(Editor's note: I've been thinking a lot about the common advice that's offered to speakers about humor -- "make it self-deprecating" -- and speakers' tendencies to use this type of joke too often, especially when they're starting a talk or presentation, the time when they should be establishing themselves as credible.
Then, Amber Naslund posted "Laugh at Yourself--But Take It Easy" on her Brass Tack Thinking blog, and realized she'd said it for me. With her permission, I'm reprinting the post in full--and if you don't have clients or customers, just substitute "audience" or "coworkers" to make this work for your situation. Amber is a business and communications strategist and director of community for Radian 6. Let me know what you think in the comments!)
Confidence is Sexy (and Reassuring)
We’ve almost overcorrected when it comes to being sure of ourselves and accepting confidence in others. Sure, being arrogant isn’t pleasant. But being confident and self-assured is attractive, and gives people faith in a business context that you can do the job you say you can do. If you’re hiring someone for a role or a consultative/advisory position, you want the reassurance that they can stand tall and deliver on their promises. If you’re cutting yourself off at the knees by undermining your own abilities, how do you expect your customers and clients to believe in you and take you seriously?
Selling It Too Well
After a while, if you’re tearing yourself down enough and focusing on your shortcomings (look, we all have them), you just might succeed in focusing others’ attention in the wrong place. Call yourself disorganized or inept one too many times, even in jest, and we wonder if we should be looking a little more closely if we’re going to do business with you. Oft-repeated “I’m just kidding”s start to sound like you’re not so kidding after all, and that you just might be overcompensating or trying hard to cover up for something. What do you want people to believe about you?
I’m the last proponent in the world of taking work (or ourselves) too seriously all the time. And I’m way in favor of having a healthy sense of humor, because it’s saved my soul on so many occasions. But there’s definitely a point where I find myself uncomfortable around those that are constantly making themselves the butt of every joke, and I’ve learned my own lessons about tearing myself down. So while humor at our own expense is critical, I think it (like anything else) needs to be practiced in moderation.
Have you experienced this? Do you notice it when others are doing it? Are you a perpetual self-deprecator, and do you stand in defense of that tactic?
Curious to know what you think.