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Before your next presentation, create a PowerPoint slide just for yourself. On it, place these guidelines to keep in mind as you develop the presentation, the four building blocks of your credibility:

  • Expertise and competency
  • Authenticity
  • Personal presence
  • Dynamism

In some internal presentations, of course, your credibility has been established over the years. But when you are presenting to senior executives or to people in other organizations, your credibility may be under question. And you must give as much attention to building it as you do to laying out the content of your talk in those other PowerPoint slides you will actually show.

“Credibility is the Holy Grail of presenters. It is the foundation for effective presentations. Making a presentation without credibility is like steering a car that is stationary: You can go through the motions, but you won’t get anywhere,” Vancouver leadership and presentation skills trainer Bruna Martinuzzi writes in Presenting with Credibility, where she shares those four credibility components.

Your expertise is the cornerstone of your credibility. Do you know what you are talking about? And she says nothing erodes your credibility faster than signalling you are dependent on your slides. “To boost your credibility, you need to be able to deliver your content without having to use the slides as a Teleprompter. This is only possible if you know your material very well,” she says.

So yes, rehearsal is important. Practising before bedtime might help you to consolidate the material in your brain, according to sleep research. She also recommends recording yourself – PowerPoint has such a function – and playing it over many times. A simulation can also be effective, in which you go through all the movements of the actual presentation, standing up, moving around, and speaking out loud.

Memorize your opening and closing comments and any particularly pungent phrases. For material to register in your long-term memory, she says you must go over it again within 30 minutes. She also recommends the mind palace trick for remembering the order of the different elements of your presentation: Visualize your home and then put the key concepts in different rooms, one per room, taking time to store that image in your memory for a return trip during the talk.

She considers authenticity the watermark for trust. It’s the audience’s perception of your integrity, the clarity of your message and the genuine care and attention you display. It requires the absence of artifice.

Don’t use inflated language, tempting as it may be, because it seems to boost your intellectual credentials. Make sure the words you speak are yours. If given a corporate script, respect its core message, but reword some of it so the presentation doesn’t sound mechanical. Be conversational.

Aim to be generally likeable. She notes that expert witnesses in court cases are viewed as more credible if they are likeable. Smile, use other people’s names, and be friendly. If you don’t know something, admit it; acknowledge a potential error or uncertainty. Be respectful, not arriving late or going over the allotted time.

Presence is the first thing people notice when you enter the room. It involves a sense of calm, proper posture, sustained eye contact with others, appropriate dress, adaptability, composure and proper pausing during the talk. “Pauses make you look composed and thoughtful,” she stresses. They indicate self-assuredness. Think of Barack Obama’s leisurely style.

Dynamism indicates your enthusiasm for the topic. Your facial expressions keep the audience engaged. Show your emotions when you speak, even disappointment when relevant. Don’t just stand immobile; the audience will be more engaged if you move around.

Your voice is critical. Don’t speak in a monotone. Speak faster on routine items and slow down for important information. Gestures also make you look dynamic but let them flow naturally. Practised gestures can work for politicians and professional speakers, but they usually look robotic when a business person presents to a client or board of directors.

Credibility counts. Focus on the four building blocks – expertise and competence, authenticity, presence and dynamism – when preparing your presentations.

Quick hits

  • After asking for feedback on a project or other aspects of your work, stop talking and embrace the discomfort that will arise because the other person will be wary about answering your question and that, in turn, will make you uncomfortable, Radical candour author Kim Scott advises. Don’t let them off the hook; count to seven and commit to allowing the other person to speak first.
  • Count to 90 when your emotions are threatening to rage out of control. Communications coach John Millen says the 90-second rule allows the adrenalin and other hormones that are aroused to be released, and could have saved actor Will Smith his many post-Oscars apologies.
  • Energetic ads hold viewers’ attention, a new study shows. Using an algorithm based on how Spotify quantifies the characteristics of songs for such features as danceability, acoustics and tempo, the team of academics found higher energy levels resulted in fewer people tuning out, after controlling for network, day of the week and the time within the program that the ad aired.
  • To quickly correct spelling errors Microsoft Word highlights with its red squiggly underline, right-click on the word and then select the correct spelling in the options offered in the context menu that pops up, tech writer Allen Wyatt says.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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