Be Authentic, Connect With Your Audience: Presentation Lessons From Gary Vaynerchuk

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Photo: Entrepreneur

In a recent workshop, a great discussion played out as we were reviewing one of the key tenets of “influence” – the importance of being yourself.  I love to show video clips ( is a treasure trove) to illustrate these points, and I decided to show Gary Vaynerchuk’s keynote at this year’s South by Southwest event.If you’re not familiar with Gary, take a gander. You need only watch a few minutes to get the gist of his style and approach.  In my opinion, he’s wonderful to watch mostly because he is so unapologetically HIMSELF on stage.  He swears, paces, cracks his knuckles.  But on top of that, I really feel that he cares DEEPLY about giving the audience something they can use – something that matters.

When I stopped the video, and began asking the group what they noticed, several people really bristled at Gary’s style.  They found his pacing distracting and thought his comments were all over the map and disorganized.  The rest of the people in the room loved it, and thought he was wonderful to watch.  They seemed almost annoyed at those who disliked his style.

What’s more, one of the attendees rightly pointed out, “But he’s breaking all the rules of public speaking!  He’s swearing, he’s cracking his knuckles, he’s all over the stage!”

I couldn’t have asked for a better discussion.

Can you handle being disliked?

Here’s the thing about authenticity:  When we speak from the realness of who we are, we WILL lose some people.  Being a great speaker doesn’t mean that EVERYONE is going to like your style. In fact, if everyone thinks you’re an “ok” speaker, you’re probably not being authentic enough, and you probably aren’t all that interesting to watch. 

Like Oprah, here’s what I know for sure: Providing all of the insights in the world won’t help us if we’re boring an audience.  But I also know this for sure: No one is boring when they’re speaking from a place of authenticity.  Think about it.  Each of us comes from completely different backgrounds, experiences, and each of us was raised in completely unique families scattered all over the world.  You have never happened before, and you will never happen again in the history of the universe.  Boring?  Hardly.  Each of us is carrying around some incredible stories and points of view, but not all of us have the courage to truly go there. 

But, first things first.

Now, I have to temper this statement with my number one rule of public speaking (or living life, for that matter) and quote Stephen Covey for the 9,000th time: “Seek FIRST to understand”. 

If, when you are preparing your presentation, you are FIRST focused on meeting the needs of your audience, and you meet those needs while being 100% true to your personality and purpose as a human being, chances are, people will really dig you.  But not always.

What are the rules anyway?

I loved the comment that Gary was “breaking all of the rules.”  It was so true, and it was coming from such a sincere place.  The business world is changing at a dizzying pace, and I think one of the best changes is this – only follow the rules that serve your audience and that serve your personality. 

Are you better at presenting without PowerPoint? Ditch it.  Do you see parallels between the punk rock movement and social media?  Draw those parallels and use it as a way to help people remember your assertions and tips.  Go for it.  I hereby give you permission to be you.

This is the cost of authenticity.  You won’t always be liked by everyone.  But if you balance these two key truths – 1) seek first to understand and 2) let the real you shine through, you will be light years ahead of most presenters.

Are you ready to pay the price of authenticity? 

Bronwyn Saglimbeni works with clients to improve their public speaking and media relations skills. Check out her work at Bronwyn Communications.

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