When giving a presentation in front of an audience do you worry if you are able to inspire confidence in the audience?  After all, isn’t it often said that if the speaker is not confident, the audience won’t believe the “content” of what’s being presented?

This sounds logical; it rings true. And it’s even taught in many presentation skills training seminars. But for the most part, audiences are rarely convinced by the confidence a speaker gives off. The average audience is just not that easily impressed. Most audiences can easily distinguish between the veracity of what a speaker presents and how that speaker presents it. In fact, it’s not confidence from a speaker audiences are really looking for, but rather, trust. They want to know they can trust the person in front of them. Indeed, the confidence many novice presenters think they need to project often has the opposite effect, especially if it’s too much. It can come across as inauthentic, as fake, and off-putting This ends up creating a wall between the speaker and listener; it impedes trust.

Trust comes from sensing you’re listening to someone who is honest, authentic, and truly competent in what he or she is talking about. How you speak will of course have an effect, but it has less to do with an overt display of confidence, and much more to do with if you can communicate authenticity and expertise.

5 levels of presentation speakers: which one are you?

Level 1 (the lowest) – The nervous reader
The speaker uses notes but is not able to use them discretely, in a genuinely supportive way. Rather, he stumbles verbally, pauses in the wrong places to look for his ideas, needs to repeat sentences, and comes off as unorganized and terribly unprepared. It’s uncomfortable for the audience who suffers through the talk and also agonizes on behalf of the speaker. The audience, at the subconscious level, thinks that this person cannot in any way be an expert. For all they know, and genuinely suspect, the talk may belong to this speaker’s colleague – who is absent for some reason – and turned the presentation over to him to give in his absence. The nervous reader tells the audience, “I’m the stand-in”.

Level 2 – The not-so-nervous reader
This is definitely better than a nervous reader. The reading flows and the audience feels the speaker is better prepared.  However, the speaker is still JUST READING, albeit more competently. And usually, he’s reading from a PowerPoint slide that is full of text. The fact that he can read fluidly does not mean that the knowledge is truly internalized. It could be a case of just having a better stand-in than a level 1 reader. Level 2 is a classic case of PowerPoint Karaoke. Though this speaker doesn’t provoke mistrust, he doesn’t establish trust either. In the final analysis, reading gets a thumbs-down, because it is incapable of igniting the fuse of trust when your input is coming from some external text.

Level 3 – The polished presenter
There is a saying in Hollywood often given to young actors: “never get caught acting.” When the audience can see an actor playing the role – then it means their career will probably be doomed. Likewise, there are some speakers, fresh from a presentation skills seminar that are doing all the right things they learned in that seminar (i.e. speaking fluidly, standing up straight, making eye contact, punctuating words, using clean gestures, etc. but it is still not very convincing. Why? Because the audience can see them acting. It is a little too contrived, too polished. The speaker is caught up in his own world, concentrating too hard on the performance. One can imagine that if the audience were to quietly leave, the speaker wouldn’t notice. The polished speaker is for sure better than either of the two readers. But connecting with his audience still falls way short of its potential.

Level 4 – The authentic speaker
The authentic speaker doesn’t “present”. Rather, he talks with his audience in an authentic manner. He also stands straight, speaks with an easy flow, punctuates words, pauses, has eye contact, and all the rest. But it comes from within; there is no forced energy or contrived conviction. The authentic speaker has also broken free of PowerPoint, using it sparingly. When he does use a slide, it’s only for visual support, almost always for the purpose of making a complex or complicated idea easier to understand. On a subconscious level, the audience trusts the authentic speaker – precisely because he is authentic. He is one with what he is saying – and it comes across in his words and body language.

Level 5 – The authentic expert (the highest level)
With the authentic expert, we have reached the summit. He is everything described at level 4 – and more. Paradoxically, this more is really less. The speaker knows how to filter his information. He can tell you what’s important, and what’s not important. Why? Because only an expert (usually due to lots of experience) can make that distinction. He may say that there are numerous arguments for a position (or features of a product), but he will only talk about the few that are relevant.  Those with little expertise and less experience think they need to say everything – which can be burdensome for the audience. He knows what he’s talking about because he’s probably made a few mistakes in the past and has learned from them. His experience comes through. That ability to be authentic and demonstrate expertise through filtering establishes the deepest form of trust possible with an audience.

In conclusion, speaking with confidence is important to a degree, but it is often more important for the speaker himself – than for the audience. To cross the line into the realm of your audience, you will need to build the trust that naturally comes from being one with yourself and your topic, authentically.

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