When I first started working online, the most popular advice was, “Be authentic. Your online presence should be just like your offline self. Be authentic. Be real.”
That’s great advice. For most businesses, coming across as authentic online will require some thoughtful planning and careful decisions.
Great speakers often sound spontaneous. They work very hard to sound spontaneous without threatening their professionalism.
Make-up artists know that you need lots of creative skill to come up with a look that says, “I’m not wearing make-up and I look gorgeous.”
Dolly Parton famously said, ‘It costs me a lot of money to look this cheap.”
What does it really mean to be ‘authentic?'”
Psychologists know that we have many possible selves, not just one. If you think about it, what’s your authentic self when you
…talk to the pastor of your church
…attend a formal wedding with people you care about
…hang out with your closest friends at a coffee shop or bar
…work out at the gym
…meet the parents of your significant other for the very first time
You get the idea, even if these situations won’t always fit you. Here are a few suggestions to start.
(1) Don’t write the way you speak.
Often well-meaning coaches will advise you to talk into a recorder and pay attention to the way you speak. But a transcript of your spoken words won’t capture your authentic personality on the printed page.
Professional writers know the truth. Our words appear different in print than they do when spoken.
(2) Use simple language.
One way to do this is to show your writing to a teenager. If he or she can’t understand what you are saying, you are probably being too technical. This technique also works when you are writing a resume or sales letter that will be read by someone who’s not familiar with the jargon of your industry.
Even if you’re working in a technical field, find a way to lose the jargon. Chances are your buyer will not be the most technical person in your audience. And nobody sounds like “the real me” when they’re using double-barreled four-syllable words.
(3) Write every day. even if you just keep a private journal.
As you write often, you develop your writing voice and develop your style.
(4) Write fast.
You will probably come across as more authentic because you won’t be censoring yourself as you go. You will sound relaxed and confident rather than timid and insecure.
Many professional writers knock out a first draft before going back to edit… and then they edit some more.
(5) Begin with a story.
Telling a story guarantees you’ll be unique. Nobody else could tell your story in your own way, even if your story isn’t about yourself.
You can tell 3 types of stories –
stories about your journey to get from there to here (journey stories)
stories about how you helped clients reach their goals (success stories)
stories that clarify concepts you want to share or explain how your business really works
You can learn more about these types of stories from my kindle book, Grow Your Business One Story At A Time. I’ve also got a course on Udemy that walks you through the story process, step by step.
(6) Err on the side of being just a little bit formal.
It is important to sound professional, even when your normal speech includes a lot of slang.
Be especially careful with 4-letter “cuss words.”
Clients may use these words and encourage you to do the same, especially as you relax together with a drink, after a long day. But they don’t necessarily want to hear those words from a professional who’s getting paid to help them.
(7) Share personal information sparingly. It’s easy to fall into the trap of Too Much Information.
A casual story can be taken out of context, whether delivered in writing or in person.
When I first started on the internet, my site was about career change. I shared my own winding road journey: I moved a lot and took a free spirit approach to life in general and my career in particular.
To my horror, some people wrote to say, “Wow – you must be a big risk taker!” Or even, “I see you leap before the net appears.”
Actually, I never risked going broke or being homeless. I moved with a stash of cash and often with someone else paying the moving company. I just had the “free spirit” mindset.
It’s easy to seek authenticity by joining a “come as you are” party. I’ve seen videos of people presenting to business audiences in rumpled t-shirts and baggy jeans. I’ve heard lots of people using strong language to show they’re ordinary, down-to-earth people.
Your audience may welcome you and embrace your style. But all too often, they’re quietly thinking, “That person could use a bit of professional polish.” Sounding authentic without losing professionalism can require a boatload of work.
Learn more: FREE: 3 Story Mistakes Most Business Owners Make.
Does your website sound authentic? Let’s start with a