Thursday, July 25, 2013

Arrogance vs. Confidence - What Are You Showing From the Stage?

Thinking you can have that many letters, for starters...

There is often a fine line between arrogance and confidence, a line that can be easily crossed without intent, and even without knowledge. This is true in real life, and true, certainly, in speaking.
Speakers actually end up running closer to the line than the average person on a more regular basis. It takes a large amount of confidence just to get up in front of others and espouse our thoughts, ideas, and information to others, much less do it in a memorable, effective way. Confidence that can easily drift into, or be mistaken for, Arrogance.

Arrogance isn't a universal perception, either. I've seen speakers that I consider arrogant that the people next to me, or friends from the audience I've talked to afterwards, simply adored. 'That's just his schtick' was essentially the defense - which also means that speaker has created enough equity either in the past or during the actual presentation for what I perceived as arrogance to be seen as confidence, or style, by others. In fact, I had no real problem with the content of this speaker. It was quite valuable. But for me, the style was aggravating, self-serving, and grandstanding. My perception, colored by my experiences and preferences.

I asked some folks on facebook & twitter what they thought made a speaker Arrogant, and I received a myriad of answers. One of which involved the use of big words like 'myriad'...

36 Ways to Be Arrogant on Stage

1. The speaker is always the hero - Derick Dickens
2. A speaker who preaches: 'You should do this' - Jeffrey Brown, Attie Ringo
3. Berating your audience (something I thought the afore-mentioned speaker did) - VJ Sleight
4. When the personality is bigger than the story (ex: Donald Trump) - David Hollingsworth
5. Being 'holier than thou' - Renee Groom-Romano
6. Talking about what they 'did' instead of what they learned - Leslie Jacobsson Keating, Ann Ang
7. Overuse of first-person pronouns - Richard Daugherty
8. Being spammed with sales both during and after the event - Kevin Doyle
9. Not adapting a speech to the audience - Rich Hopkins (not me - another Rich Hopkins!)
10. Showing off physically while demeaning the audience as lazy - Bronwyn Roberts
11. Speakers who are their own gurus - Heather Adair Hawkins
12. Doesn't show they care for the audience - Colin Emerson
13. Making the audience stand and give a standing ovation, then saying 'now they (the speaker) have to earn it - Michelle Mazur
14. Making jokes at the expense of a group of other people - Natalie Chance Palmer
15. Condescension - 'You don't know this yet, but I will enlighten you' - Tony Cortes
16. Attacking people for technical problems during the speech - Daren Wride
17. Assuming the audience doesn't know the topic well - Peggy Carr
18. Unwilling to fully connect with the audience - Thomas Lindaman
19. Insincerity - Terry Canfield
20. Not respecting the audience's time - David A. Berkowitz
21. Believing their own press - Felicia Slattery
22. Believing their knowledge makes them superior - Lloyd Smith
23. Self-righteous tone of voice - Joyce Feustel
24. Taking themselves too seriously - Cybele Antonow
25. The 'Hard Sell' - Bob Jensen
26. Lack of eye contact - LaMont D. Snarr
27. Ending sentences with 'mmm-kay' or 'right?' to gain agreement - Syrena Glade
28. Physically pacing the stage without purpose - LaMont D. Snarr
29. Sweeping statements - 'Everyone does' or 'Everyone knows' - Dawna Bate
30. Finger pointing in a preaching/shaming manner - Chantal Heurtelou Coutard
31. Using foul language or sexual references - Maureen Zappala
32. Leaning against the lecturn on one elbow - Iain Wayfarer Gorry
33. Assumption of knowledge/not explaining jargon - Jennifer Haston
34. Spread out leg stance with arms crossed - Tracie TK O'Geary
35. Pretending that what worked for them will work for all - @icpchad (on Twitter)
36. And, my personal favorite show of arrogance - laughing at yourself, incessantly, onstage.

Bwah-ha-ha-ha! ROFL! - oh wait, I'm laughing at my own blog...

Wow. That's a lot of actions and attitudes to avoid. And many of them are perception-based - what one person views as arrogance another might view as fear (lack of eye contact) or 'part of the job' (the 'hardsell' and 'spammy follow-ups). Some may be culturally based (finger pointing, stance) or simply preferentially based (swearing, a preaching style). Others are character-based, such as how you react in a negative situation (tech failure).

Most seem to be steeped in one simple concept - caring more about yourself and your message than your audience. That's really the heart of arrogance, isn't it?

Arrogance is a danger we all face as speakers, and we won't be able to avoid members of our audience occasionally feeling that we are arrogant, even if we are extremely humble and authentic as a general rule. And those are, by the way, good general rules to follow.

The speaker I felt was arrogant may not be an arrogant human being, it may have been my perception. I have certainly been considered arrogant on occasion, and with due cause every now and again. Have you ever crossed the line, ever so slightly? Were you called on the carpet for it?

The lessons here seem clear - keep your heart with the audience at all times in every way. Even if you have a schtick, like a Larry Winget, who is often outright rude to his audiences, EARN the right by overtly caring first. While you can't control what each audience member thinks, or understand and tailor yourself to the experiences and, perhaps, their insecurities coloring the reception of your message and delivery, you CAN control your intention, your content, and your delivery style.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt - "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care". And if you don't care, you shouldn't be on stage.
When have you experienced an arrogant speaker? Share your stories below!

And the go and be confident while you Speak...& Deliver!


  1. Rich,
    As always a great topic. In business/sales this often happens as well. One of my favorite business motivators is Jeffrey Gitomer. In his book, “The Little Teal Book of Trust”, Gitomer talks about the two things a person must do prior to gaining trust. First is to be “likable.” Second is to be “believable.” Once these two steps are accomplished then you can gain the confidence of a buyer. I would insert the word “listener” for “buyer” because so often what a speaker is doing is persuading an audience to accept their word or point of view. If these steps are not taken, a speaker can appear to be arrogant and I think this is where the "rub" happens.

  2. Interestingly, Gitomer can come off as gruff himself - part of his East Coast charm, I suppose. Be likable and believable - excellent groundwork for trust. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Great post, Rich.

    It's so important to be self-aware of how we present to others--both on stage, and in the meet and greet. I think many speakers strive for confidence and float into arrogance without realizing it. Your post is a good self-check for anyone who spends time on stage.


  4. Thanks for stopping by Kimberly - keep Building Champions!

  5. Hi, Rich. I think there's a lot of truth in these points, but as you said, it can be perception. Also, with some people, the overall presentation speaks more to whether they're confident or arrogant than any one thing. Someone who does one or two of those things on your list I may still find confident; someone who does half of them I may find very arrogant, especially if they sell their own products during their speaking time.



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