A is for Authenticity


When I first started a training company in public speaking, I began by asking everyone I knew for advice. As you might expect, the first question most people asked was about my USP. There are many training companies out there offering workshops in presenting and public speaking skills – did I have anything original to offer?

So I stressed that I’m interested in Authentic Public Speaking. I’m not interested in helping people develop their acting skills. The Speaking Adventure is about genuine, embodied confidence that is built from the inside out. It’s effective because it supports people to be real when they speak or present, and swiftly bypasses the more common ‘fake it till you make it’ approaches. Why fake it at all if it’s possible to step forwards with genuine confidence?

But this orientation towards authenticity has a wider significance and reflects a general change in attitude towards communication in business. Influenced by globalization and supporting technologies, we are entering an era of increased visibility, traceability and inter-relatedness. Never before have we been connected to so many people in such dense networks, and never before has so much of what we do, say and think been recorded and stored.

This makes us accountable in a new way, and is one of the factors contributing to a change in the way we communicate at work.

Dov Seidman (author of How: why how we do anything means everything) looks at the implications of these changes and argues:

“In a morally interdependent world, businesses must focus on how they engage with customers and employees if society as a whole is to prosper.”

In the big picture, it may not be enough to ‘fake it’ – whether you make it or not – because it is too easy to trace and then shout about the way individuals and organisations behave:

“To lead and thrive in this world, we must first embrace the notion that competitive advantage has shifted from what we do to how we do it. We are in the era of behavior. Anyone can easily peer into the innermost workings of companies and governments and evaluate how they really treat suppliers, employees, stakeholders and constituents; and then they can tweet or blog about it.” [1]

Seidman believes that as the ‘era of behaviour’ unfolds, leaders will need to pay more attention to how their people are doing business. Successful communication will become less about getting the business done, whatever the cost, and more about openness, authenticity, mutual respect and collaboration.

I hope he’s right. Because authenticity is important to me. In public speaking it’s the factor that engenders the most trust, and determines whether we open up and really pay attention to a speaker, or to some degree harden and distance ourselves from them.

My interest in public speaking is not just about helping people perform well. It’s about helping them develop confidence and trust in themselves – so they have the inner capacity to step forwards and be real with their audiences. It’s the quality of the relationship between speaker and listener, over and above any one thing they have to say, that determines the quality of the communication. And whether in a work or private context, the quality of our communication plays a significant role in our quality of life.

So I’ve learnt to describe The Speaking Adventure as a training company for Authentic Public Speaking. I feel it’s a flag worth waving.

[1] ‘Not Business as Usual‘, RSA Journal, Winter 2012