By Morgan McCullough
In the prior post of this series, I wrote about the importance of writing your speech for the ear. However, even if you’re an excellent public speaker and have a brilliantly written speech, your work is far from over. Effective public speakers establish their credibility so that the audience views them as trustworthy, authentic, and compelling.
In the Beginning…
As PR professionals, we all know that one’s brand is everything. Many articles on Culpwrit — for example, Building Your Own Personal Brand Pyramid, How Outside Influences Affect Your Personal Brand, and Close the Loop: 4 Simple Steps to Maintain and Grow Your Network and Personal Brand — offer advice on how to strategically build your brand and improve your public image. You should read these and begin working on building your brand. Why? Audiences form an opinion of you long before your presentation begins. Your brand should reflect how you want the public to see you — are you authentic, are you reliable, are you likely to be compelling? If your social content says “yes,” then you’ve already won over your audience. Your speech will merely add to your credibility.
During my recent interview with professional public speaking coach Dr. Craig Engstrom, he offered some expert tips on how speakers can enhance their credibility during their speeches through dress, posture and introductions. As he says, “You obviously need to have competence as a subject matter expert on your topic, but the audience won’t think you’re competent if you don’t speak with conviction and confidence. In short, speakers need to confidently speak so that they come across as confident in their competence.”
Here are some ways, drawing on my conversation with Engstrom, to be confident that you’ll sound competent. (You can get more tips on Engstrom’s YouTube channel.)
Practice and Dress the Part
Practice will boost your confidence. As I noted in the conclusion of the last post, preparation is essential. If you haven’t practiced your speech multiple times to the point where you can deliver it with conviction, you won’t feel confident. To practice, use methods that work for you so that you’ll actually want to practice. As with any form of exercise, if you don’t like doing it you won’t do it. Some people practice in front of a mirror, some practice standing up, and others read their speech aloud in front of a small group of friends for honest feedback. There is no right way to do it, only a way that’s right for you. So, choose a method that works for you and then practice, practice, practice to ensure you’re confident with the topic and material.
In addition, dress for the occasion. Dressing the part sends a visual message to the audience that “you’re one of them.” This point is important because research shows that the audience rates speakers as more competent when they are likable. Social psychology research shows we tend towards homophily (affinity towards people similar to ourselves). Of course, you don’t want to pander to the audience–what you wear expresses your authenticity and improves your inner confidence. Dressing for your audience, subject, and preference is a balancing act. What you wear matters because it increases your self-efficacy and overall self-esteem, which manifest through your delivery and disposition.
WALK AT AN ANGLE
“The main way you establish your credibility is with your posture,” says Engstrom. “This is why I always coach my clients to walk on stage at a slight angle.”
Don’t just walk straight up to the center podium and start speaking. The first thing you should do when you’re walking on stage, whether you’re coming from stage right or left, is to walk away from the podium. Walking slightly away from the platform forces a speaker to step toward the audience once they get to the podium. The movement of stepping towards the audience displays confidence and power.
If you walk in with confidence and then step toward the audience, you essentially own the room. Coupled with being prepared and displaying confident energy, you’re now even more credible.
You will now want to give the crowd a moment to process your presence by taking a long pause before you launch into your introduction. (Of course, assuming it is context-appropriate and matches your speech’s topic and tone.)
The opening line is crucial. The first line you say must be captivating and frame the rest of your speech. Spend some time to ensure you nail down every part of the first line. Consider everything—pace, cadence, breath, volume, timbre, rhythm, tone. Leave nothing on the table.
More than anything, though, be relatable. If you are unsure of what to do, remember people love compliments, anecdotes, and stories. As communication scholar Walter Fisher notes, we are homo narrans, or storytelling beings. So tell a story.
A key to being likable and getting the audience is to talk less about yourself and more about them. So, in most cases, don’t verbally establish your credibility. In other words, don’t list off your accomplishments and titles in your introduction. Listing accomplishments won’t make the audience think you’re great. Instead, they will believe you’re insecure.
As I mentioned in the previous article, always avoid metacommentary—such as “That’s a hard act to follow,” “I don’t know how I’m going to top that guy”—that undermines your presentation. Metacommentary will quickly diminish your credibility.
To establish your credibility, do what I’ve already noted: have an excellent social media presence that sets your area of expertise, practice, dress the part, take a step towards the audience before speaking, and open strong.
Once you have given an introduction that connects you with the audience, subtly begin to signify your credibility. You can only start verbally establishing your credibility after you have followed the steps above.
SPRINKLE IN YOUR CREDIBILITY
“The goal is to have an opening line that will captivate the audience, then sprinkle in your credibility throughout the speech,” Engstrom says.
Credible speakers often don’t talk about why they’re credible, either because they’re too humble or don’t have to. For example, a company’s CEO typically doesn’t walk around shaking people’s hands, saying, “I’m a CEO.” Be modest and lowkey while indirectly showing people why they should respect your opinion. You can do this through your actions and, more importantly, through eloquent public speaking.
“The audience can see your confidence nonverbally,” says Engstrom. “Before you even say a word, people can feel that you’re prepared and confident in what you’re about to say or you’re not.”
So be practiced, come dressed for the occasion, and use your posture to garner respect from the audience.
I plan to share at least two more articles from my conversation with Engstrom covering public speaking anxiety and being a good audience member. However, let me know if you would like me to discuss additional topics with him by leaving a comment or connecting with me on LinkedIn.