Somewhere between the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, the general public became tired of hype and decided that it wanted authenticity instead. It’s the most important quality in leadership communications today. Don’t believe me? Think about it: with it, you can move people to action. Without it, you can’t even get a hearing. You’re in Dilbertland.
And then there’s charisma — the X factor every leader wants, even if some won’t admit it. These are the ones who often say something like, “I’d rather just be me. That’s more authentic.”
What they really mean by that is, I don’t want to do the hard work of practice – or of being real. I’ll just wing it. Which inevitably leads to a poor performance. Never trust an executive who says he is better without rehearsal. He’s just running from the truth.
Are the two qualities really opposed? My belief is that you can have it both ways. Over the years, I have worked with many speakers to get there. In fact, in 2015, in this era of nonstop communications and demands for authenticity from leaders, I will go further. I believe you have to be both charismatic and authentic to lead successfully for any length of time. Even to command a stage for any length of time.
And even more: you have to practice hard to achieve that apparently spontaneous authenticity and charisma.
Are you a leader, or a leader in training, who wants to make sure that your communications — whether to one or many, formal or informal, prepared or off the cuff —are as persuasive, powerful, effective, authentic, and charismatic as possible? To reach that happy state this year, you have to be prepared to work on controlling your communications so that they are instrumental for your career and not merely subject to happenstance.
That means starting to pay attention to your unconscious mind. By definition, you’re not aware of it, but the neuroscience shows that it does a number of things for “you” – the part you’re aware of, the conscious mind – some of which make sense of others of which don’t make much sense, at least at first glance.
So, for example, your unconscious mind handles your heartbeat, your respiration, your body temperature, all that sort of mundane stuff that you don’t want to clutter your conscious mind with thinking about.
That’s all good.
But you also make decisions unconsciously, and that’s not so good. Wouldn’t it make more sense to let your conscious mind handle that chore? But the neuroscience shows that you decide first in your unconscious mind, and then become aware of the decision consciously – after you’ve already started to move on the decision.
As weird as it sounds, your body knows your decisions before “you” do.
That in part is why most of us get so nervous before giving a speech. Our unconscious mind decides that this scenario we’re getting into – the one that involves trying to say something coherent in front of, say, 500 people – is akin to something that in our ancient past caused us to fight or flee. So it gears up our body with adrenalin, either to fight the audience or flee from it.
Not terribly useful. Except in the sense that we are more alert, hyper-vigilant, ready to take on a big challenge. But it feels uncomfortable. And so we don’t deal with it very well.
And that points to the first step in mastering this double challenge of authenticity and charisma as a public speaker: recognize that you need to harness the power of your unconscious mind, to make it work for you, to help you show up as your best self. Begin by embracing that adrenalin, and figuring out that it is the result of an unconscious decision your mind made that it is heading into danger. So use that feeling. Figure out for you how to transmute it into the gold of better public speaking.
Next time I’ll go deeper into how to use your unconscious mind to support your speaking. If you’re impatient, you can read my new book, Power Cues, which breaks down what you need to do into a series of discrete steps.