Face it: you need to fake it. Authenticity is not all it’s cracked up to be.

By Laura Bergells on
Is real bravery fake confidence?

Authenticity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. To show our care and compassion for others, we often need to put aside our feelings.

There are higher truths that need to be served. Ask a mother whose child has fallen off a swing set. The child is bleeding and crying.

Does the mother give in to her worst fears? Does she start weeping and screaming? Nope.

“You’ll be OK, sweetie. We’re going to take a quick ride to the emergency room! Won’t that be exciting!”

In business, we often find ourselves in situations where we need to be brave. We need to show confidence we don’t feel.

Let me share three situations where this can happen:

  1. A novice speaker feels terrified. She’s never stood in front of a group of professionals before. She has wonderful knowledge to share, but she has butterflies. 🦋 She feels so nervous, she’s scared she might throw up.

  2. A seasoned pro feels confident. He’s stood in front of groups a zillion times before. Minutes before a critical speech, however; he learns of a grave personal tragedy. 💔 Heartbroken, he feels like bursting into tears.

  3. A mid-career pro is on stage, wowing the audience. Suddenly, an alarm sounds. A flurry of text alerts go off, advising everyone in the room of a weather emergency. 🌪️The on-stage performer is so afraid, she feels like fleeing.

When “being authentic and keepin’ it real” means puking, crying, and/or running away — you’ll want to consider other options. If you feel afraid: it’s 100% OK to muster up courage and instead show confidence.

A one minute video, where I offer a little pep talk to a nervous speaker…

If you’re standing in front of an audience, you’re in a leadership position. Your fear can spread like a contagion. For the good of your audience, you can’t risk starting a panic by acting on your worst fears.

You need to show courage. You need to be brave.

It you want to be self-deprecating, you can call your real bravery ‘fake it ’til you make it’. That’s cool. I get it. I think it’s a shame, though…

Social pressure forces you to re-frame your “real bravery” as “fake confidence”.

…but I see you. When you say ‘fake it ’til you make it’ – I know who you really are. You’re my favorite kind of person.

You’re brave. When you feel scared, but carry on with confidence – that’s almost the dictionary definition of courage.

Hardihood?

So let’s say you’re faking confidence…does this mean you’re an impostor? In a word, no.

I know social pressure can be a monster, though. You’ve probably heard voices say “fake” anything is wrong and bad.

Social conditioning may have laid a vicious head trip on you. It’s an ugly voice telling you any display of confidence needs to be “real” not “fake”. It’s this dreadful and simplistic notion of:

“fake always bad; real always good!”

News flash: sometimes, real confidence can be a real disaster. Further, a wellspring of heartfelt self-assurance is not likely to magically radiate out of a real expert who is suddenly thrust into a completely unfamiliar situation.

It’s why experts practice and drill. It’s why we rehearse and edit. It’s why we put ourselves in new and challenging situations.

We need to develop more than a shallow “just be authentic” form of self awareness. How can you “just be yourself” if you don’t really know yourself… or how you might act in unfamiliar situation? How do you work with authentic “fight or flight” instincts that might not serve you well?

Thoughtful, introspective people choose continuous learning. They’ll often pick an environment like a classroom or workshop to build experience, knowledge, and confidence.

Smart people don’t sit around and hope for confidence to magically appear when they need it the most. They go out of their way to develop and nurture it with training and practice.

Consider these three learning scenarios where almost everything is fake:

  1. In beginning public speaking classes, we practice physical exercises in a friendly environment. When we work on techniques and gain experience speaking in front of others; we start to feel less afraid. 🦋
  2. In speech workshops, speakers receive feedback. They may decide to tweak their content structure and word choices before going public. Editing and coaching often improves messaging.  ❤️
  3. In crisis communication sessions, we drill on worst case scenarios that have yet to happen. We role play to be mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared to face tough challenges. 🌪️

In each case, we’re not being 100% authentic. The classroom is a simulation, not reality. Through learning, we build confidence.

When you’re navigating through difficult and complex issues, be aware of nuance. Instead of a clinging to simple gut-level truisms; consider serving a higher truth.

Courage.


Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a #LinkedInLearning author. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking. New this month: Establishing Credibility as a Speaker.

You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.