Whenever I hear anyone speak about finding your “authentic” voice, it makes me think that the implication is that I am “inauthentic” – i.e. not being truthful. Can this be true? Are we walking around using an inauthentic voice, not telling the truth?
On the flip side, Mark Twain’s advice was to “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. So which is it: tell a good story, whether it is fully truthful or not; OR be authentic, be honest?
I believe that most of us tell the truth most of the time, including in our strategic stories in business. With the exception of people like the Wolf of Wall Street and a few others that come to mind, my experience working with businesses and individuals for more than 30 years is that most people are honest and speak the truth.
Even if there might have been a time when it was easier to stretch the truth – or outright lie – today’s technology facilitates getting to the truth in nanoseconds. Tools like Google and LinkedIn mean that you can find out the real story on a person or product or service instantly. Thankfully, one of the side effects of this is that we are seeing the death of the old-fashioned “spin” executed by “spin doctors”. If you are putting a spin on a story, people will sniff it out very quickly and you will indeed be seen as inauthentic.
It is also possible to sound inauthentic even when you are telling the full truth. Politicians are often the most obvious examples of this. They may be telling the full truth and nothing but the truth, but we still don’t believe them.
What I have observed in the work that strategic storyteller Bill Baker and I do with clients in our Executive Storytelling workshop is that great storytellers are human, vulnerable, truthful and trustworthy. And if you let those natural traits come to the fore, you have a much better chance of being believed and therefore able to influence how you want your listeners to think, talk and act.
Here are 5 other tips to help you find your authentic voice:
Don’t use “corporate speak” – one of the quickest means towards not only losing your audience but having them not believe you, is to cloak your story in a barrage of words that mean nothing – except possibly to the person who strung them together! I once had a colleague who is one of the most honest, authentic people I have known but she had a habit of reeling off an endless stream of corporate speak that not only caused her audience to glaze over, but they stopped believing her.
Don’t hide behind PowerPoint – PowerPoint, and its competitors, are a modern day blessing and a curse. Many of us have experienced a form of death by PowerPoint, but an inappropriate use of the tool can also put a vast chasm between you and your audience. You have no chance of appearing human, vulnerable, truthful and trustworthy if you are hiding behind 99 slides!
If you screwed up, say you screwed up – if your story involves a mistake you made, own up! People relate to stories about human frailty and vulnerability. Sent a product out into the market when it hadn’t been fully tested and there was a problem? Take responsibility and people are much more likely to believe what you say and that you will now fix the problem.
Listen, engage and interact – don’t do all the talking. One-sided presentations leave lots of room for inauthenticity to creep in. People truly only trust things they have had a hand in creating. If you leave no opportunity for your audience to engage and interact, your credibility will slip rapidly.
Relax, smile – a genuine smile can be one of your greatest assets in ensuring people hear your authentic voice. Can’t smile and talk? Yes you can! Practice in front of a mirror, with your friends and family and then in your place of business. And please relax – it is hard to trust someone who looks uncomfortable and uptight.
Having found your authentic voice, is it still ok to stretch the truth sometimes? No is the short answer. I grew up in the Ottawa Valley where the Irish tradition has spawned great storytellers but someone who tells tall tales will elicit the comment that “he tells a lie when the truth would do”.
The difference between Mark Twain’s stories and the strategic stories we tell in business is that we do need people to trust us because only then will they think, talk and act in the way we hope they will.