What is your “best self”?

And why you want to avoid it

When the chips are down, when you’re the one standing in front of an audience or in front of a camera for broadcast (or worse for our eternal pal, YouTube) it’s easy to understand why you want to be you “best self.” I want to take a minute to convince you why focusing on being your “best-self” is a bad idea.

Here’s what I mean by “best-self.” Picture Ron Burgundy or Ted Baxter or the one-note, ultra-safe corporate presenter. These individuals feel they have found a short-cut to what they consider a powerful, resonant, well-controlled, unflappable presentation style: in short, their “best-self.” Every reaction is planned. Every interaction before the audience is “pre-cooked.” While this way of presenting information may feel “safe” to the presenter, it’s not very interesting to watch, and it’s not very genuine, not very honest. Here are some more drawbacks of what we’re calling “best-self.”

“Best-self” is false. It’s not really you. It’s a version of you that’s narrow and manufactured.

“Best-self” is a little lazy. It lets you get away with not truly thinking into what you’re saying. It prevents you from experiencing the best reasons for being a professional communicator.

“Best-self” becomes a habit that’s hard to break. Because it feels safe, swinging into this low-risk, low-reward presentation style becomes the solution for some speakers who are looking for a cure for nervousness. Eventually it feels like a natural solution even though nothing could be farther from the truth.

“Best-self” is static. For most people there’s only one “best-self.” It doesn’t change much. That’s the reason it doesn’t look much like a real person. In life, when we express ourselves, everything changes moment by moment in the service of the message and of your receiver’s clear understanding of precisely what you mean.

“Best-self” keeps your interests ahead of the audience’s interests. When we talk about “taking care of the audience,” it means doing everything that’s required to make the message intelligible and rich for the receiver of the message. The “best-self” model saps the richness of the message and replaces it with a pallid, predictable quality.

As an alternative to “best-self” opt for something we can call “real-self”

Instead of choosing one style of “serious” for every serious moment in your presentation…instead of portraying the reactions inherent in the presentation with a consistently deepened voice and a stoic one-size-fits-all non-expression in your face, loosen up a little and allow yourself some flexibility. There’s more than one flavor of “serious.” There are a thousand nuanced combinations of facial/vocal/body expression that can get the point across for that one specific message. We’re all experts at producing these varied expressive qualities when we’re one-on-one with another human being. We practice them every minute of every day. Try to maintain a self-perception that is in harmony with your own particular way of expressing a reaction to a concept. Let’s call it your “real-self.” If you do you’ll be seen as “understandable” with a message that is much clearer. You’ll be more likeable and most important, you’ll come across with honesty and professionalism.