Authenticity and Professional Image – Is the Real You Good Enough?

I recently interviewed London Mayor Boris Johnson at an event in Singapore.

Boris HairHe’s an interesting guy – expected to be U.K. Prime Minister someday – but for the life of me, I couldn’t stop looking at his hair!

It’s blonde, spiky and goes in many different directions. I was intrigued as to how a man in one of the world’s most conservative professions could pull off such a wild look.

After 30 seconds, I had my answer…

Mr. Johnson’s irreverent approach to image works because it is rooted in authenticity. He’s a cheeky devil and his wild hair is simply an expression of his personality.

Here are a few pointers to help you project your most authentic professional image.


#1: Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Accent

You no longer have to be from a certain place or sound a certain way to be successful.  Many of my media training clients approach me for help with disguising their accent or the fact that English is their second language.

My advice? Let it go.

People don’t care about your accent.  In fact, talking like yourself comes across as real, confident and trustworthy.  You’re not a robot.  You may even make a grammatical error that’s is specific to where you grew up.  So what?

Some of the best television guests I have interviewed didn’t try to hide where they came from.  A billion dollar fund manager from Queens had an accent that sounded street smart.  A feisty banker from Liverpool came across as tough and capable.

Don’t be afraid to talk like yourself.


 Rule #2: Appreciate What You Have to Offer, Even if it’s Different from What You Admire

Early in my news career, it used to drive me nuts that no matter how hard I tried, I just could not pull off being funny.  My co-anchor was brilliant at making people laugh.  I would watch him in awe.

As much as I admired my colleague, being comedic was just not something I could do authentically.  I was referred to as “nice” or the “social glue of the show” which – at the time – I considered boring and completely unacceptable!

But after viewers would comment on how they found my voice on their TV sets soothing first thing in the morning, I gradually started appreciating what I had to offer.   It was different but no less valuable.

Stop trying to emulate the strengths of others and do what comes naturally to you.  You’ll be the best at it and I promise people will notice.

Which leads us to….


#3: Embrace Your True Personality Type

Are you an introvert pretending to be outspoken and gregarious to fit in with your company’s culture?  Or an extrovert trying to tone it down because you think that’s what required?

That’s exhausting.  Acting like something you are not is like holding a beach ball under water – it requires a huge amount of energy.  Energy that could be better used staying focused on your message and your clients’ needs.

Your professional strengths will shine through when you are coming from a place of authenticity.

Lisa & Boris Interview
London Mayor Boris Johnson on stage with Lisa Oake in Singapore.

A friend of mine recently confided that her husband complains that she only wears black, white and beige.  I was surprised at the comment because I think she always looks classy and elegant.  Her wardrobe contributes to that perception.

So, which opinion should she listen to?  Mine or her husband’s?

Neither.  She should listen to her own opinion.  Wearing what makes you feel good – whether it’s crazy hair or a classic suit – generates confidence.  Confident people do better.

End of story.


Rule #5: Don’t Try to Disguise a Balding Head

No comb overs.  No hairpieces.  No colored spray.  A confident bald guy will always project more presence and credibility than a guy trying to cover it up.

To avoid a shiny head during interviews, photos or presentations, use a shine control gel like this one from the Body Shop.


#6: Don’t Embellish Your Résumé or Your Past

Your résumé and your word are arguably the most important places to be authentic.

The Internet now makes it close to impossible to get away with distorting facts.  Just ask NBC’s Brian Williams who was caught embellishing stories about his time covering the invasion of Iraq.

There is a saying in the news business:

“Credibility takes years to build and just seconds to destroy.”  

The same logic applies to your professional image.  Always stick to the facts.

Putting your authentic self out into the business world means you may face criticism or even outright rejection.  But doing so suggests you are brave and truthful – both of which generate trust across all corporate cultures.


Eleven Essential Rules for TV Interviews

Media Training Tips to help you hit a home run with your next interview.

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Former CNBC anchor Lisa Oake with media training tips from the newsroom.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: A Former TV News Anchor Trains Executives To Be Better Communicators

A prominent journalist is using her experience to give media training to executives of firms including wealth managers. Let’s face it, in this day and age when there is sometimes hostile coverage of the financial sector, there is an urgent need for managers to effectively explain what they are doing, and why. This publication recently spoke to Lisa Oake, who is the former co-host of CNBC Asia’s top-rated morning program Squawk Box. She recently founded Oake Media ( in Singapore, offering media training to executives. We caught up with Lisa over a coffee to examine how she is working with the private banking and associated wealth management services specialists. It turned out that she is a very busy person.

