It pays to look into mirrors

I was recently delivering a Powerful Presentations skills training course to a number of client facing people in a financial services organisation. One of the delegates was a lady who I’ll call Mary (not her real name).

Towards the end of the second morning of the training, she asked me a question when no one else was in the room. She said that she sometimes suffers from psoriasis which, when it flares up, looks unsightly and to use her words, ‘red, sore, blotchy and all over my face and arms’. She also said that it makes her feel that everyone is trying not to look at it but they are and this adds to her overall nervousness about presenting (the elephant in the room). When the virtual mirror of life is held up, it does reflect back what we think and not what the audience thinks. This is when we mind read and it is an unhelpful trait to the speaker.

I thought for a moment and I was reminded about the times that I used to hate looking at myself in the mirror or in photographs. It wasn’t because I had a skin condition but because I had conditioned myself that I was not ‘pretty’ and therefore not worth looking at.  I was also bullied at school because I wore glasses, as I was shortsighted. It was, after all, the seventies so standard issue NHS glasses with milk-bottle thickness lenses were the norm because nothing else was available.

Fast forward and now I enjoy having my photograph taken at all sorts of occasions - photographs and pictures can paint a thousand words. So what changed? I was at a training event myself a couple of years ago where the trainer said ‘you are all beautiful’ to a room full of women. I piped up and said that I don’t feel beautiful and that it wasn’t a phrase that I would use to describe myself. The trainer, Natalie, asked me why I felt this way and I explained that I had been bullied and that I didn’t think that I was ‘pretty’. She said to me again you are beautiful and to go and stand in front of a mirror and to say to myself I am beautiful. She suggested that all the ladies in the room should do that to help to change their mind-set and to realise that all of us are beautiful in lots of ways both externally and internally. Which is exactly what I did and do so regularly now.

Back to Mary - I said to her, you are beautiful as is every woman. Stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself that you are, especially before every presentation and even more so if the psoriasis has flared up. People want you to hear what you have to say and it is not about how you look but about how you make an emotional connection with people. People do not always remember what you say but they do remember how you made them feel. All women are beautiful, and we need to be kinder to ourselves instead of being so critical.

Sophie Edmond