Jennifer is in her late 20s or early 30s—smart, talented, and very competent in her role as account manager for a large marketing firm. She’s bubbly, talkative, and tends to speak and move at a fast pace. She projects youthful energy and under pressure might seem a bit nervous.
Despite her experience, her excellent performance and high potential, Jennifer often struggles to win the respect of new clients and exert the kind of influence she desires, especially in the early stages of the relationship. People tend to assume she is young, and therefore inexperienced, so they underestimate her level of expertise. Her input is sometimes ignored or dismissed. She’s not entrusted with important projects, and so she misses strategic opportunities for advancement.
Jennifer has a credibility problem. If you can relate to her situation or something similar, you might want to consider ways to address that issue. The perception of credibility is admittedly subjective, and not always accurate, but it’s formed very early in the interaction and determined at a subconscious emotional level more than at a conscious, rational level.
Here are six personal attributes you can cultivate to make sure you’re projecting a credible image that communicates substance and authority.
Be grounded. Consciously feel the ground supporting you and relax down onto that firm foundation. When you are not aware of the ground, your body tends to pull itself away from the ground. You project a physical image that is high and tense, not relaxed and settled. People get the feeling that you are a lightweight.
Be aligned. Take advantage of your full height. I am not talking about chin up, shoulders back, chest out, belly in. That just makes you tense, and it certainly doesn’t look relaxed and authentic. This has to be a relaxed alignment not a forced posture. Stand on both feet and imagine allowing your ankles, knees, hip bones, shoulders, and ears to be on a vertical line.
Speak up. Engage your voice fully so your listeners can hear you easily. Few things destroy credibility faster than a weak voice. You don’t have to push and shout. That just sounds like you’re trying too hard or that you’re being overbearing. Breathe deeply before speaking and use your breath generously to produce the sound. If you have breath left over at the end of the phrase or sentence, you’re holding back, and your listeners will feel that reservation.
Cultivate depth. A credible voice has resonance and richness that communicates strength, confidence, and authority. A voice that’s stuck in the throat sounds defensive and withdrawn. If it’s pushed into the face and head, it sounds young and abrasive. You don’t have to speak at the very bottom of your range. It’s not about having a low pitch. It’s about speaking with your whole body not just your mouth and throat.
Take your time. Cultivate a deliberate manner of speech and gesture. When you speak and move quickly, you lack presence and gravitas. You seem rushed, nervous, or just hyper. When you are able to pause and deliver your message in a relaxed manner, you appear confident and in charge. You make fewer mistakes, and your listeners have time to absorb what you’re saying. The overall effect is much more credible.
Be brief. Learn to state your point clearly and directly, and leave it at that. Using too many words to express yourself makes you seem scattered. Repeating your point too many times makes you seem insecure. Holding the floor for too long annoys your listeners and sabotages the point you’re trying to make. The ability to say much with few words is a priceless skill that commands deep respect.
Your capacity to project credibility can make the difference between being ignored, overlooked, and undervalued, or being effective, respected, and successful. Take time to consider which aspects of your persona communicate strength, substance and authority, and which make you seem young, inexperienced or unsure of yourself.
Becoming a credible speaker might require some time and effort, but its ultimate value will be significant and ongoing. For more information to improve your speaking skills and some exercises to help you get started, click the link below and download the free booklet and video series, The Sound of Success.