Be authentic, be yourself – that’s the advice of most public speaking and presentation experts. But what if your authentic self is not a particularly engaging presenter? And can you coach someone else to be a more engaging presenter and authentic at the same time?

The wrong way – focus on the outside

The wrong way to do this is to focus on what you can see – the outside. For instance tellling the person you’re coaching to smile more. The horrible result of this approach can be seen in this video of John McCain.

McCain’s smiles are plastered on – and disconnected with what he is saying. As many commentators said: “weird”. McCain’s smiles in this video are fake. Fake smiles and genuine smiles are controlled by different parts of the brain and they look different. The difference is subtle but we’re generally good at spotting it – try this test if you want to see how good you are (I scored 18 out of 20!)

The right way – focus on the inside

The right way to coach is to focus on what is going on inside. Get the presenter to connect with something inside that will produce what you want to see on the outside. We call this inside-out coaching. It isn’t always straightforward and you may need to try a couple of different ways before you find the right approach for the person you’re working with.

Let’s say that you’re coaching someone who is very low-key. And they’re like that in normal conversation as well – so you could say that they are being their authentic self. But that particular self is going to put an audience to sleep in minutes. Telling them to be more animated isn’t going to work – most likely they won’t be able to do it anyway – and if they do manage it – it’ll look forced and unnatural. Here are some inside-out approaches:

1. Get them to connect with something about the topic that interests them or that they think is important.

We sometimes work with people who think that their topic is boring and other people are bound to be bored by it. Ask them why this topic matters? What does interest them? Go deep into that aspect of the topic. At some point, they’ll forget themselves and start talking enthusiastically. Let them carry on for a minute or two – and then tell them that the way they were talking was great – and get them to transfer that way of being back to their presentation.

2. Ask them who they’d most like to share this information with – and then get them to imagine them as their audience.

Sometimes, a presenter may not be able to create any enthusiasm for presenting to a particular audience. Maybe there’s a different audience they’d love to share their knowledge with – children, graduate students…

3. Get them to talk about something else that they are passionate about.

OK. Sometimes they really can’t find anything they find interesting or important about the topic – and nobody they want to share it with. If the presentation can’t be cancelled – what next? Find out what they do care about, what they are enthusiastic about – and once they’ve captured that state of  being – transfer that to their presentation (yes, I know this isn’t totally authentic – but this is a last resort!)

4. Use video feedback.

People who are low-key are often concerned about looking silly if they show any passion or enthusiasm. By showing them what they look like when they are talking enthusiastically they’ll see that they can afford to let their enthusiasm show – without looking silly.

So how would I coach McCain? He seems totally disconnected from his words – there’s no difference in his tone or manner – whether he’s talking about Hillary Clinton as an inspirational role model for his daughters or Barack Obama as a formidable opponent. I would have him connect with what he’s saying – so that his tone and manner match the meaning of the words – naturally.

What are your approaches to helping people to be more engaging and authentic at the same time? You can add to this post in the Comments.

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