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'It's Only Words' - Integrity And Authenticity In Public Speaking

23/11/2016 17:25
Bastiaan Slabbers via Getty Images

In my line of work, as the MD of a speaker bureau, I find myself discussing integrity in relation to public speaking on a regular basis. Why does it matter if our leaders and influencers in the public eye possess integrity? Is it okay for businesses and political figures to lack integrity if their messages are, at least, authentic (i.e. they genuinely believe in what they're saying)?

If we define integrity as the quality of having strong moral principles; of using your beliefs, stories and ideas to serve and guide society to a better place in an honest way, you'd think that this would implicitly align with authenticity. If a keynote or motivational speaker authentically believes in what they are saying, doesn't this imply that they also integrally know that it is the right thing?

I used to believe that the two merged but, over last few months, I've started questioning whether they do, considering the world's current state of transition. 'Disruption' is the buzzword of the moment in business; reality flies in the face of political polls and stats, technological advances sit alongside shifting economic landscapes, and different cultural and religious movements are springing up continually.

In short, the concept of 'normal' has been thrown out the window. We no longer feel secure about the future because historical assumptions cannot be relied upon to predict what lies around the corner. As a result, we're in a situation where integrity and authenticity no longer necessarily dovetail.

The US election result has made this all too apparent. While it cannot be said that either candidate possessed integrity, Donald Trump managed to gain appeal as the 'authenticity' figure, leading to a shock victory over his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Not the first example of authenticity trumping integrity this year, the UK is still reeling over the Brexit vote. There's no doubt that the leaders of the Leave campaign genuinely believed that the country would be in a better state if Britain exited Europe. Since the referendum, however, their lack of integrity has risen to the surface in many forms - including an inaccurate £350 million NHS saving claim.

We've also seen it in business. Companies like Uber, for example, have been promoting the trend towards the gig economy, claiming that people working for the car company are better off as self-employed. Recently, however, it was ruled that these workers have the right to be described as 'employed' after all.

What does this tell us? It tells us that, these days, integrity is not required of spokespeople within the business and political spheres. Nonetheless, due to their authenticity, Leave campaigners were successful, Uber has rapidly grown as a business, and Donald Trump has been elected as America's 45th president.

With that in mind, I ask myself - if you are being authentic, do you need to have integrity? My immediate reaction used to be, "Of course", but as I think about this further, I return to my thoughts about the world's current landscape. Perhaps the concept of integrity slips slightly when times are as unpredictable as at present.

My issue with this, however, is that I am fully aware of a speaker's power to inspire real and enduring change on both a personal and professional level. I witness it every day. While this makes it an absolute prerequisite that a speaker's messages are authentic, integrity on their part is arguably even more critical: is the content of their speech going to guide people the right way forward, all things considered? Lest the public lose faith in the political figures and companies representing our needs and desires, we should be able to trust that they are willing to take on this responsibility.

As I write, I grow concerned that my viewpoint comes across as negative, but I live in hope that, despite uncertain times, we can still aspire to be individuals or businesses with integrity. When times are tough, there is a tendency for some of our principles to fall by the wayside when we no longer have the security of understanding our position in the world. However, given the turmoil of the world we live in today, I'd argue that it is more important than ever for our mentors and influencers to step up to the challenge and to guide us on how to become better individuals, companies and communities.

To find out more about Nick Gold and Speakers Corner click here.

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