Want audiences to think you're knowledgeable and credible? Here's how to raise your credibility in your next presentation.
If you're well known to an audience in terms of your expertise, you have a head start on success. You have what is called "perceived credibility". In other words, you're a known quantity.
But what if that's not the case? How do you establish your credibility in the moment, without sounding like you're bragging or depending upon old credentials? Below are four tips on boosting an audience's trust and confidence in you while you're speaking.
Introduce Yourself the Right Way
You may want to be a friendly and accessible presenter, and that's a good quality to have. But your greeting to an audience of strangers can be too casual. You need to put your professionalism on display before you (metaphorically) go out for a beer with these folks.
Many speakers chip away at their own credibility right at the beginning. "Hi, I'm Susan [Jeff] [Maya]" they say, then launch into the presentation. If you do this, your listeners are legitimately asking themselves some questions (when they should be listening to your first main point). Let's paraphrase those questions this way: "Where's the rest of you?"
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To be viewed as a credible speaker with enough expertise and experience, you need, at a minimum, to provide your full name, along with your job title. "Good morning, everyone. My name is [YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME]. I'm the Chief Propulsion Systems Engineer in the United Nation's new UNiversal Space Program." Now, I feel like I'm in good hands.
Show That You're In Control
Here's where platform skills come into their own. Experience teaches us that beginners struggle with any new skill, while old pros make it all seem easy. To have confidence in you, we need to see that you have confidence in yourself. You show us that that's the case by the way you handle yourself in your presentation.
And that comes down to control. You should own your speech and show that you're in command. To do so, get better at these performance specifics: (1) pace, (2) body language, (3) vocal dynamics, and (4) how you respond to challenges and pushback.
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To explain, in order: (1) Remind yourself to slow down. You may not speak too fast, but adrenaline and nerves speeds everybody up. New information takes time to be absorbed by listeners. Controlling your pace also shows that you're giving this talk at exactly the speed you want to. (2) Your body is an vital speaking tool. If you depend only on the words without any physical expression, you're short-changing your audience in terms of meaning and impact. In virtual meetings, think especially in terms of eye contact—which means the webcam. (3) Your voice is also nonverbal, so it's another tool that helps get across meaning and intention. A varied and interesting voice also helps us tune in! (4) How you deal with difficult audience members and challenges tells us a lot about who you are. We want poise and professionalism in a speaker. Stay above the fray, responding with grace and kindness.
Use Evidence . . . Lots and Lots of Evidence
Listen, we all know that you're a wonderful person and we love you dearly. But why should we believe you over someone else?
Well, one reason is because you back up what you're saying with evidence! Evidence can take many forms, and you'll have more credibility in our minds if you mix it up: data, visual evidence, stories, case studies, demonstrations, etc. If you're in the sciences or engineering, you're already strongly tuned into the need for empirical data.
But remember that you also need to connect with audiences emotionally. Neuroscience tells us that every decision has an emotional component, viz., people who have damage to the limbic system or emotional center of the brain have difficulty making decisions. If you want buy-in, you need to advocate for your case, not just state it blandly. Here's where body language and vocal skills come in once again, as they are both great pathways for eliciting emotional responses.
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Up Your Game by Speaking Metaphorically
Now let's take you to the next level. Anyone can deliver information, right? But you are a far more interesting and potent tool for moving audiences than the sheer delivery of information.
Your job isn't to present information, it's to move listeners. The more memorable you are, the more likely that will happen. And one way to achieve memorability is by telling stories and speaking metaphorically.
Audiences fed data will process that information in their prefrontal cortexes, their "thinking brains." But when you use stories, comparisons, metaphors, and visual imagery to describe something, you light up other areas in your listeners' brains. For instance, visuals are processed in the occipital lobe, and physical activity and motor control is handled in the cerebellum. If what you're saying kicks off an emotional response in listeners, the temporal lobe which controls memory will switch on. Mirror neurons in our brains make us experience vicariously what someone else is describing or showing us physically. That someone needs to be you.
Audiences will find you credible if they share in the experiences you are describing. That's also a key to all top-level public speaking, by the way: the more you tap into your audience's personal responses, the more you will reach them on an individual basis. How much easier it is then for listeners to believe in you!
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.
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