Yesterday I saw the film “The Hunger Games,” and I was struck by how well it conveys what it takes to be an authentic, successful public speaker.
In the movie the heroine Katniss is pulled from her humble life hunting game in the woods for her little sister and mother, and is thrust into the national spotlight of a highly televised reality TV / Survivor-type contest. Out of 24 contestants, only 1 can remain alive at the end of two weeks. She knows it has to be her, because her family needs her, and her commitment to her family is absolute.
In the bizarrely artificial world of the big city it is Katniss’ ability to “make people like her” that will determine her survival. In addition to relying on her finely tuned, earthy instincts for hunting she also has to influence public perception on a wide scale. And as she puts it, “I’m not good at saying something.”
In a pivotal moment as she prepares to be interviewed on national TV, Katniss tells her mentor she knows she’s supposed to get people to like her. But she’s clearly not comfortable with this. Her mentor gives her some sage advice: just be yourself, and pretend like you are just talking to me.
He knows it will be her authenticity in the end that will move and engage her audience. She won’t win people’s hearts by trying to become someone she is not. At the same time, though, he is not naïve–he also knows she will need to do certain things to grab her audience’s attention. She will need to be more theatrical and dynamic than she’s used to. But she can do this without compromising who she is at the core.
In fact, what helps her most in the end is that she combines her own authenticity—staying true to her deepest self—along with a certain amount of showmanship where she takes on the public role she needs to take on in order to be relevant and truly speak to her audience.
This, I think, is exactly what great speakers do. They stay grounded in their own self and connected to their own truth, and yet at the same time they are also willing to adapt their style and approach because they know they need to, in order to really connect with their audience.
I won’t give away the end of the movie. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to part 2.