The other day I gave a talk about something that my particular audience knew that I was bad at.
Most teachers and coaches are not nobel prize winners in their fields, but to be effective they must have some authority, and with this particular audience I had as much credibility as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford giving a speech on sobriety.
Whenever you’re in such a situation you have three choices:
Ignoring your credibility gap becomes the metaphorical elephant in the room that no one can ignore, and what follows ranges from polite disregard to an outright attack on what you have to say.
You can fake it. This can work. Politicians often do this, but only very good actors/presenters can distract with humour and compelling stories.
You must have good content e.g. a good opening story that immediately compels people to listen to you. After all, your lack of credentials on the topic doesn’t mean that you don’t have something important to share.
But to make this work, a damn good presenter you must be.
Take the bull by the horns
“I’m not qualified to give this talk.” I paused for effect. People don’t usually start a talk by admitting lack of expertise.
“You see I suck at …” And then I went on to highlight my experience and failings with the subject …
Once you’ve acknowledged the unspoken, the elephant in the room loses its power to distract and leaves. People can now engage with what you have to say.
My own failures of course didn’t mean that I didn’t know a lot about the subject. In fact, I knew a lot about it and my failures gave me a particular insight that listeners found useful. My acknowledging the results of my actions and inactions allowed many people to see themselves in my story.
Because authenticity demonstrates vulnerability and the truth is, people don’t relate to Supermen and Superwomen—people they can never be—they relate to people just like them, people with the same blemishes and weaknesses that they struggle with.
They know the burden of pretending superpowers and everyone breathes a silent sigh of relief when someone takes off the costume. Because in that moment, with that admission, everyone does.
That’s why people cry at movies; because an onscreen character is confessing, sharing a weakness, a failing, a loss.
Degrees and successes are the best ways to establish credibility, but having the courage to be vulnerable in front of an audience can earn you something more valuable: respect and admiration.