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You are standing up in front of a group to speak. You only have a few seconds to convince your audience that you are worth listening to. How do you develop personal credibility so quickly? Often you can earn credibility before you even open your mouth. Many presenters rely on an introduction to earn credibility. You see this technique often in show business and in conferences. An MC will introduce a performer with a little hype or a moderator will read a speaker bio outlining experience, education, and other credentials.
If you don't have a colleague to help develop third-party credibility, you are going to have to do it yourself. But you can't simply start reading your bio or bragging about your accomplishments. Rather, you are going to build credibility in a few seconds by demonstrating both confidence and competence. Let's start by talking about confidence. Since you only have a few seconds, this is mostly achieved by displaying three non-verbal cues. First, dress to inspire confidence.
The key is to dress appropriately for the audience in front of you. If you are speaking to a large group of colleagues, business casual might be exactly right. In another situation, like a formal press conference, you might have to up your game to a business suit. Before you agree to speak, find an insider who will tell you what kind of apparel is appropriate for your audience. Second, use non-verbal skills to build confidence. Before you say a single word simply look at your audience.
Stand up straight with your hands relaxed and at your sides. Make eye contact with an audience member. Allow a second of silence before you talk. Let the audience look at your confidant body language. There is no need to be in rush to speak. Use a second or two of silence to grab the attention of your audience. Third, sound confident. The first words out of your mouth need to be bold, clear, and strong. Before you hit the stage make sure you've completed vocal warmups and enjoyed a sip of room-temperature water.
Your look, your non-verbals, and your vocal quality are three ways to quickly demonstrate confidence, but to develop a personal credibility you are also going to have to quickly demonstrate competence. Here are two tips. First, never agree to speak on a topic that you know little about. I was recently asked to speak to a student group about job interviewing skills. Since I haven't personally interviewed for a job since 1999, I didn't feel qualified to speak to a modern audience about interviewing skills.
I told the event coordinator that I'd be happy to talk about body language and confidence building, but that I could personally claim no firsthand experience in successfully interviewing in this job market, in this century. And my second tip: tell the audience why you are competent. The simplest way is to find one or two pertinent details in your background that relate to the subject matter. The audience doesn't need your complete resume, just a brief detail or two. For example, I might start out a presentation on caring for tropical fish by saying "I've kept tropical fish since 1976.
I'm Laura Bergells, and let me tell you what I know about keeping fish healthy." See, I don't need to mention my education or job experience; none of those qualifications are relevant. But in under ten seconds I've demonstrated competence in the topic. Take some time to jot down specific details in your background or experience that relate to subject-matter competence. When you demonstrate confidence and competence, you can develop personal credibility in a matter of seconds.
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