Credibility killers to avoid

There are some things speakers do that absolutely kill their credibility.  Some of those things are content oriented, some of those things are not.  This post is about bringing awareness to some things we do to kill our credibility when presenting.

  1. Too many filler words.  Filler words are those words we utter when we’re trying to figure out what to say.  Words like: um, and, like, yeah, know what I’m saying, etc.  If you’re using more filler words than actual words, you’re audience will likely be annoyed and/or wondering if you know anything about your topic area.
  2. Alienating audience members.  We’ve all had that situation where someone shuts us down somehow and then we feel bad about ourselves and then we dislike the person who shut us down.  Don’t do that to your audience members or they won’t pay attention to what you have to say.  Ways to alienate people include (non-exhaustive): ignore their questions, tell them that their wrong directly, say something culturally insensitive to them, or something against their gender, sexual orientation, etc.
  3. Closed off body language.  If you cross your arms, legs or any other body language other than a straight back and wide open shoulders, you will come off as lacking confidence.  If you lack confidence in what you’re saying, why should your audience have confidence in what you’re saying?
  4. Speaking so your voice goes up at the end of sentences.  That’s typically the inflection for a question.  Are you questioning what you’re saying?  If you sound like you are, your audience will do just that: question your credibility.
  5. Being too casual or too formal.  If you’re speaking to an audience of impressive people, don’t have girl chat time with your fellow speaker.  If you’re speaking to a room full of hip folks, don’t be too stiff.  In short: speak at your audience’s level so they feel spoken to by a peer, not spoken at or ignored.

Can you think of more to add to the list?

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2 Responses to Credibility killers to avoid

  1. Jonas Ezeanya January 3, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Well taken, Martha! Permit me to add one more to the list: Apologising to Your Audience.

    Now, I’m not saying it’s utterly bad to apologise. The catch here is to know when to say “sorry” to your audience and when to simply ignore and move on.

    For example, if you planned a PowerPoint presentation to include a sound clip or a voice-over (tricky plan, I know!), when you get to that part of the presentation and your clip fails to play, should you apologise to the audience about it or just move on as if nothing happened?

    This can go two ways. If the audience DO NOT KNOW about the clip and there is no way for them to know that something is missing, then you should simply get on with your presentation and leave out that “Oh, I’m sorry the sound clip is not coming up”.

    Why? Because by apologising for your error, you are actually drawing your audience’s attention to something that they DIDN’T even notice!

    On the other hand, if the failure of the clip leaves a gaping hole in the continuity of your presentation (depending on what function it was meant to perform), then you should consider tendering an apology. That is the polite thing to do.

    There are other instances when things could go wrong during a presentation. Remember Murphy’s Law? It says: “If Something Could Go Wrong, It Will”. The simple advise to follow is this: do not apologise if the audience truly cannot notice the flaw/error/omission or whatever. You’d only be calling their attention to your (apparently) poor preparation and then your precious reputation as a expert/professional will come under heavy gun fire! Literally.

    So, what happens if you mis-judge the audience’s perception and fail to apologise for something that they CAN ALL SEE is missing/wrong with your presentation (an elephant in the room)? I even hate to think of it. God help you!

    Jonas EZEANYA
    Lagos, Nigeria

    • Martha January 3, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      Good one :)

      To build on your well articulated point, I also think that we sometimes say “I’m sorry” when we really mean “I see that you’re going through something that isn’t nice and I want to show empathy.” These types of apologies often get misconstrued as weakness. Speakers should definitely be clear that they mean to extend empathy rather than take blame. (This is a biggie for women!)

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