How to Wreck Your Public Speaking Credibility in Three Simple Steps
By Laurie Brown
As a SME (subject matter expert), you have spent a great deal of time creating content that will effectively express your ideas and address the interests of your audience. You begin presenting to your clients, peers, or boss, yet, despite your knowledge and preparation, you inadvertently undermine your ability to appear credible.
It’s frustrating and just seems unfair. You created a great presentation and yet your audience didn’t take you seriously. Why? We can lose our credibility when we fall into bad habits and make any of three common mistakes.
These mistakes fall into three fundamental communication channels: visual, vocal and verbal. Let’s take a look at these mistakes and learn how to prevent them.
Problem 1 (Visual): Making yourself appear small.
Too many presenters undermine their credibility by standing in a way that diminishes their physical presence. This can happen when standing with your legs crossed, your feet too close together, placing your hands in your pockets, or drawing your shoulders together by clasping your hands in front of you.
Solution: Adopting a Neutral Stance.
The neutral stance is a great non-verbal way to gain credibility. To achieve a neutral stance you start by placing your feet apart with your toes pointing forward. The distance between your feet should be equivalent to one of your feet placed sideways. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed over both of your feet. Your hands should rest comfortably by your side. Now imagine that there is a string coming out of the top of your head that lifts your whole body. People often “grow” an extra inch by using this visualization technique. This change in posture exudes confidence and credibility.
Problem 2 (Verbal): Speaking with Uptalk (Raising your voice at the end of a sentence.)
Uptalk has become very common these days. I hear it all from my participants all the time. You know the sound. While bobbing their head, the speaker uses an upward inflection on the last word of a sentence, sounding like they are asking a question. When declarative statements sound more like a question, or at worst, a valley girl, you no longer seem confident or knowledgeable. Speaking this way when trying to persuade an audience, most certainly damages your credibility.
Solution: Talk like a newscaster
Newscasters never use uptalk. Imagine you are a newscaster, keeping your head still as you say “In the news tonight”. When you say the word “Tonight” drop your chin slightly. When you drop your chin (but not too far), you’ll lower your intonation and will instantly sound credible.
Problem 3 (Verbal): Using filler words, um, ah, like and so.
Saying “ums” and “ahs” is perfectly normal. Every culture has their own way of verbalizing thought and using filler words. For example, in Japan you may say “ma” or “so”; in Finland you may say “niinku”. Whatever language you speak, you need to eliminate or reduce these filler words. When you use filler words you sound unsure of yourself. When you sound unsure you lose credibility.
Solution 3: Pause
The solution is simple: pause. The challenge is that we are often unaware we are saying “um”, “like” or “ah”. When I coach people I listen carefully, and when I hear a filler word I make the sound of an obnoxious loud buzzer. The presenter will try to avoid hearing that darn buzzer, and as they become more self aware, they will remember to pause. To duplicate this ask a friend or family member to listen and make a sound when you use a filler word (ask them to create a really obnoxious loud sound…laughter is always helpful.)
Another option is to inhale at the end of a sentence. Inhaling will prevent the filler word sound from coming out.
Self-awareness is always the first step in improving. Have someone record you speaking. Watch the recording and look for these three issues. If you see any of them, use the simple solutions outlined above.
It really is easy to gain credibility using these visual/vocal/verbal techniques. Start today. Let me know if you know any other great techniques to increase credibility.