The next time you’re preparing a presentation, eliminate the self-deprecating remarks. Then videotape yourself to see if any have slipped in.
  • No more “but’s.” You’ll know you’re putting yourself down if you see yourself using the “but” word frequently.   “I’m not an expert, but…”, or “I’d be happy to give you advice, but…” or “I’ve tried that, but…”
  • Surround yourself with positive people. If you have an abrasive boss who builds himself up by tearing down other people, then make friends with positive people in your organization who respect you and your abilities.

Recognize that you’re not perfect and neither is anyone else. That does not negate all your experience, skills and accomplishments. Focus on your positives and not the negatives. Remember, none of us lives or dies by the judgments and expectations of others.

1 comment to Can You Take Self-Deprecation Too Far When You’re Presenting?

  • Fascinating! I didn’t know that many people do that. But I can certainly understand the need to put their audience at ease so that they won’t be intimidated by their reputation and/or expertise. Nicely done!

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