5 Ways To Be Authentic While Speaking Publicly
Most speakers, with enough practice, can overcome the common pitfalls of a bad presentation: using too many “ums” and “ahs,” using too many notes, not moving around the stage, figuring out what to do with your arms, etc. But even the most experienced speakers struggle with something that keeps their presenting from being truly great: authenticity.
Authenticity is what connects you to the audience; it’s what gets them to really pay attention and engage with your material. And it’s what makes your audience believe you in the first place. However, being authentic on stage is extremely challenging because it requires you to be vulnerable. Authenticity requires you to be yourself. Which is terrifying! It’s hard enough to be yourself in one-on-one situations, much less with an audience.
Too many speakers are trying very hard to be the next Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins, when instead we should be focusing on being the best version of ourselves. When we are trying to be someone else, our audience can see right through it, and the impression they walk away with is that you're a fraud...even if you're not.
How can you develop your authenticity and take your presenting to the next level? Here are 5 tips, gathered from my years of teaching public speaking, as well as from top speakers including Toastmasters International World Champion Dwayne Smith, amongst others:
Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time!
Get as much time as possible in front of any given audience. The more you are on stage, the more comfortable you will be up there, and the more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to be yourself. Even if the nerves never fully go away, being increasingly comfortable onstage will transcend the jitters.
Take Inventory of Who You Are
What do you already know about your authentic self? Do you have a witty sense of humor? A commanding use of unusual adjectives? An ability to explain something challenging in a new and accessible way? Knowing what you already do well, and what makes you, you, will help craft your presentations authentically.
Ask Trusted Loved Ones
Everyone has at least a couple of close friends or family members who know the real you. Ask them what characteristics do you posses that make you unique. Often our perception of ourselves is different than what others see. And trying to be someone we’re not, when others can see the truth, is the quickest way to come across as fake and inauthentic.
This is extremely hard; I don’t know anyone who likes watching or listening to a recording of themselves. But this is what also separates good speakers from great speakers. Being able to see the places where you didn’t feel comfortable, or where you didn’t behave in a way that felt right, can help you improve those areas of your speaking, and thus become more authentic.
Pause. Breathe. Relax.
I know, I know, so much easier said than done! Letting our nerves get the best of us is a common pitfall for all public speakers. When we’re nervous we tense up, start to rush, or say things we didn’t mean to. All of those reactions interfere with our ability to be authentic with our audience. But breathing deeply, and taking a moment to gather yourself, calms your limbic system and gets you to loosen up, and yes, allows you to be yourself!
Becoming an authentic speaker is almost counter-intuitive; you're working to become a lessperfect speaker! But you will find that your effectively and audience connection greatly increase when you work towards authenticity, rather than polished (and often unbelievable) perfection.