Why are bankers coming to you for media training and what sort of reasons do they give for seeking your advice?

Private banking has become fiercely competitive in Asia. As banks compete for the region’s new wealth, they want their representatives to do two things really well: present a consistent, well-developed message and project confidence in every external interaction. We can usually accomplish that with a half day (four hours) of media training.

What are the most common issues your clients have to resolve before they are ready to be interviewed?

The two biggest challenges are always a fear of the camera and a fear of embarrassment – of not knowing the answer to a question. We teach our clients how to look relaxed and confident – yes, there are little tricks you can use – even when they are nervous. They are also coached on how to gracefully move a discussion away from a topic they do not want to discuss to their area of expertise without skipping a beat. It’s a skill that can be used in any situation.

Is media coaching really necessary? Aren’t some people just naturally good speakers?

I’ve done thousands of radio and television interviews. I can tell you from firsthand experience the interviewees with media training always make a better impression. They know where to look, how to deliver their messages and are more polished. They learned the basics from a professional and then practiced until they made it look easy. It’s a lot like learning how to play golf. Your swing is going to be doomed if you try to go it alone without any instruction from a golf pro.

Tell us what happens in a typical training session

Our team sets up in a clients conference room or office. There is a trainer, camera crew and make-up artist along with lights, cameras, microphones and playback equipment.

We do a baseline interview to assess existing skill level. The interview is critiqued and any distracting verbal or physical behaviours are highlighted and corrected.

The client is professionally made-up and given an image consultation.

Several intense interviews with difficult questions are recorded and critiqued. We stop the video often to point out areas that need to be improved upon.

We practice interviews with different formats (in-studio, remote location) and simulate technical difficulties so clients know what to do if it happens during a live interview.

At the end of the sessions, each client is given a DVD with the only copy of his/her practice interviews. This allows complete peace of mind mistakes made in training will not end up being shared with others.

It’s hard work – mostly practical and hands on with a bit of theory – but lots of fun. The clients appreciate our honesty and frank assessments. Your best friend or colleague usually won’t give you honest feedback on an interview performance because they don’t want to hurt your feelings!

Is this something with which people in Asia are more enthusiastic about compared with other regions?

Media training is catching on quickly in Asia. Media platforms are mingling and there is a growing awareness of the incredible levels of exposure an interview can provide. For example, if you do one interview on CNBC it may show up on, be quoted on Twitter and shared on Linkedin and Facebook within minutes.

There is also a downside – if you mess up during an interview it can go viral almost instantly. Remember BP CEO Tony Hayward’s comment after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? “I’d like my life back,” he said. Those five words destroyed public goodwill towards BP and according to one poll, made Hayward the most hated man in America.

More professionals in Asia are opting for media training to maximize positive exposure and minimise the risk of making a career-damaging faux pas.

Do you see an influence from North America in the media-savvy side of the private bank
executive job?

Absolutely. North American executives have always understood the power of media to promote their brands. Many international banks are now competing locally for a piece of the lucrative wealth management market. It has changed the competitive dynamic. I can see more local banks embracing the importance of a well-honed message and image. Cross-border M&A is also spreading a culture that recognises the role of the media in brand development. Relationships are still the main driver of private banking revenue but a polished management team reassures clients their money is in good hands.

Given all the reputational issues affecting banking, how important in your view are such skills and what particular elements would you identify?

A – Scandals and increased regulation in banking have made the jobs of industry spokepersons exceptionally difficult. It’s always best to answer questions honestly and without “spin.” But often a representative can’t answer because of legal concerns or ongoing investigations. Bank representatives should be trained how to respond to questions that are off limits in a way that doesn’t sound like they are avoiding the issue.

Saying “No Comment” is not an option. We often work with a bank’s communication and legal teams to craft specific responses to tricky questions expected to come up in interviews.

What is the most important thing that you learned from your background in the media that you think applies to wealth management?

The old cliché is true – perception really is reality. You can have all of the skill and knowledge in the world but if you fail to project a likeable, credible image, you will lose your audience/clients.

Finally, this career is very different from your 16-year role as a news anchor at CNBC Asia. Are you enjoying it?

I love my new job! As a journalist, I had to ask tough questions and play devil’s advocate. As a trainer, I am enjoying a more nurturing role which fits perfectly with my personality. I get to help successful people who feel vulnerable in a specific area. It’s a wonderful feeling when they see improvement and have the confidence to do something they used to fear. Plus, after sixteen years of getting up at 3:00 a.m. to do a morning show, this is a welcome change of schedule!

The Peak Oake Media Profile

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