It was my big break. I worked for weeks on my presentation. I watched videos, I practiced, I watched videos of myself practicing, I was ready.
This was going to be my opportunity to shine. I was presenting a workshop beside my mentor for the first time and I wanted to show him that I was as good as he was.
The big day came and we worked side by side. I thought it went really well until he pulled me aside afterward to tell me that it didn’t.
“Randy, we hired you to be you.” He told me. “We already have one of me.”
He went on to tell me that when I try to be someone else, I’m not just doing a disservice to myself, but I’m holding something back from my audience.
I was floored.
It seems for most of my life I had imitated people that I admire. I took the saying Act as If extremely literal. Instead of picking up the qualities that I admired in people, I was engaging in a form of hero worship that left me trying to be someone else.
All great communicators have heroes. Martin Luther King idolized his father, President Kennedy admired Churchill, Ronald Reagan wanted to be like Franklin Roosevelt but each of them had to find their own voice, their own style and their own way to be authentic in order to be successful.
This has been my biggest challenge as a speaker and I know I’m not alone but as I have worked harder at being myself, I have learned some really valuable lessons.
First, it’s a lot more fun to just be me. There’s a freeing feeling that comes from being myself true self when I present because no one can tell my story the way that I can. This is true for all of us but only when we embrace who really are can we relax enough to tell it.
Second, my connection with my audience is much deeper when I’m not holding back. Emerson once famously wrote that “what you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say.” I’ve found that this is true for all of us. An audience will respond to sincerity but it’s impossible to be sincere when you’re trying to be someone else no matter how good you are at doing it. That sincerity will forge a much deeper connection than a flawless performance.
Lastly, my goal is always to be memorable and I can only be remembered if I’m different. It’s taken me a long time to realize that it’s the fact that I’m unique that is my gift. What makes me stand out from other speakers is that when I’m myself, there can’t be another like me. When you are yourself, there can’t be another you and that’s your key to being memorable.
Figuring out who we are and embracing it probably our highest form of maturity. I am a long way from being mature so I still have some work to do, but I’m going to keep trying. Along the way I will continue to have people that I admire and qualities that I want to develop but if I’m going to have fun, really connect with my audience make myself memorable, I have to do it while being myself. After all, they hired me to be me, they already have someone else.