At six feet tall, with a long, loping stride, I was a very good high-school runner. Which is why I felt pretty darn cocky as I strode up to the starting line on track and field day to compete in a sprinting match with several other girls from my school.
I was positioned next to my friend Brenda, who was at least six inches shorter than me. Brenda was nimble and athletic. We’d played basketball, kickball and other team sports together; but we’d never run side-by-side. And so, when the whistle blew and we exploded onto the track, I was taken by surprise by just how fast she was. Wanting to at least keep up with Brenda—if not beat her—I tried to match my legs and pacing to hers. This was a colossal mistake. Because for every step I took with my long legs, Brenda took two, her shorter legs pumping like a compact, racing machine. As we ran, I kept stealing glances at her, comparing our strides, or pace, our speed, our running style. The more I focused on Brenda, the less I focused on the path in front of me, and the more I threw off my pacing. Needless to say, Brenda beat me easily. As I stood at the end of the track, panting, my hands on my knees, I knew I had blown the race for one reason, and one reason alone: I’d stepped right into the comparison trap.
The comparison trap is one my presentation coaching clients are constantly falling into:
“My boss is such a great speaker,” they say, “how can I compete with that?”
“I don’t have as much speaking experience as the other guys on my team,” they mutter.
“My colleagues are so much more eloquent than I am,” they shrug.
When I hear comments like that, I remind my clients that their job is to bring who they are to the speaking platform, not to try to be more like someone else. I remind them that they need to focus on harnessing their unique skills, and staying focused on their intention (what they are there to do in service to their audience) and not on how good another speaker might be. And I remind them that where they on their path towards speaking mastery is exactly where they are supposed to be.
Beating ourselves up by comparing ourselves unfavorably with others serves no useful purpose. Better to strive towards bringing the best of yourself to your words and actions in the present moment.
What about you? Do you tend to fall into the comparison trap? Is your sense of worth as a speaker (and as a person) based on how you compare to someone else’s ability or success? Do you use other people’s abilities or gifts to make yourself feel badly about your own?
Comparing yourself to other speakers only serves to pull your focus and sabotage your stride—much like it did in my race with Brenda. Choose to stay clear of the comparison trap. Turn your eyes towards your worthy self and focus on embracing your unique gifts and abilities, so you can serve your audience to the best of your abilities.