“Be Authentic” is Bad Advice

authentic product quality label authenticity guaranteed red wax seal stamp

I’m not sure when the word authentic became the ubiquitous adjective it is today. I somehow suspect Oprah had something to do with it. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to read anything or listen to anyone speak about communication, leadership, presentation skills, interview skills, branding, or even relationships without the word authentic being spouted – repeatedly.

When social psychologist Amy Cuddy spoke about her new book Presence with author Susan Cain, they must have used the “a”-word a dozen times. Hearing the two of them use authentic with no clarification (though she does in her book) surprised me.

I’ve been feeling for some time that someone needs to start a conversation about the difference between being “your authentic self” and being “your effective self.” So here goes!

Let’s start with the Webster definition of authentic:

  1. worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact 
  2. conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features
  3. made or done the same way as an original
  4. not false or imitation:  real, actual
  5. true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

Most people, when they use or hear the phrase “be your authentic self,” think of definition #5.

However, there’s a tendency for people to take this too literally. Some people feel that it’s out of “character” for them to dress a certain way or wear their hair a certain way so they don’t. They can assert that it’s their “personality” to use a certain language or tone of voice, to not smile, to keep to themselves, or to push the envelope, regardless of whether it’s effective or not. This gives rise to thoughts and statements like – “I’m being authentic, it’s their problem if they don’t like it.”  But is it really their problem? When you don’t get the job you want, the promotion you may deserve, the work environment you cherish,  the client you need or the second date you crave, who suffers?

Let’s be honest, there are times when being yourself is not being your best.

The fact is, there are certain visual, vocal and verbal habits that are more positive, receptive, and engaging to the average human brain. To not recognize and take these norms into account is a gamble. Sometimes gamblers win but the odds are against them.

Thought leaders, branding experts, coaches, and the like do a disservice when we tell people just be “authentic,” without explaining what we mean by authentic.

First of all, I think of the word genuine. It IS VERY important for people and brands to be genuine. But if we must use the word authentic, I believe the more accurate definition is definition # 2.

This definition of authentic can mean “reproducing the essential features” of the “original” YOU but turning those features into a You 2.0. This way you can still feel authentic AND be more effective.

I was an incredibly shy child.  Even after pushing through my shyness to be an actress and to teach communication skills like I do now, a huge part of my personality is to not speak up and to avoid the spotlight.  But as a business owner I had to eventually ask myself. “How’s that working for you?” It wasn’t.

When you think of your authentic self, is it working for you? If not, identify the “essential features” that make up YOU, and highlight, polish, and reproduce those features. Then lose or mitigate any features that get in the way of your being effective to create You 2.0.  It doesn’t make you any less authentic. According to Webster’s definition #2, you are still conforming to the original.

An important caveat:  I was sharing my thoughts about this with a colleague. She told me she had a co-worker that she just couldn’t win over with her warm and friendly style which is very authentic to her. It’s important to realize that creating a You 2.0 doesn’t mean everybody will find your presentation or communication style effective. When you find people who don’t respond positively to You 2.0 you have two choices–accept that everyone is not going to like you OR if the relationship is an important one, learn the art of subtly adapting to match their style. Just like you wear different styles in different weather, you need slightly different styles with different people. But that’s a topic for another post. Stay tuned!

Please feel free to share your opinions; I know you have some. And if you want help on how to go from YOU to YOU 2.0, please contact me.

Ditch the Elevator Pitch and Embrace the Intro-mercial!

ditch the pitch woman & trash can

Words are powerful!

When you think of a pitch, you think of someone throwing something at you or selling something to you.

That’s why I coined the phrase Intro-mercial, a cross between an introduction and a commercial.  An Intro-mercial is short, concise description of yourself, your business, product, or service which will ENGAGE a listener and encourage them to take further action.

Five Ingredients for a Tempting Intro-mercial*

  1.  Engage – Get their attention and their interest. DON’T START WITH YOUR NAME
  2. Ask questions, “If you could design the perfect widget, what would it be like?” “Do you ever have trouble finding the perfect widget?”
  3.  State a statistic, “8 out of 10 people who buy widgets replace them within one year.”
  4.  Tell a story “I bought my first widget in college and ever since then I’ve imagined improving their quality.”
  5. Use a relevant quote: “To widget or not to widget, that is the question.”
  6. Inform – Tell them what problem you solve; what need you fill. AND/OR what your mission, goal. or objective is.
  7.  Assure – Tell them your experience/some results you have produced (examples, numbers).
  8.  Seduce  Tell them what’s in it for themHow can you improve people’s bottom line,  save them time, money, or both? AND/ OR How can you make their lives better, easier, more enjoyable, or more successful?
  9.  Invite (optional) – Tell them exactly what you’re looking for and/or need.

Click Here to watch Haiku Deck on Ditching Your Elevator Pitch!

Top Tips for Powerful Communication

  1.   60 to 80% of communication is nonverbal. Your visual and vocal message needs to be consistent with the words you are saying. If they are not, we tend to believe the visual and vocal over the verbal.
  2. It takes two seconds to make a first impression, so you have to grab someone’s attention fast!
  3.  The tone and inflection of your voice is responsible for 38% of your message. Habits like – Up speaking, Drop speaking, and Whatevering weakens your message and make you sound less than confident.
  4.   PAUSE.  Give space in between your powerful points so people have time to absorb.  You can pause for up to four seconds,
  5. Gesturing is essential! Forget that old rule about not moving around.  Gesturing keeps people involved and improves audience retention. Move your hands in upward vs. downward directions.

Remember to think about what’s in it for them. People take action based on logic and emotion. Emotional appeals tend to have the most impact. When trying to engage your listener, connect your appeal to an emotional need your listener may have and think about what you have to offer them. “Logic influences thinking, emotion influences decisions”

Choose words that have power, impact, and imagery and compel the listener to ask you for more. 12 Most Persuasive words according to a YALE study: You, Money, Save, New, Results, Help, Easy, Safety, Love, Proven, Guarantee, Discovery. 

Learn to Speak YOU! – There is no one-size-fits all way. Discover and polish your unique communication style, something I call ActorType*, and cultivate an intro-mercial that is authentic to that style. “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland

 To take my ActorType assessment quiz, go to my website: www.SpeakEtc.com