Authenticity in Public Speaking

Posted by nancymueller on Friday, September 27th, 2013
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Public Speaking

I like research professor Brené Brown’s definition of authenticity:

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

In the context of public speaking, participants in my programs typically describe authentic speakers as “real,” “warm” and “comfortable in their own skin.” Indeed, most of us would agree that authenticity is an admirable trait of powerful presenters.

Just be careful not to fall into one of these three traps in the name of authenticity:

1) Telling the Audience How Nervous You Are

The media reports public speaking as the #1 fear among most people. Therefore, it’s likely that your listeners understand that you may be nervous, too. But remember that your audience came to hear your message, not to be distracted by your own uneasiness about speaking.

2) Winging It

As the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini said: “Thorough preparation is the key to success, not only in music, but in any chosen field of endeavor.” Speaking authentically does not mean that preparation and practice are unnecessary. In fact, quite the opposite.

3) Dumping On Your Audience

Storytelling is a time-honored tradition of sharing lessons learned through our experiences. But be sure that you have worked through the emotional impact of those experiences on your own life before sharing with your listeners. Your audience wants to hear how you overcame your challenges so they can discover how to work through their own.

So how can a speaker come across as authentic to the audience? Here are three suggestions:

1) Be Willing to Improvise

Practice, but don’t memorize, your presentation. Memorization sets up a barrier between you and you listeners because memorized speech is unnatural, the opposite of conversational speech. Plus, you run the risk of forgetting what you had intended to say and getting thrown off track as a result. Improvisation allows you to pick up on the energy of the group and move in a different direction as needed.

2) Share Personal Stories

Authentic speakers are willing to reveal their own vulnerability through storytelling. When you share events and experiences that have happened to you personally, it helps build your credibility and connection with the audience. Your listeners can relate more easily when you do not present yourself as the hero in the story but rather the person who struggled before overcoming adversity.

3) Speak in a Natural Voice

Public Speaker

Audiences are looking for ways to connect with you as the speaker. That connection is broken when speakers come across as “fake,” “unbelievable,” or “too perfect,” often by speaking in an unnatural voice. By speaking conversationally, though with projection and enhanced energy, you help build trust and rapport with your listeners.

The next time you speak, whether on stage or around a conference table, let the real you come forward.

What does authentic speaking mean to you? Please share your comments with us here.

 

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2 responses to “Authenticity in Public Speaking”

  1. Tele says:

    This is great, Nancy; thank you. It’s so interesting to observe our evolution as public speakers! In my case, going from being a near-mute child terrified of even raising my hand in class, to these days, when I increasingly find myself behind a microphone. Feeling authentic with the audience, being willing to trust them (and my connection to the material) goes a long way towards feeling more confident.

    I’m especially fascinated by the relationship between writing and publicly sharing one’s work. So many of us write because we don’t feel verbally skilled, and what’s amazing on the page doesn’t always translate to hook and hold a live audience.

    I took a great workshop from “Cowboy Poet” Ron McDaniel a couple years ago on improving our performing skills. The Daily Astorian did a nice (and short!) video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zh-o8c1byMM

    Thanks again, Nancy – you share such good stuff!

    • nancymueller says:

      Thanks for your kind comments, Tele. It is so interesting to observe our evolution as public speakers, I agree! When I first started out as a speaker, I was sure that everyone in the audience could hear my heart beating. But as soon as I began focusing on the audience and their needs, my self-consciousness took a backseat. I hope to make it to one of your readings soon!

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