Excuse me, can you spare an electron?
Do you recognize the symbol in the picture above? It’s a single oxygen atom. But it's not a complete O2 oxygen molecule. What happens when an oxygen atom is free to run wild throughout your body, unaccompanied by its counterpart locked so faithfully in a covalent bond? They do radical damage. That’s why we call unbonded oxygen atoms “free radicals.” To stop the damage, we include antioxidants in our diet to track down these radical rascals and bring equilibrium to the body. Pass the dark chocolate and red wine and embrace the wellness.
Free speech radicals
In the speaking business, we have our own form of free radical. It usually begins with the following phrase:
“Let me start off by telling you a little something about myself.”
Spoiler alert – nobody shares a “little something” about oneself. Brace yourself for an alphabet soup of certifications, congratulations, academic degrees, charity work, hobbies, interests, and a picture of the family dog. Thankfully, the dog’s name won’t be on the test.
Your credentials are free radicals. If unbonded with useful information, your professional qualifications float throughout the body of your speech and cause unseen damage to audience rapport. The underlying message to your audience is either that you are so great that they should marvel over your lifetime exploits, or that you have such little self-confidence that you need to plead for their approval. If it’s the audience’s approval you seek, you win them over with your material and your message, not with your life story in bullet point form.
Build intrigue with stories
Think of a person that you know very well, and describe that person. Take a minute if you have to think about it. Do you begin with where they studied, their little league trophies, and their years of work experience? No! You describe their personality. You might also tell a story about that person. The same premise applies to introducing yourself. If you want your audience to get to know you, show them who you are. Let them remember you for how you made them feel and what they learned from you.
If they like you, they won’t judge you or demand qualifications as to why they are listening to you. Then you can pepper in your life story as it supports your message. Build their intrigue about your back story rather than force feed it to them. Your story, rather than your verbal resume, gives you subject-matter credibility.
Persuade, don’t proclaim
Throughout FIT Presenter you will see the importance of addressing your audience’s misconceptions. One of the great misconceptions about speaking is the idea that credentials equal credibility. Nobody can hang their hat on experience or education, no matter how much or how long. An Ivy League physician with more degrees than a circle who lectures at a medical conference must present research in order to make a point. It’s not enough to say, “I said it, so it must be true.” Appealing to the authority of others is bad enough, but to appeal to your own authority is even more of a turnoff.
There must be an exception!
So far we have established that your tangible credentials have no bearing on your subject matter authority. They don’t make you a better person than the shortest audience member hidden in the back row, and they don’t help your audience get to know you better. Does that mean you shouldn’t say anything about yourself? Of course not! You connect to your audience through stories, where you can pepper in your one-handed high fives.
Your stories are the antioxidants to your free radical credentials. If you love to go rock climbing and river rafting like so many other fitness industry speakers claim, tell a rock river climbing rafting story with a teachable lesson. If you tell a funny story about splitting your pants while picking up loose change, and you happened to be studying at Harvard Business School at the time, then let the audience see you tie that crimson sweater around the open stitching. Make your credentials relevant through context.
Pepper it in
As you can see in the article about questions and answers, you have three opportunities to unload your credentials onto your audience.
- You can include some personal background in the introduction. Just make sure that the intro creates suspense for the message that they’re about to hear. Keep the alphabet soup in the bowl and out of your intro.
- In the body of your presentation, pepper in your bragging points in order to add flavor to your message. Remember, the reason for sharing your merits must overshadow the details that would be found on a resume.
- The payload comes during the Q & A session after your initial talk. You have done your job, applied the FIT system, and won them over. Their follow-up questions mean that they buy into your message and they are ready to hear you boast. Drop the hammer. It will feel not like you are bragging, but that they took the steps to discover what you were too modest to share during your prepared speech. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.
And in conclusion ...
What better way to end an article than to talk about how to begin a presentation. You have seven seconds to capture your audience’s attention, according to the unknown experts in mass media communication. Then you have one minute to keep their attention. You shine brightest when you put the spotlight on your audience. The complete opposite of shining on stage is to boast your own greatness ahead of your value to the audience. As a Certified World Class Speaking Coach and creator of the number one public speaking resource in the fitness industry, I hereby declare that thou shalt not lead off by simply listing your credentials.
Editor's Note: The oxygen atom in the image above has the wrong number of electrons. If I can tell you a little something about myself, I didn't study chemistry in college.