Ensuring Trust in Thought Leadership: Authenticity in Professional Speaking

By Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

image of a person typing on a keyboard and text that says The Power of Authenticity: Committing to Real Human-Created ContentLast week, we got provocative about how prolific artificial intelligence (AI) writing has become and raised the red flag that it’s running roughshod over our trust in thought leadership. So much so that some social media companies require people to identify if a piece of content was AI-generated. Why? We’re losing trust in what we’re consuming. Who knows what’s real anymore? You might be wondering why I am even writing about this. Am I not supposed to be a recognition expert? Say positive things and all that?

Yes, I am a recognition expert, and I am also a thought leader. My fellow speakers are thought leaders. When AI writing isn’t disclosed, we are contributing to a loss of trust and perpetuating the question, “What information is real anymore?” This and last week’s article aims to ensure you’re an informed consumer of thought leadership. Today, I share why our team believes you deserve to be guaranteed that when you hire a thought leader to speak for your team, organization or association, you deserve to have them be the ideas behind every article and book they’ve written.

You Deserve a Professional Speaker Who Thinks

We, professional speakers, authors, and other thought leaders, are at serious risk of relationship debt when we don’t tell you what and when we share ideas from other people or systems.

One of the many prompts in ChatGPT is “Write a complete book in one click.” YIKES! It’s on the main page. If people see that every time they open ChatGPT, it’s a subliminal message that “even authors aren’t writing their brown stuff anymore.” It makes me feel so very deflated. You, too?

I feel the same way about comedians doing routines written by writers, singers only crooning others’ songwriters’ work, artists copying Monet, or authors having ghostwriters. You can be very talented, but do you ever truly feel like “the talent” when someone (or a whole team of someones) propped you up so heavily that if they were suddenly gone, where would you be as a professional? If it’s someone (or something) else’s work, say it is! In the case of comedy and arts, if you’ve got an amazing voice or delivery, don’t know how to write songs or need some writing help, then hey, make it transparent that your part of the equation is to be that killer performance! Put a disproportionate amount of time into that niche part of your contribution to the craft. Deliver the most delicious version that you’ve got in you. Be fantastic in your area of genius. But don’t call yourself a singer-songwriter if the second half was outsourced.

At one time, singers sang their own songs, but that’s no longer the norm. Although we know it’s the norm, aren’t we a tad jaded about the wealth of musicians who sing others’ songs?

Will the same happen in speaking? Will we outsource our ideas, and you hire charisma on the stage? Gosh, I hope not.

Speakers speak. The job description is in the title. And we don’t just speak any old words. 

You hire us for our words. Our thoughts. Our experience. Our unique lens to fix a problem you’re facing. 

How would you feel if someone else wrote and crafted everything we had to say for that hour before you? Sure, you probably wouldn’t mind if the slides were designed by a professional, and in fact, you might say, “Thank you for not forcing me to see bullet points on a white background for an hour!” That is where a different kind of expert adds to our craft of speaking versus a workaround. The designer frees a speaker up to do what only she, he or they can do. People don’t hire us for the slides; they learn better when the visuals prop up the message, so it’s a great value add when a speaker fills in the cracks with experts. No one would think they got ripped off if they knew a designer, ahem, designed the slides. Our clients would be very upset, I suspect, if they thought we didn’t write words and birth the concepts. 

Another important reason we speakers must be the core content creators of what they deliver onstage.

We need to write our words as speakers be we cannot lie to ourselves. 

We know when we shortchanged the thinking process. And we show up differently, less resourcefully, and either less confidently or compensate with too much ego. We don’t show up for you because we’re navigating our emotional landscape.

At the start of my speaking career, when I hired speaking coaches, some of whom had written a script for me, I sometimes felt like a bit of a fraud. One coach took it upon herself to write my script, and I went along with it as I was so green I thought that’s how it was done. No matter how many times I practiced it, the speech didn’t feel like me when I went to deliver it. The jokes didn’t land like she intended. I couldn’t make my body match the stories. It was like wearing someone else’s shoes on stage. Funnily enough, no one ever noticed my mismatched (script) shoes, but I noticed.

Believing In Your Greatness Takes Time and Effort

image of Sarah McVanel sitting in a chair writing on a tablet and text that says get inspired by our blogsDo you know what the game changer was? Writing every week. 

And I’m not talking speeches, jokes, and stories, although this works well for many trainers and speakers. For me, the writing is articles and books.

Did you know that the articles I write for you take between 2 to 4 hours: writing, proofing, reviewing again, and approving the newsletter? My colleagues Mallory and Monica are also in the mix, adding time and brilliance to the process. We put in the effort because your time is worth it. We hope every week to have earned your attention.

If something you’ve read makes you think, “Yes, we need our folks to hear that. Let’s hire Sarah to speak”, then we’ve done our job. And you know why it resonated? What’s propping up that article is the almost 400 that came before it and the five books, 400 speeches, two degrees, 15 years of corporate experience, 200 coaching clients and 10 years of speaking. 

The Silly AI Headshot Experiment

If you’re still unconvinced, let me show you a little experiment we did. AI headshots were all the rage a year or so ago, so I thought, why not? This will be fun! For $19 US got you 20 pictures (oh, what value!) Well, check out a few comparisons. 

Did I waste $19? Yes, I’d say so.

image of 2 pictures of Sarah McVanel. One is AI generated and the other is real to show the difference in authenticityWell, maybe it was a bad batch. What’s another $19? Now, it was a challenge. It’s wild because I never actually planned on using them as headshots, but I was not to be deterred as a naturally competitive person! I uploaded higher-resolution pictures, and guess what? They were just as bad (a few spit-out pics of what I’ll look like as a granny, so that was humbling). Why? Because the images they had to work with were bad! I later learned that some of those images were from corpses! No joke! Check out this snippet from a professional photographer, Jared Poirier of Galaxy Creatives, where he relieves this truth bomb.

Fortunately, we work with amazing photographers and videographers at Greatness Magnified, so we don’t need AI. Our longstanding queen of the capture, Stacey Koudys, recently reshot pictures for me, and you can see a few comparisons of her brilliance to some of the AI pics. Night and day, right?

You cannot compromise on the quality of the depiction of you – your words, your image, your heart, your soul.

You can’t take shortcuts on your greatness. That’s why if someone on my team uses their greatness to serve you, they will be the article’s author (Mallory has some amazing ones like this on Attracting and Retaining Young Employees, and Monica is the queen of roll-up reviews like THIS one). If we’ve used AI to help us with research or ideas, coolio, we’ll be transparent about that, too. We sometimes need a little help, and AI is a tool like any other to lend a hand. But you didn’t sign up for machine-written articles, so you’re getting us each week.

We’re honoured you gifted us with your time. We honour it, and we honour you. 

To that end, what articles, tools or resources do you need? Every one of our resources on our COOL STUFF page is designed from our client’s requests, and articles are often written based on questions I get after keynotes, so reply to this message with an article, tool or other requests. We’re here and ready to serve.

And remember, you are already Greatness™. Do you know how we know? Because we are already greatness, too. And it takes one to know one.

Looking for more info on AI-created content? Here are a few links to snack on:

Disclaimer/Humble Brag Moment: 100% of this content was human-generated (by us folks here at Greatness Magnified). We are committed to authorship integrity and will inform you what percent, if any, is AI-generated.

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Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

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Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
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Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

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Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

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Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

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Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

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