How to establish your Credibility without Bragging

It’s hard to pull-off establishing your credentials without sounding like you’re bragging. The public speaking blogosphere is alive with stories of presenters who didn’t quite hit the right note. Lisa Braithwaite says in her blog post on establishing your credentials, they haven’t come to the presentation to hear all about you. Dave Paradi also warns against talking about yourself too much.

It’s like we have a braggart alarm bell. We’ve learnt not to trust people who speak too well of themselves. So how can you avoid setting off the braggart alarm bells of your audience while still establishing your authority to speak on the topic?

The secret is to make it look as if it’s not you doing the bragging.

1. Have someone else introduce you

In Yes: 50 secrets from the art of persuasion, Cialdini and his co-authors say:

Arranging for someone else to describe your expertise and credentials to the audience will do wonders to convince them that they should listen to what you have to say, while also avoiding the damage that blatant self-promotion can cause.

Prepare this introduction yourself

Having someone else introduce you, doesn’t mean you leave them to it – very few people prepare properly for introducing a speaker. And there’s also a risk that your introducer says something which is at odds with the message you want to send in your presentation. I have a good friend who speaks across UK, Australia and New Zealand on Values Education in schools. She has a Christian background but strongly believes in Values Education being non-religious in nature. Before one particular presentation, her introducer dwelt on her Christian “credentials”. The audience peppered her with questions about the relationship between her Christian beliefs and values education throughout the presentation.

Tailor your introduction to the presentation

The audience doesn’t want to hear a generic resume. They want to hear:

  • Why this topic? How is this topic of benefit to them
  • Why you? What special skills/expertise have you got which makes you qualified to speak to them on this topic
  • Why now? Why is it important to hear from you at this time.

For more ideas on preparing an introduction check out Taking charge of your introduction from Denise Graveline.

When it’s your turn

Plunge straight into your presentation. Beware of falling into the trap of saying “Well, as the chairperson said my name is Olivia Mitchell, and I’m from a company called Effective Speaking.” Doh!

2. Provide attendees with a written profile

If there’s no-one to introduce you, write a profile detailing your experience and qualifications to be talking on this topic. Ensure the attendees have it ahead of time. Write it in the third person, rather than the first person. For example “Olivia has been teaching presentation skills for ten years” as opposed to “I’ve been teaching presentation skills for ten years”.

It’s a subtle distinction which makes a big difference. Here’s a description of a research study led by Jeffrey Pfeffer, and reported in Yes:

…participants were asked to imagine themselves in the role of senior editor for a book publisher, facing the task of dealing with an experienced and successful author. They were asked to read excerpts from a negotiation for a sizeable book advance. One group read excerpts touting the author’s accomplishments spoken by the author’s agent, whereas a second group read identical comments made by the author himself.  The data  verified our hypothesis: participants rated the author more favourable on nearly every scale – especially likeability – when the author’s agent sang his praises as compared to when the author tooted his own horn.

Even though we know intellectually that personal profiles written in the third person were probably written by the person themselves – it doesn’t set off our braggart alarm bell.

3. Tell a story

Tell a short personal story which serves both as an introduction to your topic and subtly signals your expertise in the area. When I’m introducing myself at the start of our introductory presentation skills course for nervous beginners, I tell the participants about the time I was enveloped with fear giving the first important presentation of my career. They can relate to this and can see that I have managed to overcome that fear. But I don’t come across as bragging. That’s because the information about my credentials is incidental to the main story and so slips through the back door into the audiences’ minds without setting off their braggart alarm bell.

So there’s three ways of establishing your credibility without being a braggart. It doesn’t matter that they audience may intellectually realise that you’ve written all the material, emotionally they’re fooled.

Are there other ways that you’ve pulled off this trick – let us know in the comments.