“Starting my presentation” is a very common answer to my question “What bugs you most about presenting?”.
I mentioned recently that I starting a presentation with ‘a little about me’ is a mistake because it wastes the audience’s attention. I gave a few ideas of what to do instead. It’s probably a good idea to have read that blog alongside this one.
Here, I’m going to go into detail about the ‘Credibility Statement’ – the more-audience-friendly version of the wasted time in introductions.
Here’s what we’re replacing…
“Hello… erm…. I’ve been asked to to to ermmm… to talk to you today about X… But I’m not sure why ‘cos I’m far from an expert”
Oh really? In which case what the heck gives you the right to stand up there and take up my time, eh?
“Hello. My name is Dr XYZ. I have been studying this for 10 years and I’m an expert. As I said in my book “All about X”. And I’ve recently been interviewed on Radio Four about it … …”
Oh for heaven’s sake, stop showing off… just get on with telling me what I need to know!
The problem with the first approach is that it undermines your credibility as a presenter. My time is important to me, so why would I want to spend it listening to someone who admits they don’t know what they’re talking about? Even if they do know their stuff, and it’s just false modesty, it makes them look like they don’t. (So don’t do it. Clear?)
And the problem with the second approach is that you just look like an egotist. No one likes an ego on stage in front of them.
… so start your presentation with a Credibility Statement
A Credibility Statement gets past these problems by establishing why I should listen to you in a way that doesn’t sound like bragging – because it’s not opinion, it’s fact. That last bit is very important.
The rules for a Credibility Statement are:
- it should be short
- it should be overwhelming / unarguable
- it should be objective (that is, no just my opinion).
A bit more detail, please, Simon?
Let’s start with “short”. That’s pretty straight-forward and obvious, isn’t it? I’ve said before that your audience is most inclined to pay attention at the start of your presentation and they’re already (at least partially) engaged. And while the actual claims vary, there’s a lot of stuff around suggesting that you don’t have very long before people start to judge!
My recommendation is that your Credibility Statement is only a few sentences long. Not only is it short but is so much shorter than the traditional (boring) introduction that the shock value for audiences can be quite high.
Overwhelming / unarguable
To keep up the ‘shock’ factor, add in some “awe”. Whatever it is you include wants to leave the audience in absolutely no doubt that your presentation is worth paying attention to. Remember, you’re not trying to convince your audience that you’re cooler than Batman (you’re not, get over it) – you’re trying to hold their attention as you move into the substantive content of your presentation.
Typically that’s best done not by listing all your achievements but by citing the one, single undeniably impressive achievement that’s relevant to the audience. With my tongue in my cheek, think of mentioning your PhD, but not your High School qualifications 🙂
Objective / empirical
For maximum impact, and to make sure it’s harder for your audience to argue with your claim (and to make sure that they spend less time processing what you’ve said) make sure what you include in your Credibility Statement is objective. It should be a statement of fact, not an opinion. The only exception to that rule is that the opinion is God’s and she/he is in the room.
For example, don’t say “I’m one of this country’s leading sprinters”. Say “I’m the current record holder for 200 metres in this country”.
Oh, and surely it goes without saying that the stuff you include has to be relevant to both your presentation and your audience. Sprinting is great for your sports club… less useful if your presentation is about lepidoptary.
It also has to be true!
An semi-fictional example
Let me give you an example: Mike Lever is a friend of mine and a great sales trainer.
A traditional, boring introduction for Mike might include his history of working with Fortune500 companies, how he moved from that into being a sales trainer and mention his time at Northern Rock Bank.
By the time he’s listed his history I’m resorting to coffee to stay attentive… So let’s move on and replace that with a Credibility Statement.
A bad Credibility Statement for Mike might include something like “I’m the best sales trainer in the country” which is contestable, because it’s just a matter of opinion. On the other hand he can (honestly) say “I’ve been voted Sales Trainer of the Year”. It says the same sort of thing but it’s not anything you can argue with as it’s a (simple) statement of fact.
If you’ve got the stomach for it, have a listen to (the first few minutes of) this famous video (below). It shows candidate Phil Davison at a hustings. When you’ve had enough, stop it and then ask yourself the question under the vid… For the purpose of understanding introductions you only need to watch the first couple of minutes, but you might find yourself strangely drawn in… 🙂
Instead of the list of qualifications he gives, wouldn’t it have been better if Mr Davison had stood still and said something like “I have four degrees: two at masters level”?
A couple of examples from my client’s presentations
So lets try out a few reasonably good credibility statements I’ve heard from my clients recently. For a presenter talking about how powerful martial arts are in helping the development of children, this is a strong start…
Hi – my name is X and I’ve got four black belts, two of them at top Dan
Or how about this, when you’re about to make a presentation looking at the benefits of sport in schools?
