Be yourself? Why not be someone else?

By Laura Bergells on

Say you’re giving a live presentation to a large audience. And let’s say this is not something you do on a regular basis.

You might be a little nervous about your presentation, so you turn to friends or the internet for some public speaking advice. As you do, you’ll undoubtedly hear or read this strange bit of folkloric wisdom:

Just Be Yourself! Act Natural!

The problem with this advice is that you’ll find yourself in a completely unnatural environment — alone in front of a large group of people, lights shining in your face, a mike wire dangling from your lapel to your fanny, monster visual displays behind your back — just exactly how do you go about acting “naturally” in such an unnatural situation?

And suppose your “natural” self is rather shy, nervous, or introverted? How does that help?

Telling a nervous neophyte speaker to “act naturally” on stage sets them up to flop. Rather than trying to “act naturally” — whatever that is — why not try one of these three more specific courses of action?

1. You can make the environment seem more natural. Nothing takes the jitters out of a presentation like a real, live, full dress rehearsal. Get lots of practice! Physically walk on the stage. Feel the lights on your face, the fanny pack on your belt, the video remote in your hand. Once you’ve experienced your surroundings, the stage environment is going to seem more natural — so there’s a better chance that you can act naturally, too.

2. If you’re going to be yourself, be your best self. There’s really no point in being yourself if you’re naturally dull. Getting up on stage will only amplify your natural witlessness and bore your audience. Instead, natural dullards would do well to work with professional speech writers and coaches. Professionals can help buff a dull personality or presentation so that it shines on stage. If it’s an important presentation, don’t mess around — hire a pro.

3. You can be someone else.
OK, you can’t really BE someone else. But you can channel the spirit of someone you admire, and project their personality when you speak. This actually takes a speech out of the realm of “presentation” and into the realm of “performance.” It’s called “acting” — and you may have heard that many audiences find a good performance highly entertaining and enriching.

If you know who you are and are completely comfortable with the stage — you might do well to act naturally. You might do even better to act appropriately for the audience and the situation.

And hey — what exactly does it mean to “be yourself?”