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Glasgow Public Speaking Coach Reveals: Authentic vs Appropriate

I was recently talking to my new amigo Claire Bruynseels about being your authentic v appropriate self when we are public speaking, and it reminded me of what I used to teach my students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland about authentic v appropriate behaviour.

In public speaking, it can be tempting to 'put on an act'. But I would suggest that the authentic you is a far more engaging character than any version of you that you could choose to project to the audience.

There is a constant tension inside you - as a person and a professional. You are being pulled between two places, between being authentic and being appropriate.

And when you have to give a presentation, or you speak at an event, the tension between authenticity and appropriateness is strongly highlighted.

What do we mean by Authentic?

Being authentic is being the genuine you. It’s being honest to yourself about yourself. You are free with how you express yourself. When you are authentic, you are positive, energetic, alert, loving, secure, happy and your most creative. That doesn’t mean that you disregard other people’s feelings and behave badly to other people. That isn’t authentic, that’s just selfish.

What do we mean by Appropriate?

Being appropriate is trying to behave in line with how you want people to see you. It’s behaving how people expect you to behave. It isn’t really appropriateness, because to really be appropriate is to behave genuinely and authentically. Sadly, we are socially conditioned to live by other people’s expectations.. It’s dishonest to yourself about yourself.

The Problem

The trouble is that when a situation is perceived as important, it is also seen as stressful. Under these circumstances, we get appropriate and that means you become polite, stiff, mechanical, artificial, reserved, conservative, and tense - you project that discomfort.

With our growing understanding of how Mirror Neurons influence observer behaviour, we know that the audience will experience something like what the observed speaker is experiencing. We can't help it, we are sympathetic to what other people are experiencing.

If you are up in front of your speaking audience "polite, stiff, mechanical, artificial, reserved, conservative, tense..." the audience will experience some of those same states too. And that will have a negative impact on how they receive your presentation.

The Solution

Part of the solution that I teach my public speaking clients is to learn to recognise what situations bring out their authentic self, and what situations bring out their appropriate self, so that they can practise being authentic in situations which would normally trigger appropriate behaviour.

Their job is to constantly push, nudge, poke, coax, or encourage themselves to be authentic at every opportunity.

If you'd like to work on the releasing the authentic YOU for public speaking, email me to discuss working together.

Mark Westbrook, Public Speaking Coach


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