World-changing authenticity — a true story

Authenticity: some people love it, some people hate it. I’m in the former camp. I’m always pushing my clients for personal anecdotes to anchor the business points they want to make. It surprises them at first, my insistence on finding out about what they do when they kick off their business shoes. But once the feedback starts coming in—the emails from people in far-flung corners of the business, saying how much they connected with the story du jour—then they’re hooked. They see it’s not just meaningless blabber; it’s world-changing authenticity.

I had the privilege of seeing authenticity in action in a speech I gave for alumnae of my high school last week. The organizers described it as a “TED Talk-like event” (we’ll save the discussion of that overused description for another time). They encouraged me to talk about a transformative business experience. And then they called back to say they hoped I would also talk about my side gig as a cabaret singer. All in seven minutes, max. No problem.

So I talked about how I became a speechwriter by saying yes to an unexpected opportunity.

I talked about the importance of respecting your ideas, about how I almost swatted away the idea for my Cicero Award-winning speech because it presented itself as a distraction. I’ve written about that before.

world-changing authenticity
Singing as Elaine St. George at a City Hall pride event in NYC, 2004?
And I talked about my start as a cabaret singer, that I’d had an idea for a lesbian cabaret show for about 15 years before I had the wherewithal to make it a reality. One legendary cabaret figure told me I was the first out lesbian cabaret singer in New York.

World-changing authenticity — just one story away

After the program, a woman—somewhere in her early 70s, very elegant, slightly stooped—came up to talk with me. I had to lean in to hear her. She asked me about the environment for gay students at the school today and I told her all the very encouraging things I’d heard and seen.

Speaking even more softly, she said, “I’m bisexual. And I’ve never been able to tell my classmates.” In full voice, she added: “But that ends today!”

I hadn’t expected my presentation would impact anyone that profoundly. I figured they’d be amused; I hoped they’d be entertained. I never thought of it as a speech about LGBT visibility. If you asked me what I hoped they’d take away from the speech, I would have answered:

“If you’re going to hire a speechwriter, make time to talk to your speechwriter. Your very own self. Don’t delegate it.”

But my authenticity connected powerfully with that woman. And encouraged her to become more authentic in her own life.

That’s a tremendous gift. That’s world-changing authenticity, at least in her world—and mine.

If you find yourself wondering “to be or not to be…authentic?”—I hope you’ll remember that elegant older woman. You never know whose life you can impact when you share even a small piece of yourself.


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