I’ve been following the current season of American Idol and one piece of consistent feedback the judges have been giving to several contestants is about being believable. They want the contestants to be authentic, to connect with the song they’re singing and to make the audience feel something. That’s good advice. I noticed that when the singers that have trouble in this area were performing, I was reading my book or doing something on my computer. But when the truly authentic and believable singers were on stage, I found myself riveted to the screen, hanging on their every word – whether they were singing my kind of music or not. Authenticity – it matters.
It matters for performers and it matters for leaders and entrepreneurs. Authenticity directly impacts your influence. People can sense your genuineness or lack thereof and they won’t follow you if they don’t believe you. They make decisions about working with you and purchasing from you based on your ability to connect and to be real. One of the most overused phrases of the last decade has to be “keeping it real”. Everyone is supposedly “keeping it real” but are we really?
Have you seen Arsenio Hall’s new show? I’ve seen it a few times and to be honest I have a very hard time watching Arsenio conduct interviews. On the surface, he’s doing everything right – he’s leaning forward in his chair, he’s nodding his head and he appears to be hanging off of his guest’s every word. But as the interview goes on, it’s clear that he’s not listening at all; he’s simply thinking about his next question or the next point he wants to make. Sometimes the guest says something really funny or really interesting and instead of exploring that topic or asking a follow up question, Arsenio just asks his next prepared question – whether it fits with the conversation or not. I find it myself cringing as I watch. His interviews are awkward and uncomfortable because he’s not being authentic.
One of the reasons Arsenio comes off as inauthentic is because he’s not in the moment. He’s too busy thinking about what he’s going to say next. What are you thinking about as you talk to people? Are you thinking about closing the sale? Your next meeting? Your to do list? When you’re in a meeting with an employee, perspective client or someone else and you’re thinking about 10 million other things, you’re not only being rude, you’re potentially missing out on opportunities to connect and build deeper relationship with the person. You’re also letting that person know that they are not very important to you. If they’re not important to you, why should they follow you or do business with you?
I created an exercise I call “Clean Slate” to get myself centered. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and hold it for a second or two. Try to clear your mind and focus intently on your breathing. As you exhale say “I’m not thinking about what has happened”. Take another deep breath in and hold it for one or two seconds. As you exhale say “I’m not thinking about what’s going to happen”. Take one last deep breath in. Hold it for one or two seconds. As you exhale say “I’m in the now”.
Take a minute before every meeting to get centered and to be present. Trust that you are prepared for the meeting and that you will say the right things. Know that the issues and projects lingering in the back of your mind will be there waiting for you after your meeting. Focus on what’s happening right in front of you. Be present, be authentic and watch your influence grow!