We have all squeamed through this scenario:
- You sign up for a conference and get really excited about learning critical things to grow your career or business. You invest time, money and energy to clear your agenda so you can be there.
- The lights dim and the first speaker is introduced. They look friendly and pleasant, and start the talk off on a good foot. They mention that they grew up in Omaha and got an academic scholarship to Yale. Then they were President of their fraternity and maintained a 4.0 grade average while starting a highly successful business in their dorm room.
- 5 minutes in, you are starting to want to stab yourself in the eye with a pencil if it would mean helping them get to the point of the presentation.
- 10 minutes in, they are still sharing the fine points of their illustrious career, awards they have won, and famous people who beg and plead for their advice. “And then the Pope said to me, “Jim, I am really in a quandry here. …”
- 15 minutes in, you are wanting to poke their eye out with a pencil, even if it meant serving a short jail sentence. Anything to stop their incessant bragging.
“If I were them,” you scream to yourself, “I would stop blowing smoke and get to the point of the presentation, which is about me and my needs.”
Well, almost right.
There is a fine line between being establishing necessary credibility with a new audience and being a complete egomaniac.
What your audience needs to know in order to trust what you say
Never assume that people in a new audience know anything about you. I just spoke at a wonderful local event here in Mesa, Arizona, and besides my friend Clate Mask from Infusionsoft and my former client and ace photographer Ivan Martinez, no one (in my home town!) knew who I was. I got to know my bright and talented fellow presenter in the session itself, so we didn’t have any context or background about each other to plan the session.
A new audience needs to know:
- Your formal education or training that prepares you to do your work. If you have a degree from Harvard, or a Phd in Engineering from MIT, tell them! Rather than bragging, this puts their mind at ease. If you are talking to a group that values community education, tell them! When Clate did the keynote today at Mesa Community College about how he grew his company from a Ramen noodle eating group of three broke guys with big dreams into a $30M company with 200 employees, what did he mention about his education? That he started it at Mesa Community College. This was extremely meaningful to newer entrepreneurs and students in the audience.
- Key parts of your own life story to prove you did what you teach. Are you teaching lawyers how to set up a virtual law practice? Tell them how you did it yourself, and what you learned from the experience. Are you proud of the fact that you grew a great company while raising your kids as a single parent? If that would establish credibility with your audience, tell that part of the story.
- Specific examples of how you have helped others just like them get great results. Track:
-Numbers of clients (“I have worked with over 350 small and medium-sized businesses …” “Every one of the 250 high school seniors we had in our program went on to a college or university.”) Concrete numbers mean something.
-Business results of the clients you worked with – even if you haven’t worked with many! (“Three of my clients went from zero to $30,000 in revenue in their side hustle in the year after working with me”) I like to tell my friend Ramit Sethi that he is a possessed madman when it comes to tracking concrete results from his clients, but that is only to keep his ego in check. He is MASTERFUL at it, and constantly reminds us of the concrete results readers of his blog and participants in his programs have gotten from following his advice.
- Street credibility. As much as us social media pundits like to exclaim “old media is dead,” there is still huge street credibility in mainstream press mentions. Mention:
-Mainstream press (“Featured in the New York Times,” “Names one of the Top 25 Entrepreneurs to follow by the Wall Street Journal)
-Awards and honors (“Best Business Book of 2011″ “Top 100 Women on Twitter” “Voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school.”)
-Influential people’s view of you (called “one of the best presentation designers I have ever seen” by Nancy Duarte.)
Do you need to say ALL this stuff in your introduction?
Of course not. That would make you a blowhard. But you do need to review all of the concrete things you could share about yourself and choose the specific information that:
- Is most relevant to that audience. (If you are speaking at Harvard, mention your degree. If you are speaking at a start up conference, mention your personal bootstrapping story)
- Will shut down the nagging doubt in the audience’s mind (“Is she too young to talk about this topic?” “Does this blowhard consultant have any real-world experience building a software product?” “Is this one of these people who just teaches people to make money on the Internet so that they can make money off of those people on the Internet?” (This reminds me of a true story of a local friend who I had known for a few years, and who finally said to me “You know what my problem is with you? You are like one of those people who create an infomercial to teach people how to create infomercials.” To which I responded, a bit stunned, “Do you have any idea what I do, and have you ever read my book?” Which it turns out that he didn’t, and he hadn’t. I thanked him immensely for the feedback, because if he was brave enough to say it to my face, it meant that there were a whole bunch more people who thought it and just said it behind my back.)
- Will it set the stage for people to comfortably trust that the advice you will give them in your presentation is sound and tested? (Your audience would think “OK, phew, she has successfully started a company, raised venture capital, sold the company, and started and sold four others. I can trust what she tells me.”)
As my best friend Desiree reminded me today, in the good Anglo Methodist upbringing of my grandparents, we were taught to be humble, to be in service of others and to always put others’ needs above our own. This is a fantastic heritage, and I am so thankful for the teaching, since I think it helps me be a good, respectful and decent human being.
However, in business situations, sometimes in order to gain the trust of the audience so you can be of service, you must first establish credibility.
Even my kind, generous and humble Grandpa Frank would support that.