We all know what inauthentic communication looks and sounds like. Whether it’s a politician from an elite background trying to mimic a Northern working class accent to “get on the voters’ level”, or a CEO announcing redundancies using empathetic words when its clear from her body language she couldn’t care less, we are generally pretty bad at feigning to be something that we are not.
But why is authentic communication so hard? And worst of all, how do some of us end up sounding accidentally inauthentic when in fact we really do care?
In this blog we’ll explore 5 top tools for how to sound more authentic when you speak.
What does it mean to communicate authentically?
Authenticity = the connection between what you are saying, how you are saying it, and what you believe.
It is about showing your listener your true self through your words, voice and body language. Here at London Speech Workshop, one of our central tools is a simple equation which we call ACE. Authenticity + Connection = Engagement. The idea is simple. If the speaker is authentic and they have a connection with their listener, then as a result, you get engagement.
Take the following as an interesting comparison:
Her majesty The Queen has mastered public speaking delivery. She pauses, looks up, hits every vowel, consonant, diphthong and syllable with infallible technical precision, but rarely writes her own speeches and never speaks her mind.
The late Steve Jobs, by contrast, wasn’t known for being a great public speaker, but he was fanatical about his designs and could not help but show his passion for this when he spoke. When he announced new products, we couldn’t help but mirror his contagious excitement for a slightly thinner iPhone. He was authentic.
Authenticity is about connecting with your story
Authenticity is about making the listener see what it is that you see and feel what you feel. In many ways, authentic communication is something that can come automatically: often if you are speaking about a topic you are passionate about, your body will engage, your eyes will brighten and your voice will be powered by your breath.
TED talks are another great resource for observing authentic speakers and how they hook their audience’s attention with the power of their story.
However, sometimes nerves or performance anxiety can get in the way of our authentic intuited responses. On these occasions, here are some tips to draw out powerful authentic communication when it may not come quite so easily.
Tip 1: Know your own values
It’s much more compelling for your audience to listen when they can feel, see and connect with you as a human being. And who we are is guided by what we believe - our values. Say that you value compassion, individuality, enthusiasm and hard-work. Because these values are part of who you are, you can more easily identify them in things you’re going to talk about.
When preparing to speak, get clear on your own values and how you can tie them in to what you’re going to say. You’ll find it much easier to connect authentically with your audience when they can see you care about what you are saying.
Tip 2: Get clear on your intention/objective
Think about the objective; the thing you want to achieve from your presentation, what you want your audience to have in their head as they leave. Remembering why you have to speak will help you connect with your message more authentically. If you’re the CEO announcing a round of redundancies, perhaps your objective will be to reduce any further fear or sense of uncertainty in the employees left behind.
If you are in a job interview, you could make your objective a particular impression you want to make, for instance, that you are a reliable person. Making a good impression involves preparation, so make sure your body and gestures are aligned with your intention. When preparing for your interview or presentation, actually go through your key points and underline how many times you are making your objective clear. Then try and translate that feeling to the audience.
Tip 3: Speak with emotion
Emotion allows our message to come across with impact, by reaching the heart of our listener as well as the head. In professional environments, we can often feel uncomfortable or nervous about showing emotion in case we go too far. But more often, the opposite is true. A total lack of emotion can leave our speech a bit flat and calculated, which results in a our listener becoming uninterested and unengaged.
This happens a lot in high-stakes situations like job interviews. Perhaps you’ve been in this situation yourself. You’re nervous, and under the pressure of trying to answer the questions, you become robotic, and unintentionally give the impression that you’d rather be somewhere else. One of our handy tools for avoiding this is the STAR method for interview technique.
We can also slide into the robotic when we over-memorise a speech. We want to be seen as competent and in control, but our over-preparedness can mean we’re too busy concentrating on remembering our exact words rather than connecting with the audience.
Leaning how to tap into our emotions and channel just the right amount into our speech is a vital skill for good communication. And we can easily channel emotion through our vowels. Top communication tip: vowels are the soul of words.
Tip 4: Authentic delivery
Communicate as you: use your own voice, your expressions and your body language. It’s true that in public speaking there are times when we have to perform and step out of our comfort zone, but this is simply exaggerating who we are already as communicators, not pretending to be people we are not.
So much of what people receive is through what your body says. Your posture, gesture, body language, eye contact and facial expression all add up to create that magical charisma or energy. So if you are acting or speaking in a way that’s really not your own, your body will probably give you away. Be yourself, and whether the audience agree with you or not, they will value authenticity over insincerity.
Break down the wall between yourself and the listeners by sharing anecdotes, personal stories and points that relate yourself to your audience. In our Public Speaking courses we call this “adding the spice” - stirring in metaphors, colour and illustrations, that bring it to life and make it uniquely yours.
Tip 5: Know your audience and connect with them
An authentic speaker is someone who invites the respect of an audience while not seeming to expect it. Most presenters are thinking about themselves: they’re concerned with how they look and sound, and want to be judged as competent and doing a good job.
Authentic speakers are less concerned with judgement and don’t worry what others think of them. Instead, they tune outwards in order to engage empathetically so they can deliver what they believe the audience would like.
What it all comes down to is using empathy to gauge which Connection space and communication style is most appropriate. The Connection Spaces describe different ways of relating with people.
How to use Connection Spaces
Telling someone a secret or listening intently? Use The Intimate Space:
Body language and gestures are smaller
Eye contact is more direct
Tone of voice is lower, quieter and more subdued
More contained emotion
Chatting casually with friends? Use The Relaxed Space:
Eye contact is not as concentrated/intense
More volume, melody and colour in voice
Gestures flow more naturally
Relaxed body language and inclusive
Delivering a speech or presentation? Use The Performance Space:
Speech and body language is bigger and more formal.
Gestures are structured
Volume of voice increased
More pauses, emphasis and hooks
Speaking to an audience of hundreds or thousands? Use The Transformational Space:
Everything you do must be bigger and bolder.
Gestures more pronounced
Everything is said with intent
While you will still be authentically you, a large audience of soon-to-be school leavers will need a very different approach to a board of a FTSE 100 company. Knowing your audience helps you to connect with, rather than perform for, your listeners, and it’s connection that’s at the heart of authenticity.
Takeaways for authentic communication
Take some time to identify your values so you can bring these into your communication
Before presenting, get clear on your objective - the gem you want to place in your listener’s hand
Don’t be afraid of speaking with emotion. Emotion is what sparks passion and engagement
Add some ‘spice’ to bring more of you into your speech - use anecdotes, personal stories or humour
Use empathy to tune into your audience so you can tailor your speech to best connect with them.
Authentic communication doesn’t come with a rule book, as only you can be you. Your values, your objective, your intention, your passion, your authenticity is the secret driver that with the right tools, pulls everything together.