Why You Lose Credibility

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When you present facts like your giving a sixth grade book report, you sound like a sixth grader. So why do most people still approach public speaking like they’re giving a sixth grade book report?

You probably figured out by now that I’m not a fan of the way our education system teaches communication skills. In general, the education system trains us to conform to mediocrity.

Sixth Grade Presentation Skills

dogsleepRemember sixth grade? You read a book written by an “expert.” You find a quote from an “expert.” Then you copy the quote to your essay and state your “sources.”

I’m getting sleepy just talking about it.

In my industry, one of the most famous experts is Patricia Fripp. She is a public speaker and executive speech coach. If I were speaking the sixth grade way, I would quote her like this:

frippPatricia Fripp, teaches us how to sound credible. She says “Specificity builds credibility.” In other words, you need to include specific references to your facts, figures and quotes.

Okay, time to wake up.

I promise not to include any more examples of mediocrity (aka BAD presentation skills).

Why You Lose Credibility

That paragraph will get you an A+ in sixth grade, but in real life, giving that speech actually makes you lose credibility relative to a real expert!

Included in brackets is what the audience actually hears:

[Lowly, amateurish, unoriginal, mindless, pitiful, sixth-grade wanna-be stooge that I am always defers to someone better than I am so] I would like to quote Patricia Fripp [a real expert that knows a whole lot more than I do. She] teaches us how to sound credible. She says “Specificity builds credibility.” In other words [I have nothing original to offer. If you’re interested, you should go listen to her.]

stoogesI get it. Your sixth grade homeroom teacher (and probably even your college professors) told you that using experts to support your argument makes you sound credible.

Unfortunately, most people apply that advice by trying to convince the listener that they agree with some well-known expert. The speaker ends up looking like a stooge.

That well-meaning teacher or professor, Ms. I-don’t-know-what-I’m-talking-about-but-I-love-you, didn’t know that there is more than one way to quote an expert.

When your quote says “I agree with this expert,” then you are not building your own credibility, you are building the expert’s credibility.

That approach makes the expert look more credible than you. You look weak by comparison.

Presentation Skills that Make You Look Good

Watch how easily I can change that quote from “I agree with Patricia Fripp” to “Patricia Fripp agrees with me.”

When I coach people I always tell them to include specific names and numbers to prove they are credible. I call this “Revealing specifics.” Recently, I heard Patricia Fripp say it another way: “Specificity builds credibility.”

Instead of taking the role of a sixth grader idolizing an “expert”, I make myself equal to the expert.

Here’s another way to do it, with the listener’s subconscious understanding included:

Patricia Fripp, says “Specificity builds credibility.” She’s right, except I wish she would add that you have to memorize those specifics or you actually lose credibility. [Wow, this guy knows more than Patricia Fripp!]

When public speaking, this is a very common way that politicians try to convince you they’re qualified for office. They memorize lots of names and numbers. It looks really bad when they have to defer to someone higher-up for the “expertise”.equals

I’m sure Ms. Fripp actually does know my little addendum. The point is not to be superior to the expert, the point is to NOT be subordinate to her.

In other words:

The expert agrees with me! [because we are equals].

The “experts” don’t need you to boost their credibility. Use their notoriety to boost your own presentation skills.

In my SpeechDeck public speaking and communication system, this technique is categorized as a skill to reveal “Authority.” Check out all the yellow “Reveal the Messenger” techniques to make the best impression.

Get out of the sixth grade, and act like YOU are the expert–even if you have to pretend.

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I've spent my life studying what makes some communicators great in a sea of mediocrity. When I discovered the science of psychology, I found the answer, and created SpeechDeck, the first principle-centered, color-coded system that gets you more attention, more influence, and better results.

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