The Problem with Authenticity

Kennedy - Nixon - 1960 debate

With the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaigns reaching a fever pitch, candidates are teeing up to face off in a series of primary and general election debates. The pre-debate research, coaching, and rehearsals are intense. No candidate wants to repeat Nixon’s 1960 sweaty and fidgety performance, to hear “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy,” or to be roundly chastised as Gore was for his repeated, explosive sighing.

Amid preparation to avoid all potential performance missteps, candidates oftentimes struggle with how to convey authenticity on the debate stage before a nationwide audience. They’re not alone in this struggle.

We have all been told to “be yourself” when you present…but which self?  As you develop in your career, your “self” and expectations of you change along with it.  We are often caught in this struggle of how to show our personality while being professional and effective presenters.

During the opening minutes of a debate or presentation, the audience will make a lot of conclusions about the speaker; this is a great opportunity to “be yourself”.  Stretch yourself as you present but always work with what feels comfortable, and authentic, to you.

The following strategies to engage will help Presidential candidates and corporate presenters alike to grab the audience’s attention while being true to themselves:

  • Share an anecdote or a personal story – Just make sure it is relevant.
  • Humor – a great way to break the ice and to show your relaxed side; Reagan’s humor delivered him a debate win more than once. (Warning: if you aren’t funny… consider a different way to engage).
  • Ask a Question – This can quickly help you connect with an audience and bring them into your talk.
  • Start with what’s on the audience’s mind – Many audiences will appreciate you being direct. If you know there is a burning question in the minds of your audience (how will this major change affect me?) starting there will help you meet the needs of your audience.
  • Bottom line statement – Great way to show you are a no-nonsense professional who likes to get to the point.

If you’re game for further exploration on the topic of authenticity in leadership, click here to read The Authenticity Paradox, published by Harvard Business Review. The article’s messages are applicable to leaders in government and private sectors, leaders across the aisle, leaders new and seasoned.

You’ll have ample opportunity to evaluate candidate performances as debate season continues. While you ponder their positions, be sure to also keep an eye out for authenticity.

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