Gaining the Goodwill of Your Audience—Developing Personal Credibility
Over 2000 years ago, probably the pre-eminent speech teacher of all time, Aristotle, noted the importance of gaining the goodwill of the audience:
"... it is not only necessary to consider how to make the speech itself demonstrative and convincing, but also that the speaker should show himself to be of a certain character… and that his hearers should think that he is disposed in a certain way toward them; and further, that they themselves should be disposed in a certain way towards him.”2
When an audience has decided to listen to you—when you have gained their attention and interest—you still need them to think favorably of you. The most effective way of doing this is by establishing your credibility to speak. Credibility is your believability. You are credible when the audience thinks you know what you are talking about. There are a number of methods for developing credibility, and you will use them throughout the speech. In the introduction, however, since you have comparatively little time to develop this credibility, your options are a bit more limited.
Essentially, credibility has two elements: Internal credibility, and external credibility. External credibility is the type of credibility you as a speaker gain by association: use of sources that the audience finds credible, for example. In an introduction, you may be able to develop external credibility by this means, as we will see later in this section.
More importantly, given the immediate nature of an introduction, is internal credibility. You develop internal credibility as the speaker through specific actions:
• Be appropriately attired for a public presentation
• Make eye contact with the audience BEFORE you speak
• Speak clearly, fluently and confidently
You can also demonstrate internal credibility by demonstrating personal experience with or knowledge of the topic of your speech. Audiences are more positively disposed toward a speaker who has had experience with the topic of his or her speech. You can also demonstrate credibility and goodwill by showing a connection to your audience, demonstrating shared experiences or shared values.
A student giving a speech to a class about a month before spring break, right in the middle of an extended cold spell of a long Midwestern winter, offered this introduction as a way to show shared values and experiences:
“I need everyone to close his or her eyes. All right, now I need everyone to picture how he or she got to school today. Did you bundle up with a hat, some mittens, boots, and two jackets because it’s so cold outside before you left for class? While walking to class, was it cold? Did your ears burn from the icy wind blowing through the air? Were your hands cold and chapped? Now I want you all to think about the sun beating down on your body. Picture yourself lying on the beach with sand between your toes and the sound of the ocean in the background? Or picture yourself poolside, with a Pina Coloda perhaps, with tropical music playing in the background. Picture yourself in Mazatlan, Mexico."3
When speakers can identify with the audience, can show how the audience and the speaker share experiences, then the audience is more receptive to what the speaker has to say. The speaker is both more credible and more attractive to the audience.