Authenticity: How to be genuine when you present

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How authentic are you to your audiences? Tom Bird & Jeremy Cassell, authors of The Leader’s Guide to Presenting, explore...

Critical to your success as a presenter is recognising that your audience will be judging you from the moment you stand in front of them. They cannot help it and they do not consciously know they are doing it but judging you they are.

An obvious question might be “what judgements are they making?” but 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 consciously aware) but we have to judge others based on their observable behaviours. This is a well-proven concept based on the ‘fundamental attribution error’.

As a presenter, your behaviours are driven by: your values – those things you hold as being important; your ego and wider personality; and 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 of how others might see and experience us and it is often a wake-up call.

In our work with leaders all over the world who want to improve their impact and influence on the audiences they present to, our first piece of advice, and often the most important and impactful, is to be authentic when you present.

Authenticity is about being genuine and, in the context of presenting, it is about being a bigger version of yourself when you present rather than being an actor playing a role.

What is it to be authentic as a presenter?

If you focus on trying to manage the impression an audience has of you when you present you are more likely to come across as insincere. It is important to recognise that being yourself when you present might require work on building your confidence in that situation, but confidence is a necessary state to be in if you are to be seen by the audience as both positively impactful and authentic.

The word authentic comes from the Greek word ‘authentikos’ which means ‘genuine’. When you present, it is important to know what you stand for so that this belief and knowledge comes through in your words and actions.

A lack of confidence will communicate itself to your audience through your body language and voice tone.

As no change is possible without first having self-awareness, a useful thing to do is to reflect on what it is that you do stand for as an individual (including your values), as a leader and as a presenter. Having considered these things consciously you can then ask yourself some specific questions:

  • Does the way that I present communicate the things that I believe and feel and that I want others to feel?

  • What do I need to do if it does not?

  • What else must I focus on to achieve my desired objective from presenting?

These questions provide a link between knowing what you stand for (what is ‘authentic’ for you) and how you can demonstrate authenticity in support of your presentation objective to the audience.

A lot of research has been carried out into what influences audiences positively, how to make an impactful start, how to structure information to engage and how to maximise the chance of an audience taking action through a strong finish.

All of these techniques and approaches are absolutely aligned with you being authentic as long as what you are presenting and asking of an audience is in keeping with your strongly held beliefs and values. If this alignment is in place then it is much more likely that any approaches you utilise, providing you have the required situational confidence, will be effective.

Situational confidence

Lacking situational confidence can get in the way of you being seen by an audience as authentic. Think of a time when you have seen a nervous presenter. It is likely that this created one of two reactions in you: you either felt empathy for the presenter or you switched off from what they were saying because they lacked the immediate credibility you needed in order to pay attention.

Neither of these reactions is helpful even though the presenter may have been authentic.

If you have the self-awareness to know consciously that you need to build confidence when you present there are a number of ideas and techniques that we teach which can help you help yourself.

On your journey towards this goal of presenting authentically, your best friend is good quality feedback.

Whilst you may be able to ‘get through’ a presentation without a good level of confidence, a lack of confidence will communicate itself to your audience through your body language and voice tone.

Ideally, you are looking to build a deep level of confidence whenever you present. To do this there is no alternative but to look for more opportunities to present: you develop a skill fastest by practising at the edge of discomfort. There are also a number of things that you can do to build surface confidence in the moment.

These include taking some deep breaths to ensure you breathe from your diaphragm, take the time to rehearse the presentation a couple of times all the way through so you are comfortable with both content and delivery and mentally visualise success.

Some practical steps

To be seen as authentic by your audience when you present, you need to:

  • Be very 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?

  • Manage your state to be as confident as possible: be aware of how you feel before a presentation and take steps to build your situational confidence. Some of this can be done in advance through effective preparation and mental rehearsal

  • Take time to structure the content to ensure the audience has all of the key information presented clearly. Not doing this will be an interference for them.

In summary, all presenters have the ability to be seen as being authentic when they present. Often, success is down to how much self-awareness you have about what you stand for and how your audience might be perceiving you. This is so that you can be flexible enough with your behaviours to proactively manage their perceptions until this all becomes completely natural and unconscious.

On your journey towards this goal of presenting authentically, your best friend is good quality feedback. Enlist the support of trusted colleagues to give you qualitative feedback on how you come across and 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.

Finally, it is important to recognise that all presenters are improving, providing they focus on raising their self-awareness. By focusing on the issue of authenticity you are getting to the very heart of what it is to be a great presenter.

Looking for more advice on how to improve you presentation skills? Learn more about the importance of taking a step back to review your presentations.

About Tom Bird

Tom Bird

A highly credible and experienced trainer and speaker with over 18 years experience. Tom divides his time between writing business books (including the best-selling 'Brilliant Selling' and the award winning 'Leader's Guide to Presenting' - both with Jeremy Cassell and training and speaking on the topics of sales, business development, influencing and effective presenting.

Tom works internationally 

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09th May 2018 11:26

Thanks, Tom.
That is a great article and I would not fault it. Discovering and practising authenticity is good for the presenter and also good for participants who also need to learn authenticity in a world that pays a lot of attention to appearances. Modelling authenticity is perhaps the most important contribution a presenter can make. Good call!

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