If you’ve ever given a speech or a presentation, you’re probably familiar with the most popular advice: Have a clear thesis. Know your audience. Write out your key talking points on note cards. Be aware of your body language. Practice, practice, practice.
But there’s one element of delivering a speech that you must include to increase both your audience’s engagement and your subject level authority: credibility. Building credibility will help you gain trust and boost your impact.
To make your public speaking more effective, here are five ways to build credibility with your audience that will increase trust, engagement, and impact.
What is Credibility?
We evaluate other people’s credibility every day. You may hear lawyers in courtrooms ask if a witness is credible. And in a time where fake news abounds, we ask about the credibility of websites, TV personalities, and commentators.
At the heart of credibility is believability. It is essentially asking, “Can this person be believed?” Credibility not only means believing that what someone says is true, but trusting them as well. You don’t trust your family member’s medical advice to be credible, but you trust your doctor’s.
It’s the same thing with public speaking. You must have credibility when delivering your speech and your audience must see you as trustworthy and believable. Credibility is a two-way street: You can present yourself as credible, but your audience also has to believe your credibility as well.
The Importance of Building Credibility with Your Audience
Here are a few reasons why building credibility is so important while delivering a speech or talk.
Attention and engagement: If audience members view you as credible, they are more likely to be engaged in listening to you. Polls show that those who trust leaders have six times the engagement than those who don’t. Listeners will pay more attention to you, which allows you to make more of an impact.
Call to action: Credibility helps your audience take you seriously and will convince them to consider the argument you’re trying to prove or to the information you’re teaching. They’ are also more likely to act on the information, or respond to your call to action. Additionally, personalization and speaking directly to your audience’s needs can boost audience response to call to action by more than 200%.
Perceived authority and future engagement: If your audience sees you as a credible and authoritative source on the subject, they’ll be more likely to engage with your work further. 68% of people see someone who has expertise in their field as a thought leader and this leverage will help you continue to increase your prestige and influence.
The Elements of Speaker Credibility
The first element of speaker credibility is not only the knowledge a speaker shares, but also how they gained that knowledge.
For example, if someone was presenting about the impact of community health programs and had spent years working to develop community programs, the audience would believe the speaker’s credibility due to their knowledge gained by experience.
However, if you do not have this experience and are presenting on a newly-learned topic, you can prove your credibility in other ways. A speaker can raise their credibility by explaining the research they did to prepare the speech, using data points to prove their thesis in the speech, and citing examples to fortify their argument. Showing that you invested time and effort to learn about a topic gives you the credibility to talk about it and can serve to increase your audience’s trust.
In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, he argues that one of the elements that contribute to a speaker’s “mode of persuasion” is their character. A speaker’s confidence, body language, engagement with the audience, positive tone, upbeat attitude, and care with which they share their subject matter can do as much to establish credibility as knowledge and examples.
5 Ways You Can Establish Credibility During Your Presentation
What are some ways to build your credibility so your audience trusts you as a speaker and source for information? These five tips will prepare you to have a credible impact when you deliver your speech.
1. Talk about yourself, your interests, and why you’re qualified.
One of the ways to establish credibility in your speech is to tell your audience why they should trust you to teach or inform them about a particular topic. Introduce yourself at the beginning and explain why you’re an authority on the given subject. You can offer examples of your past successes in the field, your educational background, and why you are personally invested in the topic.
Studies have shown that those who are aware of an author or speaker’s credentials perceive them to “have a higher level of expertise and their information to be more credible.” Having an interest in, family connection to, or qualifications for the topic you’re speaking about increases your credibility.
2. Connect to your audience by speaking to them and their needs, and offer them a new way of thinking.
Audiences want to know what they’re going to get out of your talk. Consider how you’ll teach them something new, offer new strategies to take back to their workplace, or challenge them to look at the world in a different way.
If your audience knows very little about the topic, use language that is easy to understand to make the information more accessible.
Using “you” when addressing an audience is also proven to be an effective way to connect. This type of personalized engagement with the audience will show that you care about them and what they take away from the talk.
3. Cite sources, show data, and tell stories.
As with any research paper, study, or article, using sources to reinforce what you’re saying gives you credibility because another expert’s credibility is backing you up. For example, if you’re giving a speech on the benefits of technology in the medical field, citing studies that have already proven its benefits will help your audience be more willing to believe your argument. It also shows that you’ve done your research, and you’re placing your topic amidst an ongoing conversation. Additionally, telling a story increases audience retention by upwards of 70%.
4. Use open and friendly body language, take your time speaking, and make eye contact.
Studies show that upwards of 90% of what someone communicates is through their body language. We’ve all experienced situations where we’re more inclined to engage with someone who makes eye contact, has a friendly tone, faces us directly, and has a confident stance.
The same should be true for public speaking. The way you portray yourself while delivering your speech can help boost your credibility, and an audience will be more responsive to someone who portrays themselves as confident and approachable.
5. Offer to take questions at the end.
Listening to and answering questions at the end of your speech or presentation can be another chance to demonstrate your credibility with your audience. If asked, you can elaborate on the content you spoke about, talk about the research you conducted, and tell more stories that relate to your topic. It’s also a more informal time where you can further connect with individuals in the audience.
How Harvard Can Help with Your Public Speaking
Whether you’re preparing a speech to give in a class, compiling a presentation for coworkers or stakeholders, or planning your first TED Talk, Harvard can help you accomplish your public speaking goals with classes offered through our Professional Development Programs.
If you want to learn ways to gain credibility during your speech and better connect with your audience, our upcoming class “Communication Strategies: Presenting with Impact” can help. Centering around oral presentations and small group activities, this course can help you not only craft and deliver a speech, but can teach you how to inject credibility into that speech so that you build trust with your audience. Learning how to effectively communicate to your audience in both words, body language, and narrative style is a key skill that everyone—especially business professionals—should possess.
Enrollment opens on April 23, 2023. Commit to being a better public speaker and communicator today by learning more about the course here.