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5 Performance Traps That Extinguish Your Voice… and How to Overcome Them

Free your voice and overcome the barriers that prevent you from sharing your core message.

7
minute read
Published on
January 23, 2024
Katrina Foe performing her speech on stage at Heroic.

Set your voice free and overcome the barriers that prevent you from sharing your core message. Your audiences are waiting for you.

The most common missing element in the thousands of presentations and performances I’ve witnessed is the speaker’s voice.

But embracing your voice isn’t about using assertive body language, stage tricks, or elocution tips. Those supposed hacks are like a fad diet that helps you lose a few pounds, but doesn’t lead to long term success. The benefits will fade, and pretty soon you’ll revert to old habits that weaken and crush your voice.

Finding your voice is a journey of self discovery where you decide what roles you want to play and what dreams you want to live. It’s embracing your own specific, unique strengths and acknowledging your weaknesses as a performer. It’s the first step in mastering the inner game of standing out.

To set your voice free and become an honest performer, you need to examine your self-image and biases about performing, assess your mental filters, and chip away at your false persona.

Each one of us has a core message, a way of seeing the world, and a powerful idea to share. To make it easier to find your voice and share that message with more confidence, it’s helpful to overcome the all-too-common performance traps that can crush your voice. 

It won’t happen overnight, but as you work on overcoming these performance barriers, you’ll be better prepared to make the most of the spotlight moments of your life. You’ll speak with enthusiasm and authority as you use your voice in meetings, interviews, sales presentations, wedding toasts, on big stages, and dozens of other situations that call on you to carry the day.

Here are five specific behaviors and mindset shifts that open the way to freeing your voice and finding a sense of self-esteem and self-possession as a performer. 

Avoid the Critic’s Mindset (at all costs!)

The performer creates something new, something that works better than what currently exists, to delight, to surprise, to enthrall, to move, and to inspire. The critic picks apart and tears something down, pointing out the negative and focusing on everything and anything that’s wrong based purely on personal opinion.

The act of tearing something down without rebuilding something better in its place traps us in the past rather than freeing us to experience the rewards of the future.

At one point or another, we’ve all had a critic’s mindset. It’s easy to pick out a mistake in an otherwise solid performance. Most of us don’t want to criticize others, because we know how awful it is to receive negative feedback.  And most of us to some degree have a fear of criticism.  Yet, many of us fall into the trap of criticizing others.

Each time you pick away at someone else’s work, without realizing it, you are increasing the likelihood that you’ll do the same to yours. Because ironically, how we talk about others is also how we talk to ourselves. If you get in the habit of taking shots at competitors, venting about the boss, or gossiping, you may just derail your own agenda. 

Developing a performer’s mindset is crucial to finding your true voice.

When we judge others we diminish ourselves. We end up playing smaller rather than bigger. The energy it takes to compare and tear down someone else’s work is lost for more productive endeavors—such as getting ready for a big speech, pitch or interview.

Anyone can tear something down. It’s much harder—and more meaningful—to build something better instead. So, you choose …  are you going to focus on performing at your best or spend your time attempting to best other people? 

Escape the Perfection Trap

Another essential step towards fully embracing your role as a performer is letting go of perfectionism.

When you are in the spotlight, dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of eyes are fixed on you, looking for answers. But that doesn’t mean you must have all the answers. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to present and deliver compelling content in a speech, or effectively lead a brainstorming session, or even get chosen for a leadership position. 

You don’t have to be perfect, you just need to be able to deliver on your promise.

Trusting your voice means you rehearse and perform to achieve your goals, communicate a big idea, and get results.  It doesn’t mean you set out (even subconsciously) to “prove” you’re better than other speakers, or to make the audience like you. 

If you make your goals unrealistically perfectionist, you’ll start playing small and diminishing your voice and presence. 

Set goals that will make you stretch, grow, and improve, but ones that are realistic. Do everything you can to eliminate negative perfectionist self-talk. Allow yourself to make mistakes, and allow yourself to grow. It’s much easier to embrace your true voice when you give yourself a safe space to do so.

Whether it’s Your History or Someone Else’s, Let it Go.

Don’t be trapped by history.  The past doesn’t have to predict whether or not you will have success. So many people talk themselves out of their dreams because they’ve had let downs in the past. Sometimes we let someone else’s past affect our present―and our future. Just because others who came before you didn’t find success doesn’t mean you won’t.

Frederick Banting, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his invention of insulin, said in his later years that if had been more familiar with the long history of unsuccessful attempts to isolate the extract, he might never have undertaken the research that was ultimately successful.

I feel similarly about writing books. If I have too many other voices or points of view in my head, I start questioning mine or I write in response to what others are saying.  Neither of these situations are how I’d like to spend my time. And I certainly don’t want to censor myself and not write about a concept that is central to my methodology because someone else has already addressed it.

Of course, it’s important to read and pay attention to the world around you. But, when it comes time to create, I trust my voice. 

Here’s the problem with fixating on other people’s histories of failed expectations: it makes you think and play small. The notion that being realistic or practical means settling for less is a small idea that robs you of your voice.  It is realistic and practical for you to do big things. Never again being trapped by your history or anyone else’s.

Replace a Prideful Heart with One Filled With Love

Negative thoughts, a pessimistic perspective, and a mindset centered on the past can diminish yourvoice and form a huge barrier to achieving a powerful and effective performance. Unrealistic perfectionism, a critical outlook, and self-comparisons―all that negativity makes you weak.

Your voice is strong when it is founded on generosity, and dare I say… love.

How would your performance change if you were to embrace your audience with love? 

Just imagine how you would make the people around you feel if you offered a humble heart filled with love to everyone you encountered. 

I suggest trying to love every member of your audience, even if they’re thumbing their nose at you. That’s the responsibility of the performer. When you’re given the stage or any kind of platform like the head of table at Thanksgiving dinner, it’s an honor. Call me corny but that’s the way I see it.

When you speak powerfully, your audience will respect you even before you stand (or sit) in front of them. But you must love them when you do, because that’s when you are the strongest.

You are Worthy of the Moment

Even the most experienced professional speakers can get caught in the perfection trap of wondering if they’re worthy of the moment.

It’s easy to get distracted by questions such as: what do I have to say that hasn’t already been said?  What can I do that hasn’t already been done?  Why should I be appearing here rather than someone else?

Self-doubt can enter your mind whether you’ve been on the speaking circuit for years or if you’re just starting out. It can happen when you’re getting ready to take a step towards a big goal, or start an ambitious new project.

Finding your true voice can help you realize that none of those questions are as important as how you say what you say and the personal journey that you bring with them.

Your Audiences Need Your True Voice

Even if you’re saying something that’s already been said, it’s your perspective and approach that matters. What you say doesn’t have to be unique. It’s the way you see the world and the way you say it that matters. It doesn’t have to be different to make a difference.

You have the power to move audiences to think in new ways, to do things they would never have done before, and to be better people.

Don’t let these five performance barriers stop you from sharing the message that your audiences need to hear. Start performing on all the stages of your life―because there are people who need to be inspired, motivated, and taught by your unique message and point of view. 

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