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How to Establish Credibility - One Detail at a Time
By Chris King

Seth Godin in his recent editorial "Slowly I Turned … Step by Step … Inch by Inch …" writes about "gradual." He discusses how gradual bad habits can cause damage - like overweight - yet how gradual good habits can lead to positive results. In his words, "… you should consider using the few opportunities that you have to invest in those things that are worth it: things that represent big change but that are achieved over time."

As I read the editorial, I started considering and counting all of the details - the little steps - we can pay attention to that add up to big results - especially with regard to our credibility. In this article I share some of the details that I feel make us more credible as powerful presenters. It does take time and effort, but when we add them all together, our reputations will shine.

Accept the fact that there is no "quick fix" and that "overnight" success may take many years. Yes, we do belong to a society in a hurry. It is common for people to feel that they can lose 30 pounds in a month and/or become a recognized speaker in demand by just deciding to do it. If you belong to this group of believers, then I suggest that you skip this article. I can't even number the well known and successful speakers who have told the story of their struggles to reach stardom. Once you embrace the idea that everything worth achieving will take time, discipline, hard work, patience and attention to details, you will be on your way. So, let's begin.

Think of these details as the "moments of truth" that have made Southwest Airlines so successful.

Pay attention to communication details. Even if you can wow an audience with your speaking ability from the podium, but you don't pay attention to other communication details, you will never get a chance to speak from that podium. Here are some communication details to adopt:

  • Telephone skills. Return messages with haste. I know that a good number of people do not do this, because so often I hear, "Thank you for returning my call." Does this mean others don't return calls? Yes. So when we do, we have varied from the norm and leave a good impression.
  • E-mail messages. With the huge amount of SPAM these days, it does take an extra effort to keep ahead of the mail. It is the same, however, as with the telephone. If we are quick and courteous about answering our e-mails we leave another good impression.
  • Everyday conversations. Are you in a hurry all of the time. Just don't have time to talk. I am not suggesting that you waste a lot of time with idle chatter, but I do suggest that you take a few minutes to listen and answer questions. This is also an opportunity for letting others know of your expertise. If you are willing to share information, then you just might be the perfect speaker for their group (and practically everyone belongs to a group).
  • Snail mail. It is so seldom that we receive a handwritten note in the mail that when we do, we remember. This is just another communication detail that will add up to setting you apart from the crowd.

Presentation details or ways to "get good." Many of these I have mentioned in other articles. However, I feel they are important enough to repeat. I am going to focus here on ways to keep on improving our speaking skills. Excellent marketing, networking and selling won't help us as presenters unless we are "really good."

  • Speak often. Join a Toastmasters group so you will be assured of getting up on your feet at least once a week. Another way to get lots of experience - and every time we speak, we will get better - is to join a Speaker's Bureau for your area of expertise. You may give short talks to Kiwanis and Chamber groups, but will be surprised at the amount of practice you will get in front of an audience. Volunteer to lead your club's meetings or be an emcee for a local organization. Opportunities for willing speakers (for free) are boundless.
  • Pick a topic about which you are passionate. Once you have a topic you care about, tell everyone. Offer to do some brown bag lunches for local companies, speak at a PTA meeting. Start writing short articles about your topic and offer to send them to people you meet at networking sessions or organizational newsletters. Once you start putting your ideas down on paper, you will find that your speaking about your topic will also improve.
  • Walk your talk. Make sure that your life mirrors the action steps you are suggesting to audience members. Even if we only slip up one time by coming across as a phony who doesn't follow what he or she says, it will be remembered as a negative detail. Do it several times in front of several different people and your reputation can be ruined.
  • Truly care about your listeners. This also comes back to sincerity and integrity. Those in our audiences can feel whether or not we care about them more than about ourselves. Speaking should not be an ego trip. Yes, we must have self-confidence and self-love, but we must care even more about the people we are trying to help.

Name details. During the past decade, I have noticed the prevalence of name changing, as I am sure you have also. Several of the organizations with which I am involved have chosen new and different names that they feel represent them and their missions more descriptively. Companies who were ready for a new start have changed names to reflect a new attitude, direction and/or focus. Some of these changes have made a positive difference, others have just caused confusion.

  • Choose names with care. What we name ourselves, our businesses and our presentations can make a huge impact. For example, I teach fitness classes and have discovered that the name of the class can determine how many people try it (of course, just like a business, once you attract them, you must make it so good they want to return). I started teaching a lower body callisthenic class in January which has turned into a huge success. Rather than naming it "Lower Body Workout," I feel that the name we chose - "Pain in the Butt" - has helped to attract the large number of participants. So, really work on creating a catchy title that attracts interest.

Now, I ask you to start making notes of the small stuff. Keep a list of the daily, weekly and monthly details or "moments of truth" that will add up to a huge change. I have only scratched the surface of the many details and steps, but do hope that I have started you thinking.

We can apply Seth Godin's parting editorial words to our presentations, our lives and our businesses. "The new fast company isn't fast at all. It's gradual, slow, measured, and organized. It's making small bets. Which, it turns out, is the fastest way of all to get back to where you want to be." Or, I would say, "forward to where you want to be."

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