Why it’s OK for speakers to ‘put on a persona’

Many believe that intentionally presenting different demeanors based on the occasion is inauthentic, but it’s often the most respectful thing you can do for your audience.

Great speakers take ownership of their personas.

It’s OK if you have more than one. Different situations call for different demeanors, which is why it’s crucial to become an intentional communicator. Those who are wary of appearing disingenuous might ask: How do I become intentional and not lose my authenticity ?

In other words, if I start to show up with a certain demeanor, won’t that be fake in some sense? Sometimes, the question gets asked this way: “If I rehearse too much, I’ll become stiff and not-in-the-moment. I shouldn’t rehearse too much, right?”

Working to control one’s behavior can appear artificial, yet we revere people who are cool in a crisis. We admire those who pull off a high-stakes meeting without showing their nerves or who stay confident throughout a difficult period in their lives. We never say to the entrepreneur, “How fake of you to persevere and stay confident in front of your suppliers even though you knew you were struggling to make payroll.”

Instead, we say, “How courageous of you to hang in there.”

We tend to reward strong intent when the stakes are high; we just don’t quite know what to make of it in everyday situations. No one likes being played.

However, deciding how you want to present yourself is not playing your audience. It’s simply choosing to put your best self forward. There’s nothing wrong with being present with the most useful set of emotions and attitudes under the circumstances.

The alternative—to just wing it and hope for the best—is less respectful of the other people in the room. So many of us, for example, steal quick peeks at our phones when there’s a quiet moment or when we think no one is watching. That reveals a lack of intention, a lack of presence and a lack of focus on the moment in front of you.

We all fill many roles each day: We’re workers, colleagues, bosses, negotiators, parents, children, spouses or audience members. We show up in different ways for each role, and yet we don’t accuse ourselves of being less genuine or authentic when we feign enthusiasm for a child’s school play, for example. If our intent is loving, that carries the day.

Choose your persona, choose your story, and mindfully choose how you show up. Otherwise you leave your intent to chance, which might be distracted or just half-present. In that case, you’re not really showing up at all.

A version of this post first appeared on Public Words.

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