Friday, October 8, 2010

Speaking with Authentic Authenticity

How do you show YOUR Authenticity?

Earlier this week, I spoke about Audiences with X-Ray Eyes & Ears, and the dangers of speaking on a topic you don't believe in. One the pitfalls is coming across with a complete lack of Authenticity.

But what if you DO believe in what you are saying, and still come off as staged, slick, and salesy? Authenticity isn't always easy to achieve from the stage. Audiences often start from a mindset of 'prove it to me' or 'I'm not going to let them sell me', which may put you at a disadvantage before you utter your first words. While achieving Authenticity could be a book unto itself, here are a few key spots in your speeches to target for maximum impact:

1. Introduction - always write your own introduction, and keep it real, use humor, and avoid the laundry list of credentials. What can you say about yourself that will make you appear more accessible to the audience, and therefore more authentic? Be sure to give your introduction to your introducer a day or two early, and bring a printed copy in a large font for them to read from on the day of your presentation.

2. Apparel - what are you wearing? Are you decked out in a three piece suit in front of a group wearing jeans and tennis shoes? If you look like a salesman, you'll sound like a salesman. In the old days, suits and dresses were the norm, but today, business casual is often more effective. Dress in something that balances these two concepts: what do you feel comfortable speaking in, and what does the audience expect of you? Some speakers, such as Scott the Nametag Guy, make their clothing a part of their brand. Similarly, I doubt you'd ever see Brian Tracy speak in anything BUT a designer suit (just seconds after I typed that, I found Mr. Tracy in this video wearing a polo)!
Scott the Nametag Guy

3. Opening - when beginning a speech, its easy to not look at the audience as we 'rev up' into our content. Instead, start by making eye contact. Control your tone of voice at the beginning as well - while you want to grab their attention, being overly dramatic for more than a few seconds will put your audience on guard. Using humor in the first 15 to 30 seconds, either using self-deprecation or audience related material, will give your audience a reason to laugh and pop that bubble of tension at the beginning of your talk.

4. Stories - are your stories believable? Assuming all your stories are true (if they aren't, you've got an entirely different problem), are you telling them in such a way that makes them 'too perfect'? Or using the story in an obvious play to manipulate emotions, such as talking about death, cancer, or disability with too much schmaltz or onstage emotion? You can tell stories about all these subjects, but the key to authenticity is to tell them in a way to lead your audience to their emotional response, instead of telling them directly how they should feel, or creating a mood where they feel forced to show an emotional response to you, as opposed to feeling it within.

5. Selling - any time you're speaking, you're selling. How you do it will have a dramatic effect on how authentic you are to your audience. There are plenty of sales tricks speakers use, from seeding their presentation with references to mid-speech product giveaways to the famous "for this audience, today only, I'm cutting XX% off my regular price". I'm not going to suggest you shy away from any of them, simply that you use the ones you are comfortable with, and don't hit your audience out of the blue with your pitch. If you're giving a highly emotional talk, consider giving your introducer an 'Outroduction', which gives them an opportunity to offer your products to the audience, instead of you switching gears at the end of your speech.

6. Tone - your tone of voice is the single most powerful advantage or disadvantage you can have as a speaker. Do you sound condescending? Fake? Overly Dramatic? Monotone? Hyper? Mechanical? Unsure?
Your tone of voice can be the difference between simply a well-crafted speech and a well-received speech. How the audience hears you will color their opinion of your content. Film your practices (and watch them), get feedback from Toastmasters groups, and plant people in your audiences that you trust. When you watch yourself, what is your gut reaction? Are your test audiences satisfied with your veracity on stage?

Think you have them all mastered? Don't stop there. Keep looking for new stories, to keep your presentation fresh. Look for places you can link current circumstances for the audience with what you're saying. Test different approaches to selling, alternate openings and closings, and introductions. Learn more about your next audience than you know about your last one.

Your authenticity, combined with your passion for your topic, and desire to give something of value to the audience will lead both your and your listeners to the results you're looking for as you continue to Speak...and Deliver!

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, Rich. Authenticity is, as you say, really all about being yourself on stage. Another tip for your readers is to arrive at the speaking venue early and try to meet some of the people who will be in the audience. Not only does it put a few "friendly faces" in the crowd, but it lets them see that the person on the stage is the same one with whom they were speaking a few moments earlier.


    John Zimmer



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