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Authenticity – is it wrong to stand up straight when we’re giving a presentation?

Someone remarked yesterday that I’m lucky not to have been affected by the pandemic.

“Why do you assume that?” I queried.

“Because you always seem so cheerful” came the reply.

“That’s because I’m putting on a brave face!!!!!!!!! Presenting an optimistic façade rather than revealing the sadness I feel and the tears I shed for all the pain and disappointment in the world”.

“Oh, but you never show that”.

I wasn’t sure if this last comment was made with an undertone of admiration or criticism. In any case, I was slightly surprised at their lack of empathy and understanding. But it made me reflect on the issues of authenticity and vulnerability. In a work context too.

These are topics which come up in every training session where the focus is on confidence and gravitas and presence. My approach is to make very small changes to the way we prepare, structure, rehearse, speak, stand, behave – to exude confidence and to thereby, over time, grow that ‘muscle’.

Confidence is, after all, not a mystical force field – it’s something we can build ourselves through practical, simple steps.

But it’s vital that, alongside these tweaks, we remain authentic. It’s simply not possible or desirable to copy or pretend to be someone else. People will see through it and it will feel false.

It’s about finding a confident/powerful/impactful/assertive (delete as appropriate) version of ourselves to sit next to all the other versions that already exist. How many versions do you have? Are you a sister/brother, son/daughter, parent, grandparent, friend, partner, colleague, leader, team member, cat owner? You’re probably many of these. Each one is slightly different. But all are genuinely you.

I’m a passionate believer in the impact our external behaviours have on our inner persona. Take a look at the work of William James, the ‘father of American psychology’ and one of his ‘disciples’ Amy Cuddy, to explore this.

Simply put, it’s why the act of singing makes us feel happy.

And let’s not forget the impact our external behaviours and aura have on those around us.

“Sprouts again – oh lovely.  The way you cook them is really special. Thank you so much.”

When I’m working with children, we call this ‘leading with the positive’. Even where sprouts are involved.

On the issue of vulnerability, Brene Brown is a great advocate of its power, where appropriate, in a corporate context. https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en

Some of the senior people I’ve worked with have used it to great effect to narrow the gap between them and more junior people. For example, revealing how nervous they felt on their first day in a new job can break down barriers and put the grads at their ease. It’s to be used with care though, lest it makes those we are leading/influencing feel insecure.

So, authenticity is good, vulnerability can be good too. In the right context.

I had a little therapeutic weep in the supermarket car park this morning (at the site of a toddler wearing reindeer antlers), and I’m now ready to radiate positivity and fortitude and resilience again. I suspect many will be veering between brave faces and hearts on sleeves this week.

Here’s to all of us, however we’re getting through these most difficult times.  And here’s to brighter days ahead.

Happy Christmas.


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