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There’s an old saying that applies to all your presentations, whether they’re written or verbal:
If they don’t believe the messenger, they won’t believe the message.
Given the overwhelming amount of information that we’re exposed to each day, we’re all looking for a way for that information to be shortened, simplified, and here’s the kicker, trusted. We’re always looking for “This makes sense, I trust this, I can take action on this.”
The biggest factor in believability and trust is the person writing the report or making the presentation. Hence, the old saying above. Believability and trust become a matter of making sure that not only is the information believable, but you are believable. You really can’t have one without the other.
The question then becomes, how do you make yourself believable? What are the qualities that make you trustworthy and believable in the eyes and ears of the people you’re working with?
Part of an audience’s confusion may be the information but, when you’re the one presenting it, your believability (or lack thereof) may be the biggest source of confusion. So, we’re going to concentrate on a verbal presentation.
Storytelling gets a lot of attention in the business press these days, and rightly so. Human beings are genetically programmed to like and want stories because language is essential to who we are. Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” So, that’s where we start: with words.
You don’t know what you think until you put it into words, so you must get down on paper what you’re trying to do with your presentation. Therapists have their clients express verbally what’s going on or they have them write down in great detail what’s going on because the very act of putting something into words is not only clarifying, but powerful.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you prepare:
The key to a good story is the person telling it. Fortunately for those of us who may be new to storytelling or public speaking, there are tried-and-true steps you can follow that will make you better at both.
In high school, college, or any kind of learning environment, we wrote or made presentations to convince a teacher or an instructor that we had mastered the material. Our reader or listener knew more about the material than we did, so we wrote for their education level and we created an “information dump.”
In business, we’re writing to influence a reader (inform or persuade) who, many times, knows less than we do. Complicated wording and an information dump are counterproductive. So, simplify the material. Warren Buffett says he writes his annual shareholder report as if he’s talking to his two sisters—they’re very smart, but not knowledgeable about his world.
Most “buying” decisions (whether your listener accepts what you’re saying) are made emotionally rather than logically. First comes, “How do I feel about this now and how am I likely to feel in the future?” and then, “What will this do for me?” That’s your key in a presentation to make yourself believable: you want your audience to feel trust in you first because they then make a more rational decision based on the information. They don’t make a rational decision first; they make an emotional decision first, based on whether they trust you.
Here are a few guiding questions you must answer about your audience as you’re putting your presentation together:
I recruited and coached dozens of subject matter experts over the years who then conducted one and two-day business seminars. I’ve also spent countless hours in recording studios doing voiceovers for radio and tv commercials, and for training courses. I’ve seen firsthand how the messenger is the one who makes the message by using their voice well.
Your speaking voice creates:
While we can’t go into great detail about public speaking in this post, here are some suggestions that can make or break your believability:
1 – Do some research on voice quality. Your pitch, pace, volume, tone, and enunciation are critical. Poor speech habits like nasality, up talk (statements that sound like questions, which makes you sound unsure), and vocal fry (letting your voice trail off in pitch, pace, volume, and tone at the end of a sentence or a series of ideas), can really turn off your audience.
Vocal energy and enthusiasm carry the message—and carry the messenger. You can have a wonderful speaking voice and a sterling message, but if there’s no enthusiasm, excitement, or passion that comes through, you’ve wasted everyone’s time.
2 – Watch your pronunciation and usage. Nothing dings your credibility faster than mispronounced or misused words. The feeling is that if you don’t pay attention to those basic details then you haven’t paid attention to the details of your message. And, there goes your trust. Weird Al Yankovich’s YouTube video “Word Crimes,” says it all.
3 – Stay away from sports analogies. Not only are sports analogies usually just lame, but not everyone is a sports fan and understands them. For a tongue-in-cheek look at why they’re bad, see https://bit.ly/3kGvY83
4 – Avoid needless jargon, or what I call “tech bro’” speech. Here’s an example I made up:
“So, our proprietary, end-to-end, next-gen, multi-platform protocols actually comprise seamless, robust tools that allow you to enable, deploy, and leverage interactive corporate infrastructures for flawless execution against your business requirements with real-time analytics and a laser focus of providing a best-in-class solution. The proactive granular interface allows your team to deliver measurable metrics of success for mission-critical, zero-defect applications across the enterprise, right?
Aggregating and optimizing real-time mindshare is an extensible benefit of your core competencies as you synergize and monetize strategic resources.”
For a hilarious take on the “tech bro’” speech, see Weird Al’s “Mission Statement” video.
Know your message cold and know your presentation style inside and out.
The content of your message is important but, no matter how compelling your message is, if your delivery suffers from one of the faults listed above, you risk not being taken seriously. The good news is that, with a bit of attention to detail and some practice, you can establish yourself as a trusted resource.
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