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Public Speaking Tip 31: Credibility is the Foundation of All Great Presentations

Credibility is the most important characteristic in all communications, especially public speaking and presentation. Without credibility, nothing else you do matters — not the clothes you wear, the words you use, the passion you bring to the presentation, nothing.

This has always been true, but more so now than ever. Thanks to reality TV, YouTube, Facebook Live, Snapchat and a thousand other contributing factors, perceived authenticity and sincerity have risen to the top of the way we evaluate the credibility of all message, including speeches and business presentations. Messages that are not deemed authentic or sincere are immediately dismissed as unimportant by audiences.

In public speaking and business presentations, if you don’t have credibility, you don’t have anything.

A Little Authentic Mr. Chicken in All of Us

I first saw legendary comedic actor Don Knotts present this hilarious “hero” speech in the above movie clip when “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” debuted in 1966. I was only 6 years old but even then I could clearly understand how scary it would be to have to go onstage to speak with the entire town looking at you. This movie continues to be one of my all-time favorites and the “hero” speech continues to resonate with me all these many years later.

There are so many mistakes Knott’s character, Luther Heggs, makes in this speech: his poor attempt at humor, his loose leaf script blows away, he has a heckler, the microphone has feedback issues, and he doesn’t know how to stand or how to control his nervous energy. But one thing saves this speech from being an unmitigated disaster: authenticity. Luther Heggs is who he is. His transparency and sincerity shine through in this speech and throughout the movie. He’s genuine and therefore credible. Audiences are very forgiving of mistakes made by sincere speakers. (Spoiler Alert: He beats out a slick rival and gets the girl in the end because of his authenticity.)

Authenticity always has been important in speech-making (and in fact in all communications) but it is even more important in the Digital Age. We’ve grown tired and beyond skepticism of overproduced, slick presentations as evidenced by the success of reality TV, SnapChat, and YouTube. The message that resonated with movie audiences in 1966 that still resonates today is this: be yourself. Atta boy Luther!