Be Yourself—Even If It’s Awkward 

Business man using a presentation persona during a meeting.

The Turpin tagline—Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.—is really simple, and we’ve been using it for years. But we keep finding new resonance in it.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the “be yourself” part.

Recently, we were comparing notes and discovered that we’ve each had a few learners who put on a “presentation persona.” When they were presenting, their voices changed, their facial expressions became much more animated, and their body language got bigger. It was as if the person we’d been chatting with just a few minutes before got dialed up to 11 as soon as they had the floor.

Usually, this type of performance also comes with an attempt to be broadcaster-smooth, a little too fast, and a lot too choreographed in gestures and movement.  

Why do You go into Presentation Mode?

The reasons people do this are vast and varied. You may have been taught a lot of rules about how to “perform” your presentations in school. Or you are using that performance mask as a way to hide nerves or awkwardness. While this can seem, as least superficially, like a polished way to approach presenting, it’s actually a way to avoid working on genuinely productive, adaptable, and organic presentation skills.   

What is Your Presentation Persona Really Saying About You?

Here’s how a performance persona can derail your presentation or meeting and damage your personal brand. 

  • It diverts energy and focus from more important presentation behaviors.

    A business presentation or meeting is successful when the presenter/leader is engaged with their content and with their audience. Adding in a level of performance is a distraction from those fundamental skills.  

  • Questions, interruptions, and tangents that require thinking often cause the mask to fall.

    In a performance like a stage play, the actors don’t expect to be interrupted, so they and the audience assume they’ll stay in character for the duration of the play. A productive meeting or presentation—an Orderly Conversation, as we call them—is intended to invite the speaker to address audience queries and concerns. Formulating complex responses while staying “in character” is difficult. Presenters who try often flub one or the other, which wears away at trust and confidence. 

  • Over-the-top behavior can feel patronizing to audiences even when nothing goes wrong.

    Audiences naturally assume that someone with an outsized presentation style is untrustworthy and fake. In a business setting, no one wants to be at the mercy of such exaggerated presenters. 

The Presentation Persona Solution

The solution is, frankly, to be yourself: your nervous, awkward, smart, engaged self.

As we tell our learners all the time, you never look as nervous or awkward as you feel, and the more engaged you are, the faster you work through the nervousness. The real you is authentic and sustainable. The real you will be judged on the merits of what you say, not suspicions raised by how you say it. And the real you will show up at every meeting, every phone call, and every business lunch without you having to think about who you were last time.

Doesn’t that sound a lot easier to do? 

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