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I have heard many presenters who were supposed experts in their field and never really believed a word they said. Why? They lacked credibility. Credibility is more than just a string of degrees and titles after a name. Those speakers may have had extensive knowledge and experience, but it didn’t show. Credibility is a concept, somewhat intangible, when you’re thinking about a presenter’s skill set. Don’t consider yourself a public speaker or presenter? Think again. As a new lawyer, there will be times you have to address large and small groups — at firm or client meetings, in court, taking depositions or at bar association gatherings. There are a number of things to work on to build credibility: Make eye contact, answer questions, reduce the use of filler words and hold your ground. MAKE EYE CONTACT “Look me in the eyes and tell me you didn’t break that vase!” Most of us remember our mothers saying something like that when we were little. And what did we learn from that — other than not to run or throw things in the house and break things? We learned that if you can look someone in the eye and say something, you’re telling the truth. That early conditioning stays with us. When you listen and watch a speaker who can’t look you in the eyes at all or not for very long, you don’t believe he or she is being honest. Most presenters hold eye contact with people for less than a second. However, speakers who hold eye contact long enough to deliver one thought to one pair of eyes build strong rapport with the audience. How long is that exactly? I haven’t yet encountered a formula, but I do know that it is longer than a second. Include everyone in the audience with your eye contact. It’s easy to make contact with people who give good facial feedback — nodding or tilting their heads and smiling. Unfortunately, some people aren’t naturally as cordial. Nevertheless, you still must establish credibility with people whose faces are nonresponsive or look like they’ve just eaten something sour. After all, that person might be the key decision-maker with whom you need to establish credibility. Make eye contact “bounce around” the audience rather than “sweep the room.” Random eye contact will keep the audience more alert. I have actually read in one presentation skills book that a speaker should make backward “S” patterns with his eyes while looking around the room. Puuhhlease! After a while, the audience will pick up the pattern and get used to it. They may even start tuning out until they know it’s time to pay attention because you’re about to look their way. Practice eye contact during everyday conversations. When speaking with co-workers or friends, concentrate on lengthening your eye contact. The more you do that in low-risk environments, the easier it will be to do it during presentations. I DON’T KNOW Believe it or not, it is OK to say “I don’t know” to a question asked during a presentation (depending on the question). If you are uncomfortable saying those words, reply by saying “I don’t have that information with me, but I will check on it and get back with you.” You also may consider asking the questioner to call or e-mail you with the question. This may save some time, as many realize that the question was little more than a spur-of-the-moment curiosity about something rather than an important question. While it may be OK to say “I don’t know” once or twice, saying it three or more times during a question-and-answer session erodes credibility. Too many people think they are prepared if they know the presentation (read the PowerPoint slides). When they get to the Q&A session, they are stumped early on by a question. If this has happened to you, how did you respond? � Fake a coughing spasm and dash from the room? � Throw a chalk-caked eraser at the questioner (if you are speaking in a 1970s era schoolroom)? � Prepare a little better the next time (read on). To avoid being stumped, know at least twice as much as you will present. This will allow you to answer most questions. When preparing and rehearsing the presentation, write down the questions you would ask about the topic. Get some friends and co-workers to give you some other questions and prepare answers. Do the proper research and, by all means, corroborate anything from the Internet. UM, STOP IT How much confidence would you have in our president if the first “word” out of his mouth during the State of the Union address was “Um”? Or if during a press conference, every answer began “Er, uh”? Yet those fillers are omnipresent in bad business presentations. If you know what you’re talking about, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting started with a real word. Start becoming aware of how often you and others say “um,” “uh,” “er,” (“like,” “ya know,” “I mean” aren’t any more acceptable just because they are actually in the dictionary). Once you become more sensitized to those primitive caveman sounds, you soon will start to be annoyed by them in your own speech and will begin reducing their frequency. You even could follow Toastmasters’ lead by fining yourself a nickel each time you use one of those annoying verbalized pauses. Please send those checks to Dave Gunby; my address is … PAUSE FOR THE CAUSE Speaking too fast is like the fine print on a television commercial — there is something there, but you just can’t absorb it. Fast talkers often create an impression that they are trying to slip something by the audience. For ideas and words to have real flavor, you must give an audience time to marinate in them. During periods of high learning, humans sleep deeper and harder. This is because during the downtimes the brain makes connections between new information and existing knowledge. Actually, during these sleep times the brain often is changing itself physically — neurons are extending their dendrites to enable those new connections. Pauses and breaks are microcosms of those sleep periods, so give the audience the gift of pauses. Most presenters accused of speaking too fast may not need to change their rate of speech. Simply inserting more and longer pauses can do the trick. Plan and practice your pauses. Pause after an important point. Pause when you have to refer briefly to notes. Pause when you have to do something physical with visual aids (advancing to a new screen, distributing a handout, etc.). These pauses are an opportunity to take a relaxing breath; exhale twice as long as you inhale. As you learn to become more comfortable with dead air, your content will seem to have more substance, be more believable and more credible. DON’T BE JAWS Are you like a shark when you present — you have to keep moving to stay alive? If so, how nice for you, but not so nice for the audience. I often get tired when I watch a speaker who always is moving, pacing, bouncing or rocking (much like my 3-year-old). I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who thinks that. While movement, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing, too much directionless movement can make you look ungrounded in your position. For example, imagine watching a presenter saying, “Now here is something we feel very strongly about” while he backs away from the audience. You might perceive that the speaker doesn’t really feel strongly because he is backing away. When making a fundamental point, your foundation should be firm — grounded. While you might not feel comfortable standing still, it will pay off when it comes to credibility. Credentials are nice, but credibility for a speaker can be something altogether different. Credibility doesn’t have to be intangible. Make it tangible by: � Delivering one thought to one pair of eye; � Answering practice questions during your rehearsals; � Getting rid of useless “ums,” “uhs” and “ers”; � Pausing and letting the audience dwell on important points; and � Standing firm when making critical points. Dave Gunby is the founder and principal of MINDimensions, a Dallas-based leadership training and facilitation company. In his 12 years as a trainer, he has helped thousands of people develop presentation skills, creativity, accelerated learning and mind-mapping (an organizing and memory tool).

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