“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 Who, other than Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, could have so aptly and eloquently coined such a wise and witty expression? None, I would say. Surely, Wilde knew of what he spoke, for he paid the huge price of imprisonment for having been himself. Yet he never betrayed his words.

 I love this expression and hear myself using it a lot when I teach communication classes. It says it all when it comes to communicating, as far as I’m concerned. And everyone understands immediately what I mean when I quote it. Matters not if I’m working with a CFO of a globalized company preparing his team for negotiations, or a single mom getting ready for a re-entry job interview, communication always comes back to the same one truth:

You are your message.

Not your words.

Not your voice.

Nor your body language.

 Rather, you – a composite you. Your use of language, tone of voice, non-verbal cues, your face and eyes, your attitude: these are the mechanisms that drive every message you communicate when you speak.

 Whether you are aware of it or not, all of you is what your audience sees, hears, and hence, believes. Or not.

 We all telegraph messages constantly when we speak – especially emotional messages.  Our every thought translates simultaneously to an emotion. With our 80 or so facial muscles we can communicate more than 7,000 expressions just from the neck up. Can you imagine?

 Clearly, it is best, first, to know yourself well and then, secondly, to stick to what you know best: You!

 Besides, Wilde is right: Everyone else is already taken. And really, who wants to be everyone else? I think we all just want to be ourselves and be heard and respected. I think that’s the point of communicating.

 Media mogul Roger Ailes says that  good communication begins with good conversation skills. If you can converse well, then  it’s  not a quantum leap to transfer those skills to your public speaking, negotiating, interviewing, teaching, even parenting – whatever communicating you need to accomplish.

When we are in conversation, we tend to be more relaxed and to speak most naturally and honestly. How are your conversation skills? Whether they are weak or strong, it’s a good idea to keep-up  your practice of this age-old art. Not only does conversing provide you regular practise at impromptu speaking , but it also develops great listening skills.

Ailes also notes that today’s audiences determine within the first 7 seconds of your spoken communication if you will be heard or not – based solely on the constant transmission of signals you emit in that brief space of time. It’s a good idea, then,  to practise in front of a mirror and study how your 80 facial muscles move in and out of those 7,000 expressions.

 So – what are you supposed to do in 7 seconds of “be heard or not” time?

How can you increase your chances of being heard?

Well, it’s a good idea to remember to:

  • Imagine you are having a conversation – use that tone of voice, feel that warmth of feeling inside.
  • Put the feelings and emotions you want your message to convey in your eyes: Say it with your eyes.
  • Use your eyes to connect to your audience.
  • Know how your face moves and communicates when you speak.
  • Soften your voice, lower the volume (especially when using a microphone), and vary your speed and inflection. Match your tone of voice to the intention of your words.
  • And forget about your body!!! That’s the last thing to worry about. Focus on being yourself and on delivering your message and, I promise, your body will automatically follow your words and will trace your intention throughout your message.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery but it will win you no points in your communication style. Just be yourself. After all, it’s you we’re listening to.

 Go well and speak from the heart.

  1. This is really important on so many levels. It’s not just good advice for how to be a better communicator but also for how to be a better person. In the act of being true to yourself and being yourself it doesn’t matter whether your communicating in business, or on the speakers platform, or in your daily life– it leads to good things. Be yourself everybody else is taken is my new mantra.

    • Who can argue with Mr. Wilde? He also said:
      “Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

      Ahh – the importance of being earnest!

  2. This is a wonderful article with a message I want to convey well to my little girl. I remember, as do we all, wishing that I were someone else, that I had someone else’s life. It was only when I decided to be the best “me” I could be that I found satisfaction, enjoyment and happiness. Thanks for this reminder, Paddy.

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