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How to be authentic while sitting in the media hot seat

When you go on stage or on camera, how do you want to show up? If you’re like the majority of people I work with, the answer is authentically. When asked what that means, some top answers I hear are: “To be myself.” “To sound natural.” “To keep it real.” “To speak my truth.”

But as we’re finding out from leadership from DC to Silicon Valley, authentic can have different meanings to different people. In fact, when there’s TMI or a lack of ability to think about audience, authenticity can cause a backlash.

Like the startup CEO who dropped f-bombs in every interview like so much dirty Kleenex, just to prove how he could be himself. Unfortunately, he demonstrated how little he cared about other people in the room.

If he had swapped the word authenticity for “I want to be seen as human and as my best self,” perhaps he wouldn’t have run amok.

The good news — people who show up as the best version of themselves without the spin stand out. It’s why Richard Branson, who gives a very unpolished interview, has 12.6M Twitter followers. And why Katrina Lake, from Stitch Fix, who speaks from a place of passion and inspiration, is seen by many women as someone to emulate.

Here are a few ways to be authentic even when you’re under pressure.

Know your boundaries going in.

There are just some things that are better not to comment on publicly without knowing what you want to say. Here’s my top tier list:

  • Competitors — Why give them airtime when you’ve worked so hard (or hired someone) to give you this opportunity?

  • Growth — If you don’t know what you want to say about the financial health of your organization ahead of time, or know the numbers you can share, this one can lead to an interview death spiral.

  • Personal information — How do you feel about #metoo, diversity, and any other trending information out there? For celebs, the one that trips them up here is generally about their family or private lives.

  • My best advice here — You wouldn’t go into a business meeting without knowing your boundaries and this is no different. You already have the skills you need, now transpose them into a new environment. Know where you stand and how much you want to share, then practice.

Have some professional stories you love to tell and start with what you love.

When I’m working with someone, they generally begin answering questions with a lengthy explanation of their product or company. As soon as I start asking for examples and they really lock onto one they like, everything about their delivery changes. Eyes light up. Gestures become open and natural. Once we hit on what lights them up, we find a way to get into it faster.

Be Imperfect.

In my book, Wabi-Sabi at Work, we teach how to value what you perceive as imperfect about yourself, in a new way. Clients often tell me, “I have an accent” or English is my second/third language and I forget or misuse words — like this is an insurmountable problem. Actually, it’s quite charming and the elephant you see in the room, is to the rest of the world, the size of an ant. It hardly gets in the way if we like what you’re saying. Paying attention to the tendency to speak quickly, or gesture wildly gives you an opportunity to shift things in the moment and keep going. Being aware is the first step.

Use the language you would in a home for the elderly, around small children, or someone you put on a pedestal.

I know this won’t work for everyone, but in general, we are our best selves when we want to impress or when we are with the impressionable.

Our differences are what make us interesting. Take that away and you’re nothing more than a talking head.

Want to know more about strategic, natural storytelling on stage or on camera?

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