You’ve probably heard it a thousand times.
“You just gotta be yourself! Don’t fake it, that’s the worst thing you can do!”
This advice and variations of it such as “Be YOU!” are probably the corniest and most meaningless pieces of advice you can give someone who is fighting the fear of public speaking. Public speaking is a performance. You must tailor it to the situation you find yourself in. If you’re a stoner around your friends who sports hole-ridden Bob Marley shirts, talks in slow motion and lazily proclaims “woooooooowwwwww” after witnessing anything remotely entertaining, you should probably adjust a few things if you’re planning a talk to a room full of businessmen or elementary school kids and their parents.
If you see yourself as a chronically stressed person, you’re probably not going to want to drag yourself up to the stage and mumble through your speech. For the audience to have a good time, they must see you having a good time. If you leave a trail of tears on the way up to the stage, the audience will view you just as negatively as you view yourself.
Another problem with this “be yourself” advice is that the people who are most afraid of public speaking are often the ones that have the most insecurities. For instance, one of my biggest concerns throughout high school and a bulk of college was getting up on stage and sounding like a brainless turd. Whether it be by mispronouncing a word, quoting an infiltrated Wikipedia page as fact, looking weird (typically the case) or simply sounding uneducated; this was always one of my problems with public speaking.
I wasn’t comfortable with myself and wasn’t necessarily sure that the image I had created was the one I wanted to be known for.
So what should we do if we can't "be ourselves?" A presentation to an audience or simply a presentation of yourself should be given in the voice of the person you are striving to become. If your lifelong dream is to become a marketing executive but you're just a server at the local Olive Garden, then talk like a marketing executive and force that room to second guess who you really are.
It’s good to be yourself in front of a group, but realize that who you are now may not be who you are striving to become. Until you've become what you've been fighting to be, there’s no problem with faking it until you’re making it.