Candid Camera, one of the most successful television shows of all time, came about almost entirely by accident. And the accidental discovery that created a cultural phenomenon 50 years ago can help you better connect with your audiences today.
While he was riding out WWII at Oklahoma’s Camp Gruber, Candid Camera creator Alan Funt hosted a show on Armed Forces Radio called “The Gripe Booth” which featured interviews with enlisted men griping about Army life. Before every show, Funt would engage his guests in casual banter to warm them up. But no matter how relaxed and entertaining his guests were before the start of the show, as soon as the “On the Air” light clicked on, they froze. Every single time.
So Funt did something unorthodox—he unscrewed the “On the Air” lightbulb and recorded his guests without their knowledge. The result: unaware that they were being recorded, his guests came across as authentic and engaging storytellers.
And that’s what you need to do … unscrew your “On the Air” lightbulb.
Before the internet, spokespeople had to have a patina of perfection in order to command the attention and respect of targeted demographics (or so it was thought). Movie stars, sports heroes, and other “perfect” people told us what to buy, what to wear, what to eat … and we listened because we trusted them. And now too many of us emulate them, putting on our perfect public persona whenever we speak “publicly.”
But authenticity trumps perfection every time on social. So the harder you work at perfecting your spiel, the less effective you will be connecting with your audience.
According Dr. Brene Brown, author of the New York Times bestseller The Gifts of Imperfection, “perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it's the thing that's really preventing us from being seen.”
Here are three simple hacks that will help you become a more authentic speaker.
1. Talk to your mother. Or your buddy. Literally. You have an authentic voice. You use it whenever you talk with your friends or family. So whether you’re debating a foe on national television or speaking to 100 of your peers at an industry event, make a deliberate effort to use the same vocabulary, cadence, and tone of voice you would use while speaking with someone close to you. Sure, you’ll have to adjust around the edges accordingly. But you’ll be amazed at how liberating it is to speak naturally in an unnatural setting.
2. Listen to your audience before you speak. No matter what your topic is or who you are speaking to, your words will be perceived as more authentic if they reflect the thoughts, concerns and perspective of your audience. (There are a million ways to listen effectively, which we’ll dig into in a subsequent post.)
3. Say “I don’t know.” You want to win over an audience? Admit when you don’t know the answer to a question. You can even take it a step further and ask if anyone on the audience can answer the question. If not, promise to find the answer and circle back. Then do.
One last thing … When Candid Camera first aired, it got a lot of negative reaction from people who didn’t like watching someone be humiliated on national television. It wasn’t until Funt added the tag line, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!” that the show really took off.
So as you find—and start using—your genuine authentic voice, remember to have some fun with it. And smile!