Do you remember your reaction the first time you heard your voice on a tape recorder? What about when you first saw yourself on videotape?

I remember wondering whose voice that was I was listening to, because it certainly didn’t sound like the one I heard when I heard myself talk. And watching the videotape wasn’t much different—“Is that me?” I remember thinking. The person I heard on the audio and the one I saw on the screen was not exactly congruent with the image of myself I had in my head.

But taping yourself is probably one of the most simple and highly effective tools to help you make adjustments in your presentation, presence, and interpersonal style. Listening to and watching the nuances of how you are actually coming across is a sometimes painful but incredibly powerful development tool.

When I started participating in speech competitions in the Forensics Club in high school, my coach would record me practicing both on audio and videotapes and play them back to me. I would spend hours listening to the delivery of my speech before the competitions, and modifying some of the things I would have never noticed if I had not done so. Filler words. Not enough pauses. Distracting mannerisms. I would not have been able to win the competitions I did over the years if I had not listened to and actually seen myself doing these things. While a pretty painful process that fueled my own self-critic, those tapes provided a tremendous reality check for me. While I was indeed naturally a pretty good speaker and comfortable on stage by most people’s standards, the refinements are what pushed me to the winning edge.

Flash forward to my professional career. Early on when I began conducting training and facilitating meetings, I would have every session I did videotaped for the purpose of my own development. While sometimes painful to watch myself, I’d see the unconscious mannerisms or distracting expressions I’d sometimes exhibit. Making the unconscious conscious allowed me to actually see what others saw, rather than what I was seeing from my limited lens inside myself. Looking at myself from the outside was very powerful.

When I started one-on-one coaching, the same thing applied. Taping conversations with clients and listening to them is probably the single most effective developmental exercise for someone who wants to maximize their impact as a coach. Again—while I would sometimes cringe at what I heard—and felt like what I didn’t know didn’t hurt me—making myself listen and make adjustments had made all the difference in my coaching effectiveness. To this day it is still painful to do, but allows me to continue to evolve my coaching impact.

So as a tool to maximize your overall impact as a leader, I’d like to invite you to do these things in the next 30 days:

  • Have someone videotape you giving your next presentation or briefing.
  • Tape a conference call that you are leading.
  • Have someone videotape your next team meeting, or just record it on audio if it is by telephone.

Spend some time watching and listening to the recordings, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I like about what I see or hear? What am I doing well?
  • How are others responding to me?
  • What is the tone I am setting?
  • What behaviors do I exhibit that are taking away from my desired presence or message?
  • What two or three adjustments can I make in my delivery, tone, and presence that will increase my effectiveness?

Then actually make those adjustments in your next presentation and team meeting, and remind yourself to keep making them.  In a few months, try taping yourself again, and see if you notice the differences from your first set of tapes.

I can’t tell you the reported epiphanies and monumental shifts people I have worked with over the years have had doing this simple exercise. While all report feeling discomfort, self-criticism, and self-conscious, everyone agrees that this exercise is probably one of the most powerful self-development tools they have ever employed. It takes you outside of yourself and your ego and allows you to look at yourself from afar.

If you put aside your ego, realize that you always can improve no matter how good you already are, and see it as something that ultimately benefits your overall impact with others—my hunch is that your experience doing this will be transformative