When the cameras roll, don’t switch off your humanity
At the beginning of the year, I read an article by a global PR influencer, who predicted authenticity would be a key trend for 2016.
Apart from the obvious irony at the concept of authenticity trending, it got me wondering what this would mean in a communications sense.
It surely doesn’t mean honesty, as so many of our politicians who have ventured off-message have discovered to their peril. It can’t be scripted, made so apparent by fallible sporting heroes trying to deliver lines drafted by a PR consultant.
So what does it look like?
I’ve reflected on the performances of a number of executives we’ve trained recently in preparation for a difficult announcement.
In these circumstances, very nice, empathic human beings become automatons as soon as the camera is turned on. The language of the pub (which Steve always encourages as a mindset) is replaced by ‘executive-speak’ delivered by some kind of boardroom robot.
To be sorry, express remorse or regret about a situation is tantamount to showing a shameful amount of weakness.
Executives are so ruled by fear – of the Board, the legal department, the CEO or the media’s response – that authenticity becomes a risk not worth taking.
But invariably, once we cajole our subjects into just giving it a try within the safety of the training space they are amazed and stunned to see the replay of their authentic selves reflected back.
One memorable time, an executive doggedly insisted on toing the political line delivering the agreed words provided by corporate affairs to every question during the mock interview. Steve and I began to despair knowing the real thing would be a disaster unless we could change gears somehow. We suggested a radical solution. “What would your response be if you could answer the way you really feel?”, we challenged.
The transformation was remarkable and we captured on camera a truly human and authentic response to the issue. Upon reflection and after seeking the advice of the legal department our spokesperson was relieved to be informed there was no issue with his answer and he had permission to proceed in this vein.
In essence, I think authenticity actually requires a huge leap of faith and willingness to step outside of the constraints of the corporate comfort zone. To go back to being the person you were before you put on the suit.
And I for one would welcome the age of authenticity. I’m just not sure it’s trending anytime soon.