How to establish credibility in presentations

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.

Credibility is the extent to which your audience believes you when you speak. It is about the trust they place in you, especially as being an expert in your topic.

Unlike simple trust, which is often given until a person is found untrustworthy, credibility often has to be earned, and people will look first to indicators such as achievements in education and employment, then to their first-hand experience of your presentation.

Initial credibility

Initial credibility is that which you have before the presentation. This may be zero when people do not know you at all. It may also be very high if you are a known author, professor or personality who has achieved fame.

For those with low initial credibility, the task is to create credibility, which is where presented credibility is important and particularly derived credibility for real evidence.

For those with high initial credibility, the challenge is to live up to expectations, which may be artificially inflated, perhaps by your publicists or maybe by excessive admiration from your adoring audience!

Your first impression

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.

State your credentials

Audiences will trust you more readily if you can prove that other people value your expertise. Credentials include relevant degrees, certifications, testimonials, recommendations, work experience, volunteering experience, and informally, other types of personal experience.

Why should the audience listen to anything you have to say? The burden of proof is on you, so you need to make a case for the value of your experience, training, or research. Tell the audience how you became an authority on your topic.

Derived credibility

Derived credibility comes from what you actually present. It comes from the quality of the material in your presentation, including the layout of your slides and the credibility of the facts you present. It comes from the words you use and how you say them. It also comes from how you dress and present yourself with clear authority. Your introduction is probably the single best opportunity for you to establish your ethos with this audience on this day. For this reason, you should always write your own introduction. Don’t let an event organiser wing it. Highlight the essential facts that establish your trustworthiness, similarity, authority, and reputation.

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. Make sure your evidence is relevant and supports your message and goals.

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 centre.

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.

Vocal credibility cues

The way to speak can also have an impact on the way the audience perceives your authority and believability. 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. Effective public speakers typically speak at approximately 100-120 words per minute which is around 30% slower than normal conversation. 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.

Terminal credibility

Terminal credibility is that which your audience takes away with them. Perhaps unfairly, if they admire you already, they may forgive you for a less than perfect display (although this is a dangerous game to play).

Equally unfairly, they may forget what a lesser-known speaker says, even though it is sound. This is one reason why it is important to make a solid and clear impact, not over-doing it nor presenting too much information. They will remember few things, so do remember to make your points clear and to give them a strong ending.

In just two and a half days, Maurice Kerrigan Africa offers an  Effective Speaking and Presentation training course which will equip you with all the tools you’ll need to present to any audience.

You might be interested in their upcoming 2.5 day course scheduled for 21 – 23 January, 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Click here to look at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s training schedule or to make a booking.

To find out more about the training courses offered by  Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email




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