I had to laugh when I read Adam Grant's article in the New York Times last week: "Unless You're Oprah, 'Be Yourself' is Terrible Advice." I have said the same thing to countless clients-- really? Do you truly think "being yourself" is such a good idea? But "authenticity" remains a buzzword. It is almost as if being "authentic" has become a sort of magic wand. Or Holy Grail.
When clients ask me to help them be more authentic, I ask what that means. I receive a wide variety of definitions. So I define it, and we get to work. Actually, I define authentic presence--that confident place where you embody a relaxed energy that gets your message across in a dynamic, memorable way. Because that's what they really want. It's not quite the same thing as "being yourself," especially if you are a "low self-monitor" (as Adam Grant would say) who does not filter much of your inner life.
I teach my clients strategies for recognizing where their presence lies, how to access it, and how to consistently project it. Of course the route to each person's authenticity is specific, but there are some general rules. Practicing proper breathing and posture is essential, as is the understanding that speaking is a physical activity. Then you can get out of your head and into your body, which is where you need to be to convey presence. And when you do that, your authenticity falls into place. You are projecting your best self: in control but not pushy, focused but not self-centered. You are confidently sharing what is important to you with others, yet remain open to their ideas, ready to listen and truly connect.
The opposite of this is false presence. And false presence is pretense. It takes more mental effort to maintain a seamless pretense than most people (professionally-trained actors excluded) are capable of sustaining. And of course, there is the default--no presence--which is what may people project. It's not that they are being inauthentic, it's just that their sense of authenticity is submerged and imperceptible to the listener or audience. The professional term for these people is "boring," and they break the second rule of effective communications (the first is "know your audience," btw).
The good news is that everyone has authentic presence to discover and use. Just don't confuse it with unfiltered bouts of "being yourself."