To See Ourselves as Others See Us


O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
to see oursels as others see us

~From "To a Louse" by Robert Burns

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When I coach speakers, I begin by telling them about their strengths.  Occasionally, a client will tell me, “I don’t need to have my ego stroked!  Let’s get to the important stuff.”  I respond: “Your strengths are important.”

The Gift of Seeing Ourselves as Others See Us

Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote his poem “To a Louse” (quoted above) after seeing a louse crawling on the bonnet of a fashionably dressed lady.  She was infected with that scourge of the poor: head lice!  In the poem, Burns expresses (in Scottish dialect) his wish that God had granted us the power to see ourselves as others see us. 


A mirror provides some opportunity for us to understand our visual appearance, but the reflection we see is not exactly "as others see us."  The reflection is two-dimensional, reversed left to right, and lasts for us only in the moment we maintain eye contact.  To understand the impression we make when we speak, we can watch ourselves on videotape or listen to our recorded voices … but we don’t really understand the whole of the impression we’re making on others.  After all, we perceive ourselves through our own preconceptions; we already know what we intend to say. 


As we seek to improve our public speaking, there is no tool analogous to a mirror; nothing we can privately consult to understand the impression we make on others.  We have to ask for feedback.  That feedback should not be exclusively critical. 

Why Focus on a Speaker's Strengths First?

A thoughtful analysis of the speaker’s strengths is a key part of the coaching interaction.  In enumerating a speaker’s strengths, I seek to accomplish three things. 

  • First, to establish myself as true coach: someone who is in the speaker's corner and who wants the speaker to succeed. 
  • Second, to point out what the speaker is doing right – to identify the skills that he or she can build upon. 
  • Third, to give context to the substantive suggestions I have for improving the presentation.


Help Your Team Build on Its Strengths

When I work with a team that is preparing to give an important presentation, I ask them to listen to one another's presentations carefully and give each other feedback using the form provided here. 


If your team is getting ready for an important presentation, good luck!  Let me know if I can help in any way and please feel free to use my Colleague Feedback Form. 



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