Written by: Donna Hutchinson
When I got serious about becoming a professional speaker about ten years ago I joined an organization to help me learn more about speaking. It was called CAPS which is the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. It was an exciting group of people to be around because they were all so motivating and inspiring not to mention they had great energy. I was thrilled to be learning from seasoned speakers. When I joined CAPS I felt very comfortable with who I was, my speaking topics and I was confident in my abilities. While I was there to learn and perfect the art and craft of speaking, I had a good sense of my skills.
We met several times a month and after a few meetings I started to feel less confident because there was so much talent amongst the group. I started to feel like I needed to change my approach, my topic, and my physical appearance just to fit in and conform to how I perceived a speaker should look, act and sound based on the people I was interacting with at the meetings.
A couple of months later I attended the granddaddy of all speakers’ conferences, the National Speakers Association conference where speakers from all over the world gather for three days. This is where someone like Anthony Robbins or Bill Clinton might do a keynote. It was the most intellectually stimulating environment I had ever been in and the most frightening because the level of expertise was off the charts. I came back from the conference feeling electrified and exhilarated.
I was so inspired I entered a CAPS speakers’ competition in which I had five minutes to wow the judges with my presentation. The winner would be sent to speak at the national conference representing the BC chapter and I was excited about the opportunity. I practiced for hours and hours and I was confident I would do well and even win. When the day arrived I gave my five minute speech and waited for the results. I didn’t win but what was, worse were the comments made by the judges. One judge said that the story I told was too personal and made her feel uncomfortable. She suggested I tone it down. Another judge said they didn’t feel like I was being authentic. One judge commented that my attire was too casual. I was devastated. All the time I took to prepare, rehearse and emulate the great speakers I saw at the conference and the result was I totally bombed.
My self-esteem took a nose dive right into the toilet after this experience. I felt horrible. I was behaving like some of the speakers I saw present at the international conference. I was talking like them, acting like them and in doing that I completely lost my self and what made me unique. I was so confused about who I thought I should be in order to be a speaker that I forgot what was really important which was being my authentic self.
My authentic self is quirky, vulnerable and uses hand gestures to express points. I speak with passion and I don’t hold back my thoughts or ideas. I’m a goof on stage and I like to joke around, I involve the audience to get people thinking, laughing and having a good time. I tell personal stories to illustrate points and sometimes tell people things they don’t necessarily want to hear but need to. This is who I am not only when I speak but when I interact with people in general.
I enjoy my genuine self and have learned since my CAPS experience that when you are just you, you build stronger and long lasting relationships with people. Brene Brown, Author of the Gifts of Imperfection says, “Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” You can’t feel seen, heard and valued if you are pretending to be someone you’re not.
Only you know who you truly are. When you are alone in your bedroom with no one to influence your behavior or your decisions, this is the true test of who you are. For most of us who we are can change depending on the situation we find ourselves in. We act differently at work, at school, at home, with our partners, family and friends. Even though we may not act the same in different situations that doesn’t mean we have to change who we are. We can still be authentic with people and not put on an act or be fake.
Besides, if you think about it, you’re probably not that good an actor. I certainly wasn’t. The judges saw right through me and called me on it. As devastating as that was it was a great lesson for me to have learned. Being something you are not, acting in a way that isn’t you or taking on a persona that doesn’t suit you is just a lie and people can tell a fake person from a mile away.
Being you might be a scary thought. I know it was with me. I kept thinking, what if people don’t like the “real” me. What if they judge or criticize me? What if I lose all my friends or my family? Well the truth is that if you haven’t been showing the real you, and the fake you is very different then some people might not get it. If you have true, supportive, authentic people in your life then they will understand and help you emerge. If you don’t then you might shed a bit of dead weight. What’s important is that you find and express your true self as this will not only deepen the connection you have with yourself but with others as well.
Since finding my true authentic self as a person it easily translated to the stage. What you find on stage in not so different then the person you find off stage. For me this feels good because I don’t have to pretend I’m someone I’m not. Here’s to being your authentic self.