The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Presenters - Authority

By Alan Carroll

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In the last column, I introduced the first of the seven habits which was rapport. Now we will move to the second habit of highly effective presenters which is authority.

Authority is the audience’s perception that the presenter is knowledgeable on the subject matter. Knowledge leads to credibility and gives the impression that the presenter is standing on a foundation of information that will contribute and be of service to the audience. You may have a great delivery style but if you have not earn the right to speak on the subject you are standing on thin ice. This diminishes not only your power to project energy into the space but also creates a doubt in the minds of the audience you have a valuable contribution to make.

So what are things you can do to establish the perception of authority?

Title - One of the first things the audience hears is your title. Are you a senior vice president or a vice president? Are you a senior consultant or a consultant. Are you the director of engineering or an individual contributor? Titles create perception. However, they will get you just so far because once you begin to speak there still needs to be substance behind your words.

Use your title on the introduction slide. For example, on the first slide the engineer states that he or she is a CCIE (Cisco Certified Internet Expert). Most networking customers would recognize the CCIE certification as a person who is a subject matter expert.

Introduction - The way you are introduced creates a perception in the audience. In neurolinguistic programming (NLP) this is called pre-framing. For example, let’s assume the audience knows nothing about the presenter. The person who does the introduction says, “I am happy to introduce Dr. William Smith who was just awarded the Nobel prize for physics.” The person has pre-framed your perception. Now, even before Dr. Smith speaks, you are expecting to hear one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet in the area of physics.

The opposite is also true. You can create a negative perception. For example, the person doing the introduction says, “ I want to apologize because our featured speaker, the Nobel prize winning Dr. William Smith, was unable to attend however, at the very last minute we were able to scrape together another speaker, George Jones. Now George is not a physicist, he didn’t graduate from high school but he did complete a 9th grade math class and he was the only person we could find at this late date."

This pre-frame creates a big hole for George to dig out of in front of the audience because the audience now thinks George is a "loser" who is not very knowledgeable on the subject matter.

One technique to ensure that the person who introduces you says what you want is you can write down on a 3x5 card exactly the words you want the introducer to say. This would also include books or articles you have written and any patents you have received. By doing this it increases the probability that you will receive a more powerful introduction which shapes the listening of the audience.

Bona fides - One of the biggest factors that influences the audience’s perception of you being an authority is, in fact, you are an authority; you have earned the right to speak on the subject matter because over the years you have built up a database of knowledge through your education and experience. The ice of knowledge is thick under your feet and you are at ease in projecting your energy into the space of the room.

There is a saying which states, “No one will follow an uncertain trumpet.” A solid foundation of knowledge is one of the ingredients that allow you to speak with certainty and authority in front of the audience.

Q&A - Another way the perception of authority is created is by the way you answer questions. Your response to questions reflects on your database of knowledge. Your answer to just one question has the possibility of communicating immediately to the audience that you are not just "a guy in a diner" but rather a person of knowledge. How? Because only a person with 20 years of experience and knowledge could have the insight and ability to respond to the question with such eloquence and depth.

Personal Experiences - Sharing personal stories, which can also be referred to as experiences, is a brilliant way to establish credibility, authority, rapport and intimacy. The concept of a story that I am referring to is taking a scene from your life and sharing it with the audience. This personalizes the conversation and establishes the fact that you have direct experience on the subject matter being discussed.

Often you see people in front of audiences communicate by just reading their Power Point slides or dumping technical data into the space. Although this is a normal practice, it fails to take advantage of the incredible opportunity you have to build a more powerful relationship with the audience by the sharing of the self -- your personal stories and experiences which you share openly with the audience. By sharing your stories it reveals your humanness, and the humanness in you will connect to the humanness in the audience. This shared humanness creates intimacy and builds rapport which are important factors in generating a powerful flow of energy or communication in the space.

These are five different techniques you can use to build authority and establish your credibility with your audience. The next column will focus on the third characteristic of highly effective presenters/communicators which is “P” for presence.

Alan Carroll, author of The Broadband Connection: The Art of Delivering a Winning IT Presentation and the founder of Alan Carroll & Associates, has been a successful public speaker, sales trainer and corporate consultant since 1983. Clients include: Cisco Systems, Synoptics Communications, Symantec Corporation, Digital Equipment Corporation, Unocal Corporation, Covey Leadership Center, BP Chemical, Peak Technologies, Vantive Corporation, Jet Propulsion Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, HP, Symbol Technologies, etc.