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George Ezra, Johnson and Trump – authenticity or manipulation?

I’ve just been accepted as a speaker at the Open University’s TEDx event in November. Exciting news. The theme is ‘Imagine what’s next’.

No doubt many will be looking at technological innovation and the amazing opportunities which lie ahead. The angle of my talk is fear – a concern that while our heads are turned by technology, we are forgetting how to talk to each other and how to listen.

At the heart of good communication is authenticity. In my training room we agree that we’re not learning to ‘act’ or to copy someone else’s style. To be effective and sustainable, it must be about remaining true to our natural style (with some polishing up around the edges). And it must be about strong, relevant, genuine content, not just a slick performance.

On stage at the Latitude festival last weekend, George Ezra delighted his audience not just with his voice and his lyrics but with his enthusiasm and almost child like delight at being on stage. I don’t know whether he or we were more excited to be there! Many commented on his authenticity and how infectious it was.

A few days on began the Johnson era (now running alongside the reign of Trump), and the word ‘authentic’ is troubling me.

Is there such a thing as inauthentic authenticity? I fear so. In both cases, these men have proved skilled at resonating with their target audiences. They excel at telling them what they WANT to hear, not what they NEED to hear, using channels and language which will reach them on an emotional level.

But this is what I teach people to do!!!!!!!!

Aaaagh – am I training people to manipulate, obfuscate, mislead and dissemble?

Or am I on the right side of the fine line which separates persuasion from manipulation?

Writ large on that fine line surely is the word truthful.

It’s smart and right to adapt our style to our audience; to be one particular version of ourselves according to the people we’re communicating with. But it must be a truthful version of us, not a version of someone else – a different persona.

Otherwise it’s no more than smoke and mirrors. Just like the deceptive online dating profile which promises youth, intellect and a GSOH but delivers a middle aged, flabby bore.

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