Don’t Let ‘Authenticity’ Hold You Back
by Andrea Pacini —
When I start working with clients to help them improve their presentations they often push back and resist change.
I encourage business leaders to use a mix of logic and emotion, tell stories, include audience interactions and use eye contact and gestures.
A common concern is that the changes I suggest feel ‘fake’ and ‘inauthentic’. People say things like, ‘this is not me’ and ‘I don’t want to act like someone I’m not’.
But it’s a mistake to think that something which doesn’t come naturally is somehow not authentic.
Resisting change and arguing that it’s not authentic is an excuse. When we’re pushed outside our comfort zones it’s a defence mechanism to say that it doesn’t feel ‘authentic’. It’s a way to get ourselves off the hook and to avoid having to do anything which is beyond our normal boundaries.
However, if you want to become a better presenter, there’s no other way to do it. Positive change requires us to step outside our safe zone一and that’s hard to do.
In this article I’m going to explain why you need to stop worrying about being authentic一and why implementing changes is authentic if you have the right underlying motives.
Don’t use authenticity as an excuse
There are many times in our day-to-day lives where we wouldn’t choose to be authentic.
Thankfully, we’ve evolved to eat with forks and use toilets, neither of which we used to do if we go far enough back. Would it be more authentic to regress to that way of doing things?
If you privately think your friend’s new baby isn’t the best looking child in the world, would you tell them in order to be authentic? Of course not. You would say the baby is beautiful.
When learning the piano, would you resist your teacher’s advice to sit up straight to play with more power because it didn’t feel authentic? No. As with any other area of life, you would accept that you need to embrace new techniques in order to become better at the instrument.
The changes might be hard, uncomfortable and unnatural, but you would do it.
It’s the same with learning to be a better presenter. If you want to become a more credible, confident and convincing presenter, you need to worry less about authenticity and be willing to follow a new approach.
Dr. Michael F. Steger, Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University said: “You be you—but remember that “you” is an imperfect work in progress.”
Of course you want to be original and to be yourself. You don’t want to be a copy of anybody else. But ‘you’ is a work in progress. So you need to work to become the best authentic version of yourself.
In Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, Herminia Ibarra coined the term ‘authenticity paradox’. She describes the difficult choice between being yourself (doing what comes naturally to you) and doing what it takes to be effective.
If you want to achieve results often it requires doing things that don’t come naturally.
In the context of business presentations there are good reasons to strive beyond what feels comfortable. The aim is to persuade an audience to follow your call to action, so you can achieve your goals.
These might include:
- Growing a business
- Making sales
- Leading a team
- Raising funding
- Boosting influence, credibility and reputation
If your motivation for working on your presentation skills is because you want to help the people you seek to serve—and realise your goals—then by making changes, you are being authentic.
True authenticity has nothing to do with your behaviour, it’s the motivation behind the behaviour.
For example, if I pay you a compliment, it could be sincere or I could be doing it out of courtesy. In other words, the same compliment could be authentic or inauthentic, depending on the motivation behind it. The same applies to any other behaviour, including your decision to take your presentation skills to a higher level.
Instead of thinking about authenticity, focus on being professional and empathetic to your audience. Empathy is the key—the empathy to imagine what your audience would expect to hear, what their needs would be and what story would resonate with them.
Three ways to stay true to yourself
- Think values, not feelings
Stop concerning yourself so much with how you feel and focus on what you value.
The best presenters will include emotion in presentations, make eye contact and use hand movements which connect with their message. Doing any of that for the first time when you are not used to it can feel unnatural and uncomfortable.
But you value your audience and value the results you’ll see from a great presentation. So your behaviour, and your presentation style, should be driven by that.
If you’re having a conversation with a friend and you feel bored, you would still not interrupt because you value the friendship.
It’s the same with an audience. Put their needs above yours.
- Start with self-awareness
There’s no authenticity without self-awareness. Take a good look at yourself and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. You must build on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses to become the best authentic version of yourself.
You’ll have to work on areas that are uncomfortable and unnatural if you want to become more effective.
Authenticity cannot be used as an excuse for not trying to get better.
- Don’t hold yourself back
There’s no static ‘you’. We’re constantly changing, learning and developing. You’re not the same person you were five, ten or twenty years ago.
In terms of your presentation skills, you’ll have improved since you first stood in front of people to deliver a message.
As you develop, you’re still the same person. You’re still authentic. You just have better presentation skills. So, don’t limit yourself to the ‘authentic’ person you used to be. Otherwise, you’ll hold yourself back.
Simon Sinek said that “Authenticity is more than speaking. Authenticity is also about doing. Every decision we make says something about who we are.”
True authenticity is not about passively accepting who you are, it’s about making proactive decisions to become better, whilst remaining true to yourself.
Making the necessary changes to become better at presenting is not easy. It will push you outside your comfort zone. Some people resist this by claiming the new techniques and behaviours are somehow ‘inauthentic’.
That’s an excuse.
To realise your business goals you’ll have to push through the discomfort.
True authenticity has nothing to do with how you’ve always acted. We’re evolving all the time. If you want to improve, then learning and adopting new behaviours is truly authentic.
Authenticity is a journey—a journey of constant growth toward the best presenter you can become.
If this article has helped you please get in touch to let me know. If you feel any colleagues or friends might also benefit from reading it, feel free to share it.
If you want to improve your presentation skills further try out the Confident Presenter Scorecard.
After answering a series of simple yes/no questions you’ll get an instant score plus suggestions for improvement. It takes less than 3 minutes. Once you complete the scorecard, you’ll receive a free pdf copy of our best-selling book Business Presentation Revolution.