Presentation matters, authenticity counts

Business man and woman with masks | Axiom Communications

We’ve all heard leaders telling us about the changing marketplace, the latest change initiative, the need to execute the strategy and the inevitable disruption to your working life that will occur as a consequence. Their slides are bright, shiny, powerful and professional, full of facts, figures, graphs and rational arguments for change. ‘Trust me’ they say – ‘ and we’ll lead you through all this and things will be better going forward’.

But you don’t… trust them. Their arguments may stack up but there is something about the way they, the leaders, are coming across that suggests this is a massive exercise in spin. Sure, they’ve had the media training and know when to extend the ‘open palm’, make the ‘priority’ gesture and ‘smile sincerely’ during their call to action; yet this all seems to add to the general sense of unease.

So, what’s going on? In the 30 seconds even before someone opens their mouth to speak, Neuroscience tells us we make instinctive judgements about them. And we all speak body language fluently, we recognise the understandable signs of nerves; but what if those ‘nerves’ belie the leader’s lack of sincerity and belief in what they are saying. It stands to reason we pick this up too, in fact we can read it like a book.

Lip-sync sincerity

Leaders, charged with delivering change messages, quite rightly dedicate a lot of time to creating content, but not always their own time. Often they ‘outsource’ this task to others, who, let’s be honest, then stand in the wings at the conference venue mouthing the content as the leaders deliver it, like a lip-sync challenge, as the leader clearly demonstrates they do not truly own the message.

Unseen and in the metaphorical and physical dark are the audience, their lips are tightly pursed, but with their internal dialogue working overtime – and it is not telling a positive story.

So whilst the words and the performance are important, there is still a big bit missing…

To demonstrate authentic leadership and create real trust in both the leader and the message it is critical to also spend time on developing the presenter’s own self-awareness and work on how they can genuinely connect with the audience, before they step on the stage.

Properly prepared

To be properly prepared before any presentation, the leader needs to ask him or herself, or be coached through, the following:

  • Why am I giving this presentation – what is my purpose?
  • How do I personally relate to the content being shared?
  • Am I truly committed to what I am proposing – if so why?
  • If I am not committed, what are my doubts? How have I resolved similar issues in the past? How can I resolve them now?
  • What is the audience perspective likely to be, will they share my doubts, or have different ones? How can I address their concerns or indeed passions?
  • How do I balance reason and emotion?
  • Do my facts and arguments really stand scrutiny – I know the audience will process them critically, , at and after the event
  • Am I acting in alignment with my personal values, or am I compromising them?
  • If I’m telling a story to appeal to the heart – who is it serving? Is it self-interested or a genuine attempt at sharing meaning?
  • Can I tell this story with the right feeling and colour?
  • Have I really practiced and practised and practised and got constructive feedback from people who will tell me the way it is, not what I want to hear?

Of course the presentation matters, but as leaders it is our authenticity, conviction and commitment that really counts in creating a long-lasting and positive impact on the workforce.

Sheila Hirst