If you study or experience Japanese culture, it’s only a matter of time before you come across the concept of tatemae, the feelings/attitude that one projects to the public.  Tatemae may or may not conflict with one’s honne, or real feelings.  Whether or not one’s tatemae should match one’s honne is a constant source of debate.  Luckily, we’re not going to go into that here.

When it comes to public speaking, embrace tatemae.  In other words, when you are teaching or presenting, you don’t need to be the same person that you are in your daily life.  In fact, your usual personality could be hindering you at times when you need to display confidence and energy to engage or persuade and audience (trust me, I speak from experience here).

This doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with being reserved or passive in your daily life.  That’s perfectly fine.  However, just as successful businesses adapt to changing market conditions, public speakers need to adapt to their audiences.

Now, I realize this is not easy.  The ability to flip on your tatemae switch will take time to develop.  That being said, here are two concrete tips to get you started:

  1. Treat your presentations as performances:  Draw inspiration from actors and actresses.  They spend their working hours playing all kinds of different roles, and logic dictates that at least some (if not most) of those roles (tatemae) differ from their core personality (honne).  You might not consider yourself an actor, but if you are into public speaking enough to be reading this blog, congratulations, you’ve already unknowingly started your acting career.
  2. Wear your passions on your sleeve:  This is my personal favorite—a shortcut to making yourself a more confident and passionate public speaker.  Talking about something you are knowledgeable and passionate about naturally reduces the distance between your tatemae and honne.

So, there you have it.  The debate around tatemae and honne in Japanese culture will likely continue forever.  When it comes to public speaking, however, don’t be afraid to show another side of yourself for the sake of your audience.

Photo credit: CKTravelblog / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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