Whether you’re talking about leadership, public speaking, presenting or culture, authenticity seems to be the buzzword of the day. In a society which sometimes seems almost numb from chasing success, security and our own sanity we have all become far more discerning when it comes to trusting and relating to other professionals.
How many of us really feel as though we can be authentic working in organisations where values are something reserved for for the company website and annual report.
Many years ago I worked for an organisation who espoused the following values:
The reason I still remember them is because they looked fantastic in brightly coloured posters all over the building but they were just words. They certainly weren’t behaviours demonstrated by the executive team but there they were in big, bold letters all over the building to remind everyone else to behave that way.
Today, as a presentation skills coach I work with some of the biggest and most successful brands in the world and I get really excited and energised when I read their inspirational values on their website. The reason being of course is that we then design the training experience with those values in mind. However, the moment you ask delegates to remind you what their own values are most people slither down in their seats, shuffles their feet and stare at their toes.
Those who don’t shy away from the question often look rather embarrassed.
It’s such a shame because often a great deal of thought goes into creating a company’s values and if many of them were ‘lived’ when professionals were presenting their ideas it would amazing.
I’m very happy that authenticity is a buzzword today because I believe it should be and should always be our key focus especially when presenting our ideas to others. That said, how do you do it, and is it really as simple as just being ‘yourself’. After all, if most of us behaved at work as we do at home we would spend a lot of time looking for jobs.
I don’t think telling someone to just ‘be yourself’ is the key to their authenticity when it comes to presenting or leading in business. I believe we need to be our very best self which we aren’t always encouraged and supported to explore.
In my experience authenticity revolves around the following qualities which we all have yet we are so busy following each other it becomes hard to live them:
Whilst many people think that just ‘being yourself’ is enough it seems to me that authenticity must begin with understanding who that ‘self’ really is. That means knowing as much as you can about who you are and what it is that makes you that way. That self-awareness extends but is not exclusive to:
- Your own personal values
- Your strengths and weakness
- Your limiting beliefs
- Your own ego
- Your personal impact on others
- Your hopes and aspirations
- Your fears and worries
- Who and what helped make you what you are today
When you work on your self-awareness it becomes much easier to stay calm, relaxed and focused and to be prepared to be a little vulnerable and let people see what ‘makes you tick’.
It’s also not very wise investing all of your energy in trying to understand your audience when you haven’t done your homework on yourself first.
I’m not talking about how much money you have, how big your home is or your status at work. I’m referring to the the only type of security that I believe really matters. That security comes from knowing and believing that you are no better or worse than any one else, you are simply you. It comes from knowing that everyone is working hard to do their best and to be the best they possibly can. It comes from knowing that whilst we are each unique we are paradoxically all the same. In that knowing we can relax in the awareness that no one is really trying to judge us or trip us up they simply need our help as we need theirs.
If you were to stop and reflect for a moment on the presentations you’ve attended that you’ve not only enjoyed the most but also taken the most from you will remember something important. The presenter made it all about you, not them. When you think of the best leaders you have personally worked with its exactly the same thing; you admire and respect them because they have done their best to help you. That is the essence of mindful leadership as well as mindful presenting.
In such a stressful world where many have lost their morals you notice it when someone shows you there’s.
In an article I wrote for smartbrief.com called ‘The 4 presentation attributes every leader needs,’ I referred to some brilliant leadership research by by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The research conducted over a 20-year span with more than 75,000 people across six continents found that the top 4 leadership characteristics we all want from our leaders are:
I believe that if you conducted a similar study asking people what the characteristics of an authentic presenter are I’m pretty sure you would find honesty in the top 4 also.
Many professionals believe that being professional means you have to operate entirely from your intellect and be deadly serious all of the time. Human beings are emotional creatures that’s how and why we live, to feel things.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if everything was linear, logical and intellectual. To be truly authentic you have to be able to express your feelings as well as simply feel them. It’s quite an easy task to understand most business presentations on an intellectual level but its an entirely different thing connecting with the presenter on an emotional one as well.
I associate emotions with authenticity when I see a presenter or speaker prepared to sincerely express the way they feel.
If you are a presenter or public speaker who tends to live in either the past or the future, you will find yourself doing your audience a major disservice. The only place they want you whilst you are speaking to them is right there in the room with them. To do that you have to be fully present, aware and in tune with them.
That isn’t always an easy task to achieve when we are so intent on getting results and being liked, but it is the most important. It is achieved by spending time practicing and getting used to being present in any situation, not just when your are presenting. If you are not really present with yourself when you are doing something as easy as taking a shower, eating a meal or having a conversation with a friend then how can you be present with an audience.
Authenticity to me is being totally with them in those moments because nothing else is important and nothing else matters.
The only reason most business presentations are so boring is because too many professionals are doing exactly what they have been told to do to ‘be authentic’ which is to ‘be yourself’. Unfortunately, for many ‘being yourself’ means being the way everyone else is because that’s low risk and it’s safe. It is far quicker and easier because it doesn’t require much thought or energy which is perfect because we are all so busy.
The trouble is that ‘self’ isn’t always our ‘real self’ and it certainly isn’t our ‘best self’. It is often what I describe as our ‘auto- pilot self’.
It becomes incredibly exciting when we recognise that we have exactly the same qualities at our disposal as those who we regard as authentic public speakers and presenters. All we need is to remind ourselves of those gifts we each have and have the courage to tune into and develop them.
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