6 ways a spokesperson can embody authenticity

Honesty and trustworthiness are more important than ever, with cratering public trust and a divided public. How can speakers project an authentic presence to help sway listeners?

Authenticity has become something of a buzzword in recent times.

It is a term which seems to be increasingly applied to just about everything, from leaders and marketing to furniture and clothing.

Although everyone seems to be seeking authenticity, few people can define what it is. Look it up in the dictionary and you will find terms like genuine, accurate, reliable and “not a copy.” When applied to people it seems best defined as “being yourself.”

However, when it comes to media interviews, it’s not that simple.

Donald Trump has many flaws, but it would be hard to argue that he isn’t himself when he appears in front of cameras and gives speeches. It’s an approach which has won him as many admirers as it has critics.

At the other end of the scale is Theresa May, who particularly during the last general election, seemed unable to move beyond rigid pre-prepared messages. It was an approach which left her dubbed “the Maybot” and left the UK with a government which is anything but “strong and stable.”

What, then, does being authentic mean for media spokespeople? Here are six ways to project sincerity during any presentation:

1. Authentic spokespeople self-edit.

Being an authentic spokesperson is not simply saying whatever comes to mind and completely being yourself.

While it may go against the dictionary definition, when we talk about authentic spokespeople, those that monitor and choose their words carefully are best received. They are attuned to their audience, are aware of boundaries and know what will motivate people to take positive action—and what will cause them to look away.

2. Authentic spokespeople put messages in their own words.

The more natural a message sounds, the more likely the audience is to feel that the spokesperson genuinely believes what they are saying.

To achieve this, it is crucial that—while spokespeople should still prepare thoroughly—they don’t memorize their briefing and messages so that they sound like they are regurgitating a press release or statement.

Spokespeople should feel empowered to put messages into their own words (within corporate guidelines). Not only does this approach help bring messages to life and give them authenticity, but it will also increase the spokesperson’s confidence and make them more comfortable with what they are saying.

3. Authentic spokespeople are human.

To be an authentic media spokesperson you need to be able to express feelings and show vulnerabilities.

This isn’t to say a tear-filled, Oscar-style acceptance speech is always appropriate. Some subjects obviously lend themselves to this style of delivery much more naturally.

It could be as simple as admitting mistakes, sharing what keeps you up at night, what makes you nervous, or what makes you excited—although you should be careful to avoid the clichéd “excited to announce.”

In a crisis media management situation, authenticity is about showing you really care about those who have been affected. While displaying emotion in an interview may feel uncomfortable and perhaps make spokespeople feel self-conscious, it can be compelling and engaging for the audience.

4. Authentic spokespeople draw on personal experience.

The most powerful examples are those which are personal to the spokesperson and that connect with the audience take them on a journey.

Personal stories and anecdotes help make the brand relevant, provide a human side to the organization and help spokespeople grow in confidence.

5. Authentic spokespeople are implicitly honest.

Authentic spokespeople are confident, sincere and honest—but the key thing is that the honesty is subtle and not announced.

Using phrases like “I’m going to be honest with you” or “…to be honest” will undermine your credibility and suggest to the audience that you haven’t been truthful during the rest of the interview.

6. Authentic spokespeople banish the jargon.

Language is a key part of being an authentic media spokesperson.

Some representatives opt for words and phrases which they feel may make them come across as more intelligent or they rely on industry jargon and acronyms, but the problem with both these approaches is that they can alienate the audience.

To be an authentic spokesperson you need to be able to create a natural sounding conversation using the language you would use if you were talking to a friend in a coffee shop or pub (sans any swearing).

In media interview terms, being authentic means being yourself but with a deft-touch to ensure you avoid the pitfalls of over-sharing experiences, emotions or feelings. Though it may sound like a contradiction to talk about training someone to be authentic, it is the only way to develop the skill, care and craft needed to be perceived as having this rare trait.

What do you think makes a spokesperson appear authentic, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

Adam Fisher is the content editor for Media First, a media and communications training firm with over 30 years of experience. A version of this article originally appeared on the Media First blog.

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