When people are scared they often leave things to the last moment. Somebody rang me up a couple of weeks ago and wanted immediate help – he had to speak to 500 people the following week. Let’s call him Simon; it’s not his real name. He wanted one to one training in the next two days. But I was already very busy and the only time I had was there and then on the phone. So I spoke to him for 20 minutes.
Amongst other things I said to Simon was “The audience wants you to be real they want to know who you are. They want to be able to trust you. Just be yourself”
But I also knew this to be frustrating advice. It’s not very helpful because it doesn’t tell you how to be real. I don’t think it’s easy; there isn’t an authenticity switch. We do need to think it through.
Which self should you be during the presentation? The self that says, “actually right now I’m constipated” or the self that says “I’d really rather be drinking right now” or “I’d rather be in jail than doing this”.
Probably not a good idea.
So who do we bring to the fore when we stand there with everyone’s eyes on us?
Caroline McHugh in her Ted speech talks about our 4 selves. (The notes in brackets are my stuff not Caroline’s)
a. The most visible you that you represent to the outside world. What do others think of us?
b.The "you", you wish to be. The you that you construct and that changes.
(In a recent survey by the future foundation only 16% agreed that ‘presenting an image true to self’ on social media would also be considered a good moral value. We curate how we want people to see is.)
c. What you think of you - the ego
(In my work I notice that this is where a lot of people get stuck. They are incredibly critical of themselves. This is where they stop themselves because they are not good enough)
d. The fundamental ever present unchanging you.
It’s hard to know which mix of the four (or more) selves we bring when we speak if we haven’t done some work with ourselves. So paradoxically we need to learn how to be ourselves and how to manage our authenticity. Not from Celeste Holm’s standpoint of “if you can fake honesty you’ve got it made."
But from an intention to be real, to connect with the audience, and to be passionate.
4 steps to speaking authentically
1. The basic one of being present or learning public being. We need to be able to stand in front of an audience and be ok with that. Getting comfortable just BEING there. We need to calm the storm down of nervousness and self-critical thinking. We need to be able to NOT get entangled with what do I think the audience is thinking of me. So we practise simple things like being looked at, breathing normally, connecting, pausing, speaking and get our brain back in front of the audience. We need to learn how to just BE in front of our audience. You can do that in a safe group but unfortunately for Simon not over the phone.
2. Speakers need to know what is important to them, what do they personally value, we need to develop self-knowledge. What were there turning points that got them here? Where do they come from?To collect and be able to tell stories about their lives and tell them from a place of service and humility rather than ego.
3. Vulnerability We need to accept the importance of being vulnerable when we speak. It’s a key skill for a speaker. To realize that vulnerability goes with the territory. Accepting that you are going to be there, to be fully seen. Allowing yourself to be passionate, being emotional, to say "I think this is important to me" when others might disagree.
4. Practice in small ways first. Play with these learnings as you build trust in yourself. Find ways to manage the levels of authenticity and what you reveal. I don’t mean rehearse, rehearse, rehearse but get experience of being the authentic you in conversations, small meetings and smaller presentations. Jumping from nothing to 500 is hard.
So I’m still saying “just be yourself”. But in order to do that, please, please. please give yourself a little more time to prepare than Simon had.