January 3, 2015 fm

10 Authority Killers You Can Easily Escape From

Why should we, the audience, believe you, the speaker? Ethos, credibility, is one of Aristotle’s three pillars of persuasion. We walk through life assuming that others would believe us. But no, credibility is not a given. You must earn your credibility.

In my recent article, Do it like Aristotle, I outlined the four building blocks of your credibility pillar – reputation, authority, similarity and empathy.

Unfortunately, we’re very good at eroding one of those four building blocks. We do it unconsciously or unintentionally or both. We’re very good at spoiling our authority as speakers.

Here are ten common authority killers you can easily escape from.

1. Pre-talk

Many speakers start to speak before their actual speech is supposed to start.

Phrases like…

  • I know we’ve run out of time, so I’ll make it short.
  • Oh, after such a great presentation, what am I supposed to add? 
  • Does the microphone work?

… spoil your first impression. They spoil your powerful first sentence. They show that you’re not up to the game. And all that in the very first moment. You literally kill the first impression.

Solution: Avoid pre-talk. Focus on your first sentence. Wait before you start. Look them into their eyes. Wait a bit more. Smile. Then, with poise, start to speak.

2. After talk

Where there’s a first impression, there’s also a last impression.

Phrases like…

  • Oh, that was bad.
  • Actually, all that wasn’t true. (BTW, NEVER LIE ON STAGE!!!)
  • Finally, it’s over.
… spoil your last impression.

Solution: End your talk using the drainpipe. Final smile. Wait – don’t run away. Shut up, no word. Wait a bit more. Smile. Nod. Leave the stage. Sit down. That’s poise and authority from beginning to end.

3. Message reducers

In PlusPlus – Patterns for Better Communication, on page 83, I share a list of 29 message reducers with you. Message reducers are nonbinding words like could, should, would, ought to, think, believe, guess or try. Remember what Yoda says, Do or do not – there is no try. For no obvious reason, our vocabulary teems with all these unsealed expressions that, unnecessarily, reduce our message hence our authoritativeness.

Solution: Avoid phrases like the ones above. You don’t hope and try as a speaker. You know and do.

4. Sorry

A classic. Constantly, speakers excuse themselves for …

  • the lack of time.
  • the technical equipment that doesn’t work.
  • the marker that drops to the floor.

Think about your partner at home. Think about your last argument. Isn’t the one who says sorry first, the one who finally loses the game of emotions?  The one who says sorry gives in. At home this is totally fine. I say sorry all the time. All the time, I give in. But – as a speaker you never give in. You rule the game.

Solution: Never ever say sorry on stage.

5. Scratching

In a seminar held by my friend Dr. Thomas Rose I learned about a fascinating analogy. If our consciousness were one centimeter long, the length of our subconsciousness would be… 50 kilometers! We see everything. And we also see your scratching. Your forehead scratching, your arm scratching, your leg scratching, your bum scratching. The problem is that your scratching tells our 50 km that you’re nervous. Because, honestly, I doubt that you feel itchy when you’re speaking to us.

Perceived nervousness is poison for your authority. We want to see calmness, poise, authority.

Solution: Stop scratching yourself… at least on stage.

6. AK-47

I call them AK-47s. The high pacers. No full stop, no period, so semicolon. Like Usain Bolt they run through the swamp of speech content. No pausing, no pacing down. High pacing all the way through.

What we feel in the audience is that you’re not there for us. You’re not present in the moment. Mindfulness zero. In all those speech evaluation rounds I’ve led as a corporate trainer, I learned that people love to see more calmness in speakers. Calmness is a silent driver of authority.

Solution: Pace down. Pause more. Be calm, be present, be with us.

7. Closed gestures

Again those darn 50 kilometers! Have you ever asked yourself why speakers use Angela Merkel’s diamond? Why they wash their hands or pray or squeeze their fingers or twist non-existing wedding rings when they stand in front of a group of people?

It’s not that they don’t know what to do with their hands. That’s the common belief. No, it’s because they protect their belly. A cut in our belly, a cut in our throat – that was it. Our evolution as humans rules our subconscious human behavior.

When you open up your gestures and use them with meaning, it shows self-confidence, charisma, authority.

Solution: Turn your closed, belly protecting gestures into open, meaningful gestures.

8. No eye contact

Someone who doesn’t look me into the eyes, when he or she speaks to me, lacks authority. Period.

Solution: Look them into their eyes. Directly.

9. Powerless voice

If I had to pick one success driver in public speaking, without the slightest trace of doubt, it’d be ENERGY!!! No energy, no success in public speaking. And when they tell you, Oh, that was so American!, raise your energy level by 10%; you’re on the right track.

Your voice must speak with energy. You need a powerful voice, if you want to transmit more authority. Stop hiding your vocal power behind false assumptions. Speak up, be heard, be a vocal authority!

Solution: Be much more American on stage!

1o. The giggle

My favorite authority killer is the giggle. Nervous giggling – hihihi – kills your authority in a split second. You can laugh, you can laugh with your audience, you can tell a joke – never giggle!

The giggle pops up, especially, when speakers talk about something they don’t feel comfortable about. But why should you giggle when you talk about something serious or sad? It’s not authentic, it’s out of place. The giggle is nothing but a nervous overreaction. For me, the giggle is the biggest authority killer.

Solution: Control yourself more. Relive personal stories with authentic emotions. Throw out that stu*** giggle.

Now – what about Steve?

Did Steve do pre-talk? No.

Did Steve do after talk? No.

Did Steve use many message reducers? No.

Did Steve say sorry? No.

Did Steve scratch himself on stage? No.

Did Steve speak like an AK-47? No.

Did Steve use closed gestures? No.

Did Steve look away? No.

Did Steve have a powerless voice? No.

Did Steve giggle on stage? No.

Was Steve an authority?

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