What if you could turn the worst advice into the best?

Just be yourself.

I cringe when I hear myself —or worse, my husband—say that to our kids.

Which self am I suggesting they be? The kid who didn’t make their bed, left their wet towel on their floor and then forgot to say thank you for the homemade egg sandwich this morning? Don’t think so.

We’ve all had times that being ourselves didn’t mean being our best selves.

Back in the pre-seat-belt days, I spent 6 hours standing between my parents in our wood-paneled Buick belting out Do wap do wap do wap. We had just seen our first Broadway musical, Sophisticated Ladies, and we were making the long journey home from the Big Apple. I certainly wasn’t acting very sophisticated… but I was being myself. J

If you’re giving a presentation in front of 300 people… or kicking off your first Board Meeting as Chair… or you have a big interview ahead of you…

You’re going to need them to see who you are.

You’re going to need to pull them in close to you, so they tune in emotionally to what you’re saying.

You want them to trust you… instantly.

And how do you do that?

It’s more nuanced than ‘being yourself’, because we all have a number of ‘selves’ that might show up.

Instead, think in terms of Doing Authenticity.

I just wrapped up work with a dynamo client recovering from a disappointing on-stage appearance. She had seen herself on video and was appalled! We worked through 3 Steps that brought her from Acting Stiff to Doing Authenticity (and killing it!). 


“Every time I get in front of people, something feels off, more than the normal public speaking nerves. In fact, when I saw myself on video I couldn’t believe how flat I came across. It didn’t line up at all to what I was feeling. On the inside I was bursting with feeling, in fact I was holding back tears. On the outside, I looked bored to tears. What’s going on?”

Even though she was ‘being herself’, the Self who walked on stage was serious, earnest and composed to the point of being flat and robotic. She came to me to work on both speech coaching and leadership communications because the Stiff Self was turning up in staff meetings, too.

I have a feeling my life story has something to do with how I communicate. I have a master’s degree and sometimes I think I am too explanatory or academic.”

Step 1: Dive deep into your story.

She launches into a chronicle of her professional life after college. I listen and then say, “Tell me more about your upbringing, your childhood.”

“Oh, okay.” She willingly dives in.

Despite her openness, she mentions briefly how her mother died when she was younger. I have to prompt her to tell me about it: “When did your mother die?” And then the story unfolds. Her dad quickly remarried and she was never truly able to express her sadness about losing her mom. That was when she discovered painting, sculpting and other forms of art.

I listen deeply, without interruption. While I sit absorbed in her story, her words and her life, the coaching part of my brain is thinking - Ooh I can’t wait to help her see what she’s doing!

She wasn’t trying to hide her feelings when she got in front of others, she had simply mastered the survival technique of keeping them deep inside. Now, as an adult, instead of conveying her passion and excitement when she got in front of others, a very sad, solemn woman appeared. Isn’t that interesting?

This is what happens when we get in front of others. We play out our internal struggles… usually from our childhood or some hard experience we had growing up. It’s often a feeling or thought. It’s almost always unconscious.

Penetrating your story is the first step. It’s an opportunity to gain insight. Insight literally means seeing inward. It’s having that aha moment. You can’t interrupt how you’re coming across until you see what’s playing out from yesteryear. Yes, her life story was playing a role in how she communicated. All of our life stories do.

Step 2: Choose what you want to say.

We decide to improve on her last disappointing presentation. She gets out her computer to look at her notes and starts banging away at the keys, typing more and more and more. I stop her.

Talk! Talk out loud. Say it the way you would over a beer with a friend.

I listen, and listen, and we mine for the important messages, the main story. Then we organize the content. We bunch thoughts into groups of three. Three points, three examples, three stories with a beginning, middle and end. Easier for you to remember; easier for your listeners to follow. I help her organize—and say—how she will introduce herself, too.

Think about what you want to say, WHY your audience needs to hear it, and how to make them care. Then give it a structure that helps you stay on track.

Step 3: Practice …a lot.

We rehearse the presentation. I catch my client looking away. You know that thing we all do when we look to the sky instead of the person or audience in front of you?  I have her come back to me, to look at me in my eyes. In my heart. In my soul. This way, she can connect with our hearts (of course she knows I’m rootin’ for her—but so are most audiences!) which allows her to tap into her heart.

If you lose your train of thought, look down, breath and then find someone in the audience. Look at their eyes. It will center you. You’ll feel that person’s support. And you’ll remember what you were going to say—or come up with something even better.

Being Yourself really means Trusting Yourself.

This client…. This deep, thoughtful, soulful, passionate person…. transformed into a clear thinking, engaging and connecting public speaker. She no longer rambled. She no longer looked or sounded sad. She was effervescent and real. She even began to stand up a little straighter too!

You guessed it: she learned how to Do Authenticity. In her words: she was cured.

This took 5 working sessions. And I may help her again at some point when the stakes feel a little bit higher and she wants a refresher. Yes, it takes time – and there are moments that are not easy. But then, lots of other moments that are a whole lot of fun. 

I know achievement is in your DNA and that you know success takes hard work. And guess what? Save time and worry. You don’t have to go at this alone.

She knows I’m here for her when she needs me. I’m always here for you, too.

 Want to see how it works? Check this out.


jessica bonin