March 3, 2010

Perfection is the enemy of authenticity

Some of the American Idol judges' comments this week about John Park's rendition of "Gravity" included "lacking connection," "try to feel the song," and "there could have been a little more soul in it."

Simon said, "I struggle with the believability..." and "It just didn't feel authentic...."

Kara said, "When you're singing it, I don't always believe it. I don't know whether it's because you want to be perfect and you want to hit the notes... but you need to let loose and get out of that comfort zone of yours."

I think she hit the nail on the head. When John Park sang the song, he was so focused on getting it right that he failed to connect emotionally with the song and with the audience.

How often do you find yourself, as a speaker, stressed out because you're afraid of forgetting something or not doing everything exactly as you've planned and rehearsed it?

The more you try to memorize your presentation and make it perfect, the farther away you get from being honest (as John Park said he wanted to be) and authentic. The reason for this is that there's no such thing as perfect. We're all human. No one is perfect. So in striving to be perfect, you end up obscuring your true, authentic self under a mechanical performance.

Audiences don't care about perfection. They don't expect it. They want to relate to you, laugh, cry, be surprised, get goosebumps and feel something when you speak. If you don't feel it, how do you expect them to feel it?

Reveal yourself by getting out of your comfort zone. Stop playing it safe. Be vulnerable. Take a risk. Make a mistake. Make connecting with your passion and connecting with your audience the priority, instead of obsessing about getting everything right.

Perfection is the enemy. Resist!

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9 comments. Please add yours! :

Elad Sherf said...

I have been reading your blog for a while now and I think this is one of your best posts yet! So true and so transferable to other parts of our lives!
I wrote something similar this week, also talking about authenticity, but taking a different approach, one of passion:
Thank you so much for writing this!

passenger57 said...

Great post - very true.

If you want to see examples of raw, imperfect presentations which nevertheless deliver the goods, check out

Ignite presentations consist of 20 slides, each of which last for 15 seconds exactly. This means the presenter has no control over the slides, but just has to hang along for the ride.

It results in presentations which are far from perfect, but which nevertheless connect with the audience, exactly as Lisa is suggesting.

Steve (organiser at

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thank you for your comments, Elad and Steve. Sounds like Ignite is a great way to get out of one's comfort zone! Elad, I'll check out your post.

Michael Crosby said...

Thank you Lisa for the insightful post.

I've recently given my 10th speech in Toastmasters. My failings are that I'm monotone, that I don't let myself go.

I really think if I could be myself, it would open a whole new world in my speaking life. It's as though there's a shell around me, and I don't want others to look inside.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

It's not easy to let go, Michael. Once we reach our preteen years, it's just not okay any more to stand out and be individual. It's more acceptable to be safe, fit in, and be like everyone else. By the time we're mature enough to realize that there's more that we want to reveal, we have this hard shell, as you say, and it's tough to crack.

If you really want to crack it, you can. You don't have to do it all at once. Just take your time and take baby steps.

John Nelson said...

I totally agree with what you say about trying to much to be perfect. However, for me, the more memorized I have my presentations the better. It's not that I have to be word for word, but if it's all there in my head ready to be accessed I'm more comfortable and am able to be more flexible.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

As long as you are connecting with the audience authentically, and not coming across as mechanical, do what works for you.

Unknown said...

Great post, Lisa. I used to have the impractical desire to be give perfect presentations. Then one of my mentors said to me, "Never forget what Mary Poppins suggested, 'Be practically perfect.'" I have always remembered this and practice it as diligently as possible.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Great advice from your mentor!

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