Authenticity. It’s something that speakers strive for, but it’s not an easy concept to define. So then, what does an authentic speaker look like? And, what doesn’t authenticity look like?

Authenticity is:


Authentic speakers open up. They tackle difficult subjects that matter most to them. They share stories about their failures and challenges, not to seek sympathy, but to genuinely help their listeners. They also may use self-deprecating humor. Here are a few examples of speakers who are vulnerable:

  • Example 1 Vulnerability: Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
  • Example 2 Vulnerability: Isabel Stenzel Byrnes “The art of saying goodbye” at TEDxStanford


Authentic speakers not only care deeply about their subject; their passion conveys in their delivery style. Every speaker expresses enthusiasm uniquely. Here are a few examples of enthusiastic speakers:

  • Example 1 Enthusiasm: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” (his intonation, especially after the first few minutes)
  • Example 2 Enthusiasm: Hans Rosling “Stats that reshape your world-view” (energy with which he talks about and refers to his data)


Authentic speakers look at home on the stage or at the lectern (even if they don’t necessarily feel that way). They’re in the moment. They’re focused on connecting with the audience rather than saying their “lines” in a certain way. Here are a few examples of comfortable speakers:

  • Example 1 Comfortable: Brené Brown “The power of vulnerability” (her smile and conversational tone)
  • Example 2 Comfortable: Ronald Reagan at the 1976 Republican National Convention (cool and confident off the cuff)

Authenticity isn’t:

Revealing how nervous you are

Many people think that authentic public speaking is an oxymoron – for many professionals, there’s nothing authentic about standing in front of an audience and giving a formal speech. Even so, being authentic doesn’t require that you share with your audience how nervous you’re feeling or how much you dislike public speaking.

There is a performative quality to presenting, which requires speakers to project confidence and poise in the face of nervousness. As you gain experience, your feelings will come closer and closer to matching your outward manifestations of confidence, such as open posture, loud voice, friendly smile, and lasting eye contact. But your feelings will never mirror your performance. That makes you human, not a fake.

Falling into distracting speaking habits

Some speakers use authenticity as an excuse for using poor speaking habits in their presentation – like using repetitive and distracting hand gestures, littering the speech with junk words like “um” and “you know,” or speaking with a fast rate or a soft voice. They say, “Well, this is how I really talk.”

True, such behaviors may be consistent with your everyday communication style, but they still detract from your message and should be improved in both your formal and informal speaking so you can be more effective.

Reading a script

For the vast majority of speakers, reading a manuscript leads to a speech that is wooden and overly formal. Sure, some actors can pull it off and some speakers who use professional speechwriters can pull it off (I think Steve Jobs did it in his graduation speech referenced above). But scripting isn’t the fast track to authenticity for most presenters.

Instead, focus on an extemporaneous method of delivery and try using our speech outline tool to get there. You might also want to consider 1-on-1 coaching to help focus on speaking in a conversational tone and making eye contact, which both contribute to authenticity.

In many ways, authentic speech is the Holy Grail for public speakers. By exploring what it is and isn’t, hopefully it’ll become more achievable.