NCAA Basketball fans know well by now the story of how senior MSU forward Adreian Payne befriended an 8-year-old cancer patient nicknamed Princess Lacey and shared the joys of March Madness with her. And when she passed away, basketball fans around the world mourned. The story of their friendship—and her brave battle—outshone the game of basketball itself.
At a student vigil, MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo stood up to say a few words about Lacey.
He spoke for about 8 minutes. He carried no notes; he used no visuals; yet he gave one of the most moving and memorable speeches of the year. He spoke from his heart, connecting with genuine emotion to everyone in the crowd, and I think if you happened to be there that night or if you’ve seen the video of his talk, you still remember what he said. You might even still have tears in your eyes.
And isn’t that what we try to do with every presentation we give? Don’t we try to move our audiences to feel something, to remember what we said, to be moved by our presentation so much that they take a piece of it with them?
How did Coach Izzo do this so well, and without preparation or support?
He stood there—one of the most successful basketball coaches in history—and he shared his genuine, heartfelt thoughts about Lacey. And that was all.
I wish I could tell you there were Five Steps to True Authenticity, but it doesn’t work that way. Not only is authenticity one of the most important qualities for any communicator, it can also be the most elusive. Too often, the effort that goes into creating our talk and building our slides combined with whatever level of stage fright we carry has the effect of stripping away our authenticity. But we still must try.
You might be surprised to hear that we work hard to create authenticity when we’re creating presentations for other people. When my content developers write a presentation for an executive, they do everything they can to learn and write in that speaker’s authentic voice. And when my art directors create a new visual style or storyboard a presentation, they aim for a visual representation that fits that speaker’s personal style. Sometimes this is hard to do, but we still strive for authenticity with every presentation we create. We still must try.
For those of us creating our own presentations, the lesson is simple: Get real. Get in touch with why you’re giving this presentation in the first place. Coach Izzo was moved by the crowd, moved by the unlikely relationship between one of his star players and an 8-year old girl, and moved by Princess Lacey’s boundless optimism. What moved you to want to stand in front of your audience and share something? Spend some time with that feeling. Mark it in your mind. Then, with every step you take, every sticky note you write on, every slide you build, and every practice run you take, speak into that feeling. Your real impact on your audience—despite all of your preparation and all of your wonderful slides—will come from your willingness to be authentic.
It’s difficult—believe me, I know—but we still must try.