Like it or not, your audience, not you, decides on your credibility as speaker. Credibility is characterized as a speaker’s competence (knowledge of his/her subject matter) and character (trustworthiness and goodwill towards his/her audience). A speaker’s credibility can be a moving target as it can vary from audience to audience, and it can even change within one speech.
Speech experts have identified three types of credibility: initial credibility – the credibility the speaker has before the speech begins; derived credibility – the credibility the speaker gains during the speech; and terminal credibility – the credibility of the speaker after the speech. How can a speaker gain and maintain credibility with an audience?
1. Find common ground. What experiences and values could you share with your audience? Building on shared and common experiences bolsters credibility as well as unifies an audience towards a common goal.
2. Reveal your qualifications. Do you have personal experience or research that gives you specific insight on your topic? Let your audience know your background and qualifications to demonstrate your leadership on your topic. Oftentimes, your signature story will establish your competence.
3. Be prepared. You may be well known in a particular field or industry. But if you are not prepared, not organized, not practiced, or not punctual, you will not be perceived as competent, and your credibility will suffer.
4. Be ethical. Audiences can sense when speakers are insincere and don’t have their best interest at heart. Be honest with your words, cite your sources, and have integrity with your intentions.
5. Be authentic. Let your emotions and personality come through during your presentation. Audiences want to connect with you, so don’t hold back the real “you” when presenting. Let your enthusiasm for your topic show.
Building and maintaining your credibility is crucial to getting your message heard. Ultimately, it’s up to your audience to decide if you carry enough credibility for them to listen.