It is hard work to shed the falsehoods in one’s life. Though there was a time when I wanted to be someone other than myself, over the years I’ve become more comfortable with who I am most of the time. Recently though, I’ve learned that when stepping into a new arena, such as I have with public speaking, I am once again challenged to be authentic.
There is nothing quite like standing in front of an audience, to have all eyes on you, to be the center of a group of spectators. There are expectations to meet. You have to deliver. You have to give your audience what they want. The questions your audience is wondering, “why should I pay attention and what does she have to say that is worth hearing,” have to be answered.
In the public speaking club I have joined, the group is friendly. The stakes are low. There is not much to lose. We are all standing in the same boat, so to speak. We are all practicing a skill we hope to refine and we all wrestle with nervousness. None of us want to fail.
Built into the public speaking curriculum are steps to take to prevent failure and promote success. For instance, anytime any one of us stands up to speak, we’ve prepared ourselves. We write out what we want to say and practice our words, some more than others.
Then there is the evaluator, whose job it is to listen with intention. Depending upon the type of speech we give and the area we are hoping to improve upon determines how we are evaluated.
In previous speeches, my evaluators have encouraged me to use more voice fluctuation, and to look more at my audience and less at the ceiling. With their help, I’ve made improvements in those areas.
In my last speech though, I made a bold move and stepped away from the podium completely with the hopes of engaging more with my audience and speaking without notes. It went okay. I remembered what I wanted to say, but still felt the distance between the audience and me.
It was while having dinner recently with another member from my club that I got the best advice of any of my evaluators. We discussed some of the speeches we’ve made, how we prepared for them and how we thought we did at delivering them.
I shared my desire to bridge the gap between myself and the audience.
“I want to give them what they want, but sometimes I am not sure what they want,” I said.
“They want you,” she said.
A simple answer, and yet an incredible feat. She went on to tell me that although I have a way with words, I am guarded. “You just need to show up and put your guard down,” she said.
Like with any other skill I’ve learned, showing up, just the way I am, imperfect as I am, is how one improves. As hard as I don’t want to fail, there will be times of failure. Can I live with the fact that I might fall flat?
Why bother being authentic? Though we may have mastered being authentic in some of the areas of our lives, there are still other arenas to practice. There are always new places that will challenge our authenticity. Thankfully all we have to do is to be brave enough to show up, just as we are.