When it comes to public speaking and business presentations, we have found that the following characteristics and actions are what make people believable:
Confidence – There are many, many ways people telegraph confidence—or the lack of it. Here’s the confidence short list: standing tall, appearing relaxed, making regular and sincere eye contact, letting natural body language emphasize key points, and speaking clearly and loudly enough so everyone can easily hear. On that last point, not being able to hear a speaker, either because of poor audio or a too-soft voice, isn’t just an annoyance. In a USC study that looked at the effects of poor audio in scientific presentations, they found that, “When the video was difficult to hear, viewers thought the talk was worse, the speaker less intelligent and less likeable, and the research less important.”*
Credibility – When does an audience think you’re credible? Simple: You clearly know your stuff, you’re prepared for the talk (and the questions), and people believe you’re telling the truth. The last one can be a little tricky because people tend to view facts, ideas and propositions through their own filters. But if you’ve done your homework and believe what you’re saying is true, people will usually see you as honest.
Openness – People are more likely to believe and trust you if you are confident enough and open enough to entertain other viewpoints, consider other data, and answer questions without being defensive. This is doubly true if the audience is senior management. In our SpeakingUp®: Presenting to Decision Makers workshop, we incorporate what C-level executives taught us as we developed the program: It’s a discussion, not strictly a presentation. Now, all of this presupposes that your talk lends itself to interruptions and dialogue. If that’s not the format (think, TED Talks), consider folding into your presentation a nod to the viewpoints and questions you anticipate people might have.
Passion – If it’s obvious that you care deeply about your subject, people will believe you’re for real. Balance that passion with the confidence, credibility and openness discussed above, and you have what it takes to be believed.
Selling your ideas or motivating people to action is as much about the so-called “soft skills”—confidence, credibility, openness, passion—as it is about your data or your slide decks. Sign up for any of our programs and you’ll learn how to be a skilled and believable speaker.