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

Clever vs Stupid Word Scale
Self Deprecation

A lot of speakers start 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, however, really feel insecure and believe they are inadequate. They need to get in the first lick – to communicate their own failings before someone else can launch an attack.

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

When someone repeatedly puts himself down, he starts to operate on the principle that he’s not as successful or as smart as anyone else. At that point, 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.

depreciating thoughts
Typical Deprecating Thoughts

Some people aren’t even aware they’re putting themselves down on the grounds that it’s become second nature to them. On the off chance that 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 record yourself, and then keep an eye out for those self-deprecating remarks.

Record your side of telephone calls and listen afterward to become aware of how frequently you pass into off-putting remarks about yourself.

This negative behavior can influence your capacity 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 particularly inclined to talk in “up talk.” They are hesitant to offer a definitive statement and their voice and non-verbal communication reinforce that feeling.

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

Speak With Authority

If you think this sounds like you, then you need to learn to act with confidence if you want to get acknowledgment or a promotion. Why continually 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 congenial and demonstrates that you have the same challenges as everyone else.  Sharing something personal, however, isn’t equivalent to letting the audience in to see your faults.

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

  • Give yourself a pep talk. Make a list of your achievements and leadership qualities. Stop saying “I can’t” and say “I will” or “I can.”
  • Video record yourself. The next time you’re preparing a presentation, eliminate the self-deprecating remarks. Then tape yourself to see whether if any have slipped in.
  • No more “but’s.” You’ll know that you’re putting yourself down if you see yourself using the “but” word frequently. “I’m not an expert, but rather… “, or “I’d be glad to offer you guidance, but… ” or “I’ve attempted that, but… “
  • Surround yourself with positive people. If you have an abrasive boss who builds himself by tearing down others, then befriend positive people in your organization who respect you and your abilities.

Recognize that you’re not perfect nor is anyone else. That doesn’t negate all your experience, skills and achievements. Zero in on your positives and not the negatives. Keep in mind, none of us lives or dies by the judgements and expectations of others.

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.