Unpopular opinion here… it’s over-rated.
I hear/read a lot of stuff online saying that it’s critical to “be your authentic self” when you present (all the time, really, but I’m writing about presentations here). You should be, onstage, the person you are before and after your presentation, they say.
I’m not suggesting being seriously disingenuous in your presentations, but I’d like to explore some of the hype and burst the bubble a little bit. I should add that these are just my experience – YMMV!
Its an excuse for shoddy presentations
It might just be me, but I’ve seen more “authentic” presentations that are crap than good ones. Why? Because the presenter has used “be authentic” as a cover for “don’t bother working on it to make it good”. The audience gets what is essentially
- a first draft of the presentation at best
- a random stream of consciousness at worst.
Confusing a lack of structure (so the audience can’t follow the point) with, well… anything, is just dumb.
Being authentic doesn’t automatically mean your presentation will be an unstructured pile of unrehearsed garbage, but there seems to be a correlation.
I can see where the thinking comes from. “If I edit this and polish this it’s no long the real, raw me”. Possibly true (and possibly not) but unless the presentation is there for your benefit as a the presenter, suck it up. You’re there for the message and the audience.
Authentic presentations block new presenters
I teach a technique called “Be More Batman” for helping new presenters get on stage, using the power of an alter-ego as the presenter – by acting as though it’s ‘not them’ on stage. These two videos (originally one-take-wonders for LinkedIn) talk about the why and the how…
Let’s cut new presenters some slack! 😉
And private presenters, too?
I was asked to speak recently, (with no notice!) at an event where they suddenly had half an hour of empty time. I pulled a rabbit out of the hat and used some good content that:
- was relevant to the theme of the event
- built (roughly) on the previous speaker’s content
- was potentially very useful to the audience, given what they were there for.
Personally I think I did a cracking job, but I’m biased. What I didn’t do, however, was share personal stories about me and my family. Why? Because I was too busy delivering helpful, relevant, useful content, thank you very much. It was hugely appreciated by almost everyone but I did get taken to task by one person for “not being authentic”. They were quite stroppy about it.
What they meant by authentic was “personally exposing and vulnerable”. I explained to her (reasonably politely) that stories about my life and my family were private and non-of-the-business-of-a-bunch-of-strangers. We parted civilly but not with a meeting of minds.
I believe they were suffering from confusing authenticity with “apparent vulnerability”. I’m okay with that. My content was good and it was useful and I was helping out a friend for free, so I could sleep at night…
… but suppose I’d be a new, nervous, or less self-confident presenter…
… or a presenter who believed that they have to be seen to expose their souls or at least their families.
How many potentially good presenters has the world missed because of this perceived requirement? No idea – which is kinda the point.
Authenticity isn’t actually important anyway
…so long as you’re consistently in-authentic 😉 What matters more is congruence… that how you deliver matches how you say you’re going to appear. Sure, that’s a form of authenticity, so I’m arguing against myself a bit, but you know what I mean. The kind of “authentic” I’m rebelling against is the type that conflates it with personal, exposed and “vulnerable”.
Let’s be honest here. Suppose I go on stage and I’m what my audience needs. I might be faking it for all they know, but so long as I’m what they need, what’s the problem?
The risk, such as it is, comes from when/if I change and become something else. At this point the fact that I’ve been faking it becomes obvious and trust is eroded. That’s important. I get that. But that doesn’t mean it’s the inauthenticity that’s the problem – the problem is the inconsistency.
Yes, it’s probably easier to be consistent if you’re not faking whatever you do when you present, but it’s important to understand what you’re trying to do. If you can create a consistent, useful, reliable presentation style that gets the message over and works for you and your audience does it reallllly matter you’re “not authentic”?
Don’t rush the to barricades of outrage here, thinking that I’m advocating a “whatever it takes” attitude on stage. There are levels of inauthenticity that aren’t acceptable, for example:
- using someone else’s content as your own without accreditation
- using fake stories and pretending they’re real
- other forms of lie-ing both overt and (more sinisterly) covert!
But that’s not being inauthentic – that’s crossing the line into “fake”.
Are you with me?
Or do you believe that authenticity is the be-all and end-all? 😉