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The Art of Authenticity

Why it Matters for Your Public Speaking

The Myth of Being Fake

I’m working with a room full of ninth grade students. I ask them the following questions:

“Who feels like they have too much homework? Who gets stressed out by their teachers? Who feels like they are busy all the time?”

Hands go up throughout the room. Then I ask them this:

“Who’s tired of all the fake people?”

All the hands go up. People are standing out of their seats. It’s like all the sudden I’ve gone from school guest speaker to pastor at a charismatic church.

Isn’t it crazy to think that fifteen and fourteen year olds are already worn out by the “fake people”?

But what is a fake person? If I told you to envision someone who is fake, what would they look like?

There’s a lot of stereotypes we could fall back on: the funny one always trying to be the center of attention. The manipulative one who is always pitting one friend against another. The petty one who makes mountains out of mole hills.

But here lies the question: is that person actually fake?

Think about it. When we talk about being fake, we are typically talking about behaviors and how someone doesn’t act like their true self. We’re talking about how that person communicates and engage with other people around them.

Therefore my question: if the person is displaying behaviors that are not like their true self, are they now fake? Are the summation of all their life experiences, successes, scars and struggles now fake and invalidated?

No. But they are limited.

We all have a set of dispositions and behaviors that are natural from us. When we try and restrict those behaviors - or manufacture ones that don’t exist for us naturally - that takes a lot of effort. It tires us out. It’s a clunky fit.

I’m not suggesting you can’t become someone you are not - to state that would invalidate the entire self help industry. But if you are trying to change in ways that are not conducive to the construction of your personal character, I am suggesting that you may be making your work in life harder than it needs to be.

This is especially true in public speaking.

Smile, Act Perfect, Don’t Let Them Find out Your Human

I remember I was practicing a business pitch once. I was 21, and pitching to an ex-McKinsey consultant. She was coaching me at the time. She pulled me aside after I had ran through my pitch and told me to keep my elbows glued to my ribcage. I moved my arms around too much, she said, and looked like a used cars salesman.

Ouch.

She hasn’t been the only one to try and give me advice like that. If you look at the majority of business public speaking trainers, they push people toward the moderate middle: be persuasive, but not forceful. Convincing, but not overbearing. Powerful, but pleasant. It’s like they want you to deliver the grace of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” while simultaneously delivering the climax of Tchaikovsky's “1812 Overture”.

In other words, the advice is to act perfect.

But here’s the kicker: we know ‘fake’ people when we see them. The ninth graders can see it as clear as day - they’re more effective than sniffer dogs. If you try and follow all the rules while you are public speaking and push yourself to the moderate middle, you are limiting yourself.

To try to be a perfect public speaker is 1) impossible and 2) rejecting the best asset you possess: your humanity.

Dealing With Your Humanity

Sometimes when I speak, I get lost in philosophical conjectures. I move my hands around too much. I get too excited and overwhelm the crowd. These are weaknesses when I speak, and I understand that they sometimes hinder me.

But I’m okay with having flop days. I’m okay with messing up. I’m okay with having moments where I botch it. Because in accepting those and not shirking away from my own identity, I embrace my best strengths. My passion. My wit. My eloquence. These are things that would be stifled if I couldn’t be comfortable being myself on stage.

Not everyone will like you when you speak. Being yourself can be polarizing. Some people may laugh at you. Some may disagree with your style. But I would rather turn off 90 percent of the people in the room and move 10 percent to action than walk out with 100 percent of people just feeling pleasant.

Are you limiting yourself with ‘fakeness’ when you get on stage? What’s one trait you could bring out to unleash your true self?


Dealing with your humanity is messy, but in the pursuit of authenticity in public speaking, it’s a thousand times better than putting your humanity on the shelf to gather dust.

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