3 tips for connecting authentically

Nancy Duarte

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Nancy Duarte

Presentations are boring because they are stripped of all humanness. Why do organizations present messages for human intake that are riddled with double talk, and lack authenticity? Look at the statements below, pulled from real (bad) slides:

Man holding up a corkboard with notes on it

Presentations are by far the most human, authentic, and relational form of communication in business today. Yet, organizations condition employees to output non-human jargon that is supposed to lure customers. They’re using the wrong bait. We should always communicate from a place of authenticity and sincerity and I’m hard-pressed to identify any sincerity in those slides. Here’s how to connect with an audience:

Be You

While presenting, give the audience the authentic you. And guess what? You’re not perfect. Showing you human side can feel unnatural because it requires vulnerability with people you don’t know all that well. So tell a story that shows your humanness and people in the audience will connect with you. Personal stories are daunting to tell because the great stories have a conflict or complication to them that exposes humanness and flaws. But those are the stories that carry the most inherent power to change others. People enjoy following a leader who has survived personal hardship and shares the victory comfortably. It’s comforting to follow someone who’s already learned life’s hard lessons.

Be Different

You can learn how to be different by examining the opposite, camouflage. The purpose of camouflage is to reduce the odds that someone will notice you as you try to blend into an environment. When is being an obscure communicator appropriate? Never. The more you want your idea to be adopted, the less camouflaged and concealed it should be. To stand out, instead of blending with the environment, you need to clash with it. Be uniquely different. That’s what will draw attention to your ideas.

Show Emotion

At some point in your life, you’ve had your emotions aroused. When something emotionally resonates, you can physically feel it, like a “chill down your spine” or the heaviness of a “pit in your stomach.” Emotion tangibly links from one person’s heart into another. If you intentionally connect those emotions with your idea, the audience will accept your perspective more readily. Including emotion doesn’t mean audiences need boxes of tissue under each seat, it simply means that you get them to feel in some way. Some presenters feel uncomfortable employing emotional appeal because they think it comes across as manipulation. But it only comes across as manipulation if it is not sincere, honest, or used with restraint. Aristotle said that the man who is in command of persuasion must be able “to understand the emotions—that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited.” And that “persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions.”

When a presenter is in a room face-to-face, being authentic, it creates the deepest form of connection possible.

For more insights, Jennifer Aaker describes authenticity in her popular Stanford lecture on the subject.