establish credibility with your audienceOne of the most common fears associated with presentations and speaking in public is the fear of not being taken seriously.  Whether you are presenting in front of a few colleagues at an internal team meeting, or standing up in front of thousands at a major conference, credibility is essential if you are to influence your audience .   Some say that, as credibility is all about the way others perceive you i.e. That it’s out of your control.   I disagree,  and in this article I will share some practical tips that will help you establish credibility with your audience.

Credibility on the inside

Before we look at specific external behaviors that establish credibility with your audience, I’d like you to think about  your mindset.     How you are thinking, and what you believe about yourself will affect how you come across.  Listen in to your self-talk and, if it is knocking your confidence, do something about it.   For specific ideas on how to change your mindset, take a look at these other related posts;  How do we believe in ourself and is your thinking holding you back.

Develop credible presentation content

Some books suggest that is not what you say that matters but they way you say it.  As a result some people are tempted to give less attention to their content.   What you say and the way you organise and structure that content is vital,  and has a huge effect on your credibility.

  • Is my content relevant to the audience?
  • Have I included relevant stories and examples?
  • Is there enough facts to support my case but not too much to bore the audience

Great content on its own is not enough to establish credibility with your audience.  

Credibility on the outside

Others cannot see what is going on inside us, but they can see our external behaviour.  They use that behaviour to decide whether we are credible or not.   By practicing the use of some of the techniques referred to below you can easily establish credibility with your audience.

Body Language/Non Verbal

  • Walk on confidently
  • Eye contact
  • Stance
  • Purposeful movement
  • Head stillness
  • Walk off confidently

Let’s look at each of these credibility cues in  a bit more detail.

Walk  On’s – Your impact starts before to speak!
First impressions are important and, as a speaker. Yours starts as soon as your audience begins to look at you.   What they see before you speak will influence their expectations.  Walk on in a relaxed, calm way, with a soft smile and make eye contact with your audience as you walk to the podium or the spot where you are going to start speaking.  As you look out at them, imagine that you are silently saying something like “Welcome to my world for the next 10 minutes“.  Do this and you will quickly establish credibility with your audience.

Too little eye contact makes your audience suspicious
It’s human nature to equate truthfulness and confidence with the ability to make and hold eye contact.   Too little eye contact will make you look shifty.  Too much will make you look aggressive.   2-3 seconds per person is fine for small groups.   For larger audiences, divide the audience space into zones and make sure you cover all the zones.   Be especially aware of the edges.  It’s easy to accidentally ignore the people at the side of an auditorium as you focus on the front and center.

Stand as if you were confident.
If we are feeling scared or nervous, we tend to close our body language, round our shoulders and minimise the physical space we occupy on stage.  As a presenter,  you need to do the opposite if you want to establish credibility with your audience.   Stand upright with feet hip width apart and toes turned out very slightly.   This will make you look and sound a more confident and credible speaker.

Move Purposefully
Nobody expects you to stand still throughout your presentation but they don’t want to see nervous pacing, fidgeting, rocking or swaying.   Learn how to harness all these anxiety related distractions.  Imagine drawing this nervous energy into your core and then deliberately directing it out into purposeful gestures and movements.  This will help you look more confident, energetic and engaging when you speak.

Head Stillness
You can increase your perceived credibility by holding your head still when making key messages.

Walk off Confidently Too
The way you walk off is also incredibly important as it is the last thing your audience see when you finish.  If you let out a huge sigh and rush off the stage as if you cannot wait to get away, it creates an impression of nervousness and will undermine all the good work you did in the walk on and during your presentation.

Vocal Credibility Cues for Presenters and Speakers
The way to speak can also have an impact on the way the audience perceives your authority and beleivability.   It’s worth giving some thought to a couple of simple things you can do with your vocal delivery to establish credibility with your audience.

  • Slow down
    Effective public speakers typically speak at approx 100-120 words per minute which is around 30% slower than normal conversation
  • Get comfortable with pausing
    Using longer pauses not only gives you more thinking time, it also gives you more credibility and authority.  Practice getting comfortable with long pauses and you will see a direct increase in your perceived credibility

In conclusion
The way the audience perceives you is too important to be left to chance.  Follow the guidelines in this post and you will quickly establish credibility with your audience.

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  1. […] are more likely to be respect you and think that what you’re saying is true if they perceive you as trustworthy. This judgement is formed using factors such […]

  2. […] A short yet concise self-introduction makes you sound credible. According to presentation trainer Gavin Meikle, you can also literally walk the talk and exude credibility through confident body language. […]

  3. Adrian Reed on 19/07/2013 at 10:55

    Gavin, these are all great tips. I have made a mental note to keep my head still — I tend to get rather “animated” sometimes (in a good way) and perhaps this detracts from my message!

    One additional tip that I’ve found useful is to “know your audience”. A great tip I heard from Patricia Fripp is “always arrive early and stay late”. If you arrive early and meet the people you are presenting to, then (a) it’s less nerve-racking (as you’ve already started to build rapport) and (b) you can start to tailor your message in a way that works for them. And equally importantly (c) it gives you time to relax before going ‘on stage’ — so there’s no need to fiddle around with laptops and cables when the audience is in the room.

    Staying late is a way of “topping & tailing” the presentation, by covering any questions that people didn’t feel comfortable asking during the meeting itself.

    I’m sure there are lots of other tips too, I’d be very interested to hear any others that you (or any other readers) have!

    • Gavin Meikle on 19/07/2013 at 11:24

      Thanks for feedback and for sharing the additional tip about arriving early and staying on afterwards. I follow that one myself and it makes such a difference. I like to get a feel for the audience and to do a little bit of last minute research on them and their attitudes to the topic I am speaking about.

      Gavin Meikle

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