When I am coaching new, emerging, or executive leaders on ways to improve their presentation and public speaking skills, I use the ACP Presence Model – which uses the qualities of authenticity, confidence, and purpose to help speakers better understand, cultivate, and strengthen their leadership presence.
One of the qualities that successful leaders and public speakers have in common is authenticity, which I define as the degree to which you know yourself and show yourself to others. It seems straightforward – speakers and leaders who let the audience see their real selves are more believable, and therefore more trustworthy.
So, why can it be so challenging to be authentic?
Authenticity involves both self-awareness and expressing your true self through your behavior. It requires reflection on your own values, strengths and weaknesses, and personal connection to the subject matter at hand – and then the courage to share them with others. In other words – you can’t fake authenticity. It can be hard, messy, and emotional, but when it’s done right it has a memorable, lasting effect on audiences.
Authenticity is about letting people see the real you, and that includes what makes you a little different. Human beings are paradoxical: we want to blend in enough to satisfy our desire for acceptance, but we also want to be dissimilar enough to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the group. Psychologists called this need uniqueness. Your uniqueness can be a powerful connector because it reminds others that it’s okay to be different.
Here are some ways to cultivate authenticity to strengthen your own leadership presence, better connect with your audience, and deliver memorable presentations:
Values – When you know what you stand for and what’s important to you, your character shines through and audiences perceive your authenticity. How can you link your presentation subject matter with your principles? How can you live your values as a leader every day?
Personality – Audiences respond better to real people who share their real feelings and opinions. Don’t be afraid to incorporate your likes, dislikes, and sense of humor – many people in your audience can probably relate. Let your personality shine through.
Uniqueness – Stand out by identifying and owning characteristics that make you different. They can be ones you have no control over (like your name or a physical feature) or of your own choosing (a skill, feature, or hobby you have that’s unusual). These traits are often the source of a degree of pain and insecurity, but if you can learn to embrace them, then you can become a powerful role model for tolerance and inclusion.
Life Story – The deepest layer of authenticity is the exploration and ownership of your life’s journey – all the experiences that have led you to where you are today – whether that’s speaking at a graduation or retirement ceremony, making a pitch to a new client, or leading a small team on a new project. While deeply personal, those lessons are also universal and sharing them helps others empathize with you.