Hello. We’re going to explore the way sport X can benefit your health. I’m captain of the woman’s national team and we’re currently ranked Yth in the world
Bang. Straight in. I’m going to listen to a woman who captains the national team and is Yth best in the world. But she said it in a wonderfully calm, almost matter-of-fact voice that meant there wasn’t a hint of bragging about it.
What can go wrong?
No system is perfect. And no system for making better presentations is even close – but there are ways around most of the big problems.
It will sound like I’m bragging
Firstly – if it’s a fact, it’s a fact.
Secondly, it’s all about how you say it. If you use the right tone of voice – calm, slightly understated and not shouted – you’ll be taken more seriously. In fact, if your introduction has “bigged you up” then this simple statement of fact can actually sound like you’re humble by contrast!
It’s much more likely to sound like bragging if you list everything. Don’t. Pick one thing that will wow your audience and hit them with it at the very start of your presentation.
I don’t have anything overwhelming to say
Fair enough, not all of us are the world’s best eaters-of-Crunchies! (That’s not a challenge, relax.) but I’m constantly amazed by how many people forget the things they’ve achieved precisely because they’ve achieved them. To them it’s normal and they forget that other people aren’t them. (I even had one client recently forget to mention for me that she used to do marketing for Disney!)
Put time aside and ask yourself not “Have I got anything I can include here?” but instead as yourself “What have I got that I can include here?”. Seriously. It fires up a totally different part of your brain. I often find it takes some time to dig here and it’s common for someone else to make the breakthrough on my client’s behalf. They can see things from the outside in a way that you – as the presenter – can’t.
If you’re really, really stuck, consider borrowing authority and credibility. You might not be Batman, but you might have worked for him. ;). Here’s what I mean…
Back when I was a university researcher I could ‘borrow’ the authority of the research unit I was at. All I had to do was give my name and say “I and a Senior Research Associate at CURDS” and I’d got all the authority I needed (for some presentations at least – it wouldn’t work at my local railway modelling club! 🙂
If all else fails, you can just give a bold statement for how long you’ve been working on this presentation, though it’s not ideal. (I’ve been looking into how to make efficiency improvements for 15 years now” is better than “I’ve got some ideas about how to make efficiency improvements”.)
My audience isn’t ready for this!
I have to confess, this is the only time when I have a bit of sympathy. Audiences that are totally inured in the pointless introduction won’t by paying attention for the first few minutes of your presentation. They assume it’s just you warming up because that’s what other presenters do. Content you give here risks being missed.
But if that’s your defence for not using a Credibility Statement opening it’s a non-starter, ‘cos that very same lack of attention from your audience proves the point that traditional introductions don’t work. Cut the excuses and get on with it, as you’ve got nothing to lose!
Should I memorise how I start my presentation?
Yes and no. Sorry, that’s not very helpful I know – stay with me.
What you shouldn’t do is memorise your Credibility Statement to the point where it sounds like you’re bored by the start of your own presentation. However, because of the Oppenheimer Effect you should get it to the point where you don’t fluff it. What you should think about here includes things like:
- the chances are that the process of just devising your CS will mean that you go over it often enough to have it fixed reasonably well in your head, do don’t worry about it tooooo much
- don’t forget to either practice the next few sentences as direct follow-ons. Otherwise you risk getting to the end of your CS and ‘staling’ while you try and figure out what you’re going to say next – it makes the CS sound like a false start
- it’s probably a good idea to devise a number of different CSs well before your presentation date, so that you’ve got time for it to settle into your long term memory. On the day, you can decide which one you’re going to use, to keep it fresh if you like
- take a few moments to think about how your Credibility Statement sounds immediately after you’ve been introduced (if there’s an introduction). You don’t want to repeat that introduction – in an ideal world you’d follow on in what sounds like a conversation, so your CS picks up organically from the introduction, perhaps adding just one more item of information to it. (See this smallSimon video on our YouTube channel about being introduced.)
And what about my nerves?
There’s a lot of help on presentation nerves here, on the YouTube channel, (that’s the first video of the playlist) but skip below to find out how I do it personally (as well ass using these tools!)
On a personal note, I use playlists. I’ll write a full blog of how to do it at some point soon but for now, the important things to remember are:
- start with relatively calm
- build up the energy
- calm down a little just before the presentation starts so it’s not pure hype
- make the last track (in particular) personal.
What that means to me personally is that I build up to something like AC/DC’s Thunderstruck as the second to last track, but then play “I am the Doctor” by Murry Head as my last track. (Videos embedded below).
Why the slightly calmer track? Because it’s me. When that finishes, I’m ready to hear my introduction and make my Credibility Statement.
Over to you – how do you start YOUR presentations
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now you’ll probably know that I enjoy brutal challenges here… so here’s one
“If you can’t create a Credibility Statement, you don’t have the right to be up on the stage in the first place”
It’s not that hard in real life, don’t panic – the process of getting your material together for the presentation should give you what you need to create your Credibility Statement.
So, what’s your thinking, gentle reader? Credibility Statements rather than traditional introductions? When might a traditional introduction be better?