Your credibility as a speaker is so critical that if you don’t have it — if the audience doesn’t find you credible — you might as well stop speaking.
Credibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. For any number of reasons, consciously and unconsciously, people decide whether and how much they trust you. They often make snap judgments based on first impressions, which they then seek to confirm or to revise (mostly to confirm) after further experience.
Your credibility depends on three factors.
- Your Personal Credibility
Are you reliable, honest, sincere? Are you a person of your word? Are you, in a word, trustworthy? (Trustworthiness and likability are not the same thing, but they are often linked in people’s minds. If they don’t like you, they’ll find reasons to distrust you. If they like you, they’ll tend to trust you.)
- Your Expertise
Do you know what you’re talking about? Do you have the requisite experience, knowledge, and insight? Do you present yourself and your ideas credibly?
- Your Audience’s Judgment
Their values, their likes and dislikes, their knowledge and experience, their prejudices are what ultimately determine your credibility to them. What makes you credible to one audience may make you incredible to another.
To establish your credibility when you’re giving a speech…
- Trust your audience. Like your audience. Respect your audience.
You may not agree with them. You may want to change how they think, feel, or act. But if you don’t care about them and their well-being, you shouldn’t speak to them.
- Want what’s best for your audience.
Think of your speech or presentation as a way of benefiting them. Show them how your idea–your initiative, proposal, project, product, service–will help them solve a problem of theirs or help them achieve a goal that matters to them.
- Align with their values.
Even if you want or, especially, if you want your audience to change their values, begin by identifying with them. Show people how the changes you want them to make — the new values you want them to adopt — affirm, refine, or advance the values they already hold. (You can simply tell them they’re wrong, of course, and that their values are all screwed up. Doing so may give you a pleasing sense of righteousness, but it will do little — nothing — to advance your cause.)
- Use evidence that they find credible.
Facts and figures, respected authorities, charts and graphs, anecdotes and personal testimonials — they all convey differing degrees of credibility to differing audiences. Evidence that is conclusive to one audience may be dubious to another.
- Be the embodiment of your message.
You are the message. Everything about you (your character, knowledge, experience, values) and how you present yourself (your voice, your gestures, your facial expressions) will reinforce your credibility if and only if they are in alignment with what you’re saying.
What do you suggest?