“You can’t fake authenticity” — a new leader emerges from tragedy

If you haven’t seen the poised, passionate, and extremely purposeful speech that Florida teenager Emma González, a survivor of the latest school shooting, gave last weekend stop reading right now and watch it.

Many people have commented on González’s speech, but I wanted to share one tweet in particular with you. It comes from Christopher Henry, a speechwriter from Canada. He wrote:

you can't fake authenticity

“You can’t fake authenticity in speeches. This is as authentic as it gets.”

I agree with him 100%. Anyone with a heart who watches the video can see that her tears and anger are genuine, as is her passion to change whatever needs to be changed so that no other school needs to endure what hers has.

Authenticity and preparedness

But notice something about this authenticity, please: She has written her speech in advance. She says it’s her “AP Gov notes,” but you can see by how often she lowers her eyes that she’s reading from those handwritten pages.

I run into so many speakers who equate “authenticity” with ad-libbing. “Just give me some talking points,” they say. “I’ll figure out the exact words when I get onstage.” If you’re one of those speakers, can you speak as eloquently as this without notes? By the end of the speech, I feel like González’s audience is ready to follow her wherever she wants to lead them. Do you get that kind of reaction from your off-the-cuff remarks?

I would also bet good money that González rehearsed her speech. Probably more than once. Pay attention to how she modulates her emotions. How she pauses for applause and cheers. How she intensifies the pace and volume when she wants to rouse the crowd. You don’t get that by shuffling through pages of your speech in the back of a town car on your way to the venue. You need to speak your text out loud. Preferably standing up.

“Ah, but if I rehearse,” I’ve heard clients say, “I won’t sound authentic.” No—you’ll sound like you haven’t read through your text. Isn’t that worse? Rehearse your prepared remarks until they don’t sound wooden. Until you can say the words and mean them.

Emma González shows us it’s possible to be both prepared and authentic. To rehearse and to bring genuine emotion to the podium. As Christopher Henry noted in his tweet, “This is what a leader looks like.”

As proud as I am of this young woman who spoke with such clarity and grace, I wish circumstances had not brought her into the spotlight.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are now, sadly, authorities on the real consequences of our inane gun laws. They have a platform and they’re leveraging it, honoring their fallen friends and teachers by trying to shame our lawmakers into changing the laws. I half-believe they might succeed. In fact, when I hear Emma González’s speech, it’s hard to imagine anything can stop them.


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[this piece originally published on LinkedIn]


Also published on Medium.