I’m a big fan of being authentically yourself when you speak in public — so much so that I wrote a book on the subject, along with this blog post… and this one… and this round-up of blog posts… and, well you get the picture.
So What Is This “Avatar” Thing?
Your Avatar is a streamlined version of your best self that’s built around the qualities you’ve chosen to project in public (confidence, expertise, friendliness — whatever you want).
If you construct an Avatar, and practice feeling like your Avatar, you then have the ability to adopt this handy-dandy “best of” persona when you speak in public. It’s almost like sending someone else to take the heat, and can be a tremendously empowering and reassuring way to deal with everything from anxiety to bad habits to hostile audiences.
But sometimes people ask me,
Can you be authentically yourself when what you’re putting forward is… your Avatar?
My answer is yes! — and here’s why:
Your Avatar Is an Authentic Version of You
Your Avatar doesn’t hide your true self — it just amplifies some parts of you, and allows you to downplay others.
You, like all human beings, are a sprawling, often messy collection of thoughts, qualities and contradictions. But when you create your Avatar, you can edit (or maybe clean up!) that collection and lead with the qualities that you believe will help you connect with your audience, stay grounded in your content, and be at ease when speaking in public.
Here’s an example of such an edit:
JEZRA (the real person) is complicated, vulnerable, often anxious, and prone to hiding in bed with a romance novel and a double scotch. She can be arrogant, imperious, and judgmental. She’s been known to pick stupid fights, and often feels incredibly, irrationally insecure when she’s faced with a new challenge. She can also be calm, confident, focused, and amazingly patient.
JEZRA, WARRIOR PRINCESS is calm, confident, focused, and amazingly patient.
See how that works?
You Can Be Authentic Without Revealing Everything That’s True About Yourself
Does authenticity demand that your audience know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about you?
As you can see from the example above, I think not.
Your audience doesn’t need to know every messy detail of who you are, any more than they need to know that you didn’t sleep well last night or wish you’d worn a different suit. (And if I’m coaching you, I’ll suggest you leave those details out!)
And let’s get real, here: Unless you plan to share all your “dark secrets” with an audience, or put every single facet of your personality on display at one time, you’re already creating an edited version of yourself-as-public-speaker.
Your Avatar just allows you to do this in a more conscious and constructive way.
“Authentic You” Includes the Person You Want to Become
Most of us would like to improve ourselves, and your Avatar is a great place to park the aspirational qualities that you’d like to bring to public speaking.
For me, that quality is calm; for you, it might be confidence, or power, or a sense of freedom. This is totally your choice — and building an Avatar that you can adopt as needed helps you (in the words of power posture maven Amy Cuddy) “fake it ‘till you become it.”
And while you’re becoming this future, better version of yourself, remember: your choices about how you want to grow and improve are not a hoax, meant to entrap your audience. Your dreams of who you aspire to be are an authentic part of who you are now.
One Caveat About Your Authentic Avatar
Of course, everything I’ve written here assumes that you’re creating an authentic Avatar — one that truly represents what you consider to be the best of who you are, and will become.
None of this holds true if you construct a Machiavellian Avatar — one whose intention is to manipulate, deceive, befuddle, or control others for your own gain.
But I’m guessing that you wouldn’t do that. And since you wouldn’t do that, you probably don’t need to worry about whether you’re being authentic enough.
Instead, be your best, do your best, and embrace your Avatar as a tool to help you succeed!
For more on Avatars, check out other posts on this topic, and Chapter 1 of Speak Like Yourself…No Really! Follow Your Strengths and Skills to Great Public Speaking.