It would seem to be obvious: For your audience to believe you, you have to be believable. It doesn’t matter whether you’re delivering your message in a conference room to a group of colleagues, at a seminar or convention to industry leaders, or through the lens of a TV news camera or the pen of a print reporter to a mass audience across the state or across the nation.
Yet, in my years of helping people learn to communicate more effectively, I am always amazed at how many knowledgeable, authoritative and credible executives, managers and professionals – people at the very pinnacle of their career or profession – become totally unbelievable at the very moment they need to be most believable.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing I see that always detracts from believability is lack of passion in the person delivering the message. The speaker may care genuinely about something but have no idea how to convey their passion. It doesn’t mean being mushy or pushy or shouting from the rooftop. But it does mean looking and sounding like you really care about the topic.
One recently-relocated executive gave a presentation that was filled with the facts and figures — but not the faces — of how his work, which requires frequent relocating, affects people. Yet after the talk, he stood with conference participants and talked about how important it is to him that his kids have a real backyard in which to play.
Another thing that occurs repeatedly is if you don’t believe in what you do, why should I believe it – or in you and your presentation or interview? If you don’t believe in you, no one else will and this will come roaring through to your audience.
The interesting thing about conveying your passion is that it is contagious. It helps build rapport with your listeners and – as important – gets them excited about what excites you And when an audience of seven or 700 has rapport with a speaker, and becomes engaged in the topic because they catch the excitement coming from the front of the room, they are more likely to believe what the speaker is saying.
Granted, not every subject is inherently passion-filled. An administrator reporting on how office supply expenses can be cut three percent in next year’s budget may have to work at finding the excitement. Still, there is no reason to automatically come across as flat as Ben Stein’s character calling class attendance in “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off” just because the subject seems dull. Think about how excited you felt when you uncovered a way to trim an everyday, necessary expense that will flow straight to the bottom line and possibly help improve profitability – and maybe save a few jobs — next year. Convey that passion in the report you present to the management committee.
Rather than beginning with a droll recitation of budget figures, you might begin by saying something like, “You know, in a tough economy everyone worries about whether the company will have to cut jobs next year. I found a way to use paper clips and copy paper to help save four jobs at our company during 2004.”
Still, conveying your passion about the subject may mean learning the part or possibly even re-inventing yourself for the presentation. It’s not hard to do, and there are some simple tools that you can learn to help you do it effectively.
Besides conveying passion, there are four other keys to delivering a believable message.
First, know what you want to say. Second, spend time figuring out how you say what you need to tell the audience so it can understand what it needs to know. Third, pay attention to what you do while you’re delivering your message – people are always astounded at their unconscious, visual “ticks” and distracting mannerisms that undermine the believability of their presentation.
Know What To Say – In all likelihood, your audience does not want to know every nit-and-dit of the subject. It’s your job to edit, and focus on the genuinely important points. For many people this is a hard task, especially if they have a detailed understanding of the topic. You’ll add to your believability if you stick to the three or four key issues, provide a supporting example of each, and let the audience ask questions if they need more detail.
Know What The Listeners Want To Hear – In preparing your comments, put yourself on the other side of the podium, or sitting around the table. What would you need to know to make a decision? By focusing on what the audience needs to hear, and not becoming bogged down in detailed minutia, you’ll keep your audience interested and you’ll boost your believability.
Know How You Say It – Whether you are giving an “informal” five minute explanation to a handful of colleagues or a keynote at the annual meeting of your industry’s association, you need to prepare. Outline what you want to cover or, better still, write it out. Deliver it in front of a mirror or set up your camcorder and record yourself. Notice things such as do you rush through the words or speak in a conversational tone? Do you use your voice to convey passion by modulating your tone and emphasizing key points? Do you have nervous habits that will distract the audience and detract from your believability? Many people seem to find comfort jingling their keys or pocket change while delivering a talk, yet for the audience it is an irritating commotion that reduces your believability.
You may well be the world’s greatest authority on your subject, author of dozens of papers and a handful of books. But all of that expertise is wasted if you don’t take a few minutes to think about how to ensure you and your message are believable.