There’s much more to effective business presentations than merely delivering the right words in the right way at the right time. Sure, seasoned and refined presentation skills are essential in getting your message heard, both in terms of the content you provide and the motivation you exhibit. But there’s another less obvious factor that precedes the presenter, enshrouds him during his presentation, and lingers with his listeners far after he’s left the stage, and it is just as vital to the presenter’s success.
That factor is credibility.
From the Latin word credere, meaning “believe,” the credible communicator is the one that audiences trust, admire, and yes, believe. There’s just something about the speaker’s personality, his demeanor, and, of course, his words and reasoning that make his audience nod their heads, buy into his story, and want to adopt his thinking.
But how do you measure credibility? It’s not something you go out and purchase. It’s not even something you can “work on.” Or even spot with the naked eye. It’s something that surrounds someone and is an integral part of that person. But even though it’s a tricky quality to define and obtain, there are still steps you can take to enhance your credibility. One of the most immediate and obvious areas for improvement is in the way the communicator looks and how they “work a room.”
While we all most likely believe that “beauty is skin deep,” “looks can be deceiving,” and one’s physical appearance is merely the external, superficial trappings of that person, we’ve also heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” and “you only get one chance at a first impression.” We are all well aware, especially in this world where we are inundated with images from everywhere around us, of the power and potency of the visual image.
Your appearance and physical presence, including dress and grooming choices, are among the first things people may notice about you. Lawyers tell their clients how to dress for a favorable jury verdict. Producers wouldn’t think of shooting a movie scene if the wardrobe wasn’t spot on. And consultants earn large sums advising executives how to dress to win the confidence and allegiance of their audiences. We may think it’s noble to tout the line “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” but the reality is that appearance is important to credibility building.
This isn’t to say that you have to become a fashion expert or blow your next paycheck on upgrading your wardrobe. Audiences aren’t expecting tuxedos and tiaras. Besides, fashions come and go. The important thing to remember is to dress in such way that allows you to feel professional, confident, and comfortable. Your objective is to remove the barriers between you and your audience. So don’t show up at a beach resort retreat in a three-piece suit when everyone else is wearing shorts, and don’t sport business casual when your client’s culture considers anything less than a suit disrespectful or inappropriate. And in either case, be sure your hair is styled and clean and clothing is not showing signs of excessive wear and age.
Audiences follow presenters on the move
People believe speakers who are on the move (literally) are on the move (figuratively). There’s something about a presenter who confidently walks around, comfortably presents her ideas with confidence and ease, and, quite simply, looks like she knows what she’s talking about. The opposite is true as well: a speaker who is lifeless and plastic give the impression of indecision, indifference, and inability.
Make sure that your body language is relaxed, not rigid. Poise and presence instill confidence in your words. Your posture, movement, gestures, and mannerism should command attention when you speak, conveying the message that you’re comfortable with your material, that you believe it implicitly, and that the audience should adhere to it as well.
The larger the room or the audience, the bigger your gestures or movements should be to underscore your message and connect with your audience. In general, when speaking or presenting you should gesture from the shoulder to have greater impact—up, out, big, and away from the trunk of your body. Of course, the most genuine gesture is the one which is most natural to you.
Your eyes also have the ability to enhance or lessen your message. Picture the closing two minutes of a presidential campaign speech. The candidate has been trained to look straight into the camera as it zooms in for a close-up. Just as actors, singers, and journalist before them, the candidate knows he must “play to his audience.” How well he does may affect election results. A careful, calm, and confident gaze will produce the most effective results.
Credibility isn’t just about external appearances but external appearances have much to say about a speaker’s credibility. Of course, there are other factors that contribute to credibility, but since your physical presence is often the first thing your audience will encounter, it’s wise to take note of your appearance, adapt it to your audience, and present yourself as professionally and genuinely as you can.
Sources: “The Voice of Authority” by Dianna Booher