On Authenticity

This week, I had the opportunity to participate in a personal branding seminar hosted by ULI New York’s Women’s Leadership Initiative at the law firm Goulston & Storrs. It was a terrific event populated by energetic, smart, focused professionals.
The beginning icebreaker was to name two women whose personal brands have impressed us in some way, and the exact qualities we attribute to each person. The responses ranged from first ladies to authors and businesswomen to royalty, family members and everything in between. When the adjectives were put up on the flip chart, not surprisingly the word “authentic” popped up more than a few times.

authentic stamp
One of my favorite words to use in a presentation to communications leaders and senior executives is authenticity. Whether you’re doing a media interview, addressing your employees, meeting a community, cultivating new customers or rallying your business partners, authenticity is what makes it really happen. When we see a plastic, talking head droning on about facts, figures and successes it doesn’t necessarily inspire us to action. But when that same leader tells a joke, pokes fun at him or herself, or tells a poignant story, well … that’s when the audience engages and magic happens.
Years ago as a new professional I recall sitting up late at night before new business pitches, rehearsing my talking points attached to every single bullet point that I was assigned. I was often the junior-most person in the room and of course, wanting to do right by my team and my bosses and our prospective new clients. Did it work? Probably. Was it memorable? Doubt it. After years of teaching a class, pitching new business and introducing speakers at events, I’ve had enough practice to learn that a bigger smile, a small joke, and even sometimes, admitting you’re out of your element works wonders to engage the room.
The challenge as communicators is always to find the balance between rehearsing and scripting enough to be effective, and allowing that authenticity to shine through. How much is too much? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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