What does ‘Present with authenticity’ really mean?

In an increasingly sceptical world, authenticity is critical. Authenticity allows your audience to trust you as the presenter and trust that your content is real and valuable. Statistics show that only one third of us believe ‘most people’ can be trusted, so how do you deliver authenticity to every audience?

The word authentic comes from the Greek word ‘authentikos’ which means ‘genuine’. When you present, the key is knowing what you stand for so that this belief and knowledge comes through in your words and actions. What’s important to you as a leader?

Isn’t it easier to hide behind a ‘professional’ veneer?

I have seen dozens of business presentations which are far too professional. Too safe, too corporate, too boring, too self-indulgent. Too – no way to put this delicately – crap!! Often, I had no idea really of the person behind the mask, the professional veneer that it’s easy to adopt either through habit, fear or peer pressure.

Your audience will be judging you from the moment you stand up. What judgements are they making? We cannot know, we can only assume. The reality is that we judge ourselves based on our motivations and drivers (of which we are often not consciously aware) but we must judge others based on their observable behaviours. This is a well-proven concept called ‘The Fundamental Attribution Error’.

As a presenter, your behaviours are driven by your values, those things you hold as being important, your ego, your personality preferences, and by your beliefs, fears and aspirations. It’s a complex mix. Often it is only when we see ourselves back on video that we become aware that we have learned to present wearing ‘a mask’, and of how others might see and experience us, and it is often a wake-up call. Do this often and ask yourself – is this the me that I want to project to the wider world?

In my work, with leaders from all over the world, who want to improve their impact and influence their audiences, my first piece of advice is to present with authenticity. This is why I have a 2-hour coaching intake for leaders so that I can really get to know someone, before helping them with the way they present and communicate.

How can you be authentic if you’re nervous?

If you are focused on trying to control the impression an audience has of you when you present, you are more likely to come across as insincere. To be the best of yourself, you must be confident. That requires you to manage your state. I covered this in an earlier blog – Habit 3. Basically: breathe diaphragmatically, visualise success and get your body prepared through power poses.

Once you’re in a resourceful state, here are 10 ways to be authentic in any presentation:

  1. Be clear on your desired outcome and call to action: what, specifically, do you want the audience to know or do as a result of your presentation?
  2. Care about your audience rather than being dismissive or judgmental.
  3. Attune yourself to the environment and energy in the room.
  4. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. If you are passionate and driven, let that come out on stage. If you are calm and collected, then let the audience witness that.
  5. Divulge something about yourself that the audience doesn’t know.
  6. Tell personal stories about yourself that are linked to the main themes or share personal failures.
  7. Use gestures naturally – some are more effusive than others.
  8. Poke fun at yourself – self-deprecatory humour works well.
  9. Be honest when you have made a mistake or cannot answer a question.
  10. Be spontaneous – react to what is happening in the moment, utilise the opportunity. of answering a tough question or respond with humour when the IT fails.

In summary, all presenters can be authentic when they present. Enlist the support of trusted colleagues to give you qualitative feedback on the extent to which what the audience sees is a true expression of you. Ideally, have a presentation recorded on video so that you can experience your presentation from the perspective of your audience.

There is no-one size fits all to being an exceptional and authentic presenter. Be true to yourself, just with more skill. People connect with and buy into other people; your goal is to be authentic rather than professional. You need to be in the room, not in your head. Command the space. By focusing on being more authentic, you are getting to the very heart of what it is to be an exceptional presenter.

So, come on – I’m a coach. What are the key things you have taken from this blog and what are you going to do differently from now on?

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