Creating the Introduction, Step 3: Relate to Self (Establish Credibility)

Note to Self

You could be the most knowledgeable, well-educated, competent, caring, and trustworthy person on the planet, but if your audience doesn’t know that, or if they perceive you do not have these qualities, then all the work you did to prepare, all the passion and experience you have, will not matter. Your audience will stop listening or won’t believe what you have to say.

Photo of person presenting a speech.After grabbing the audience members’ attention and showing them how the topic relates to them personally, the speaker should relate the topic back to themselves and answer the questions: “Why me? Why now?” To establish credibility as a speaker, this step is absolutely necessary, because audiences want to know up front why they should trust or believe the speaker as he or she delivers all subsequent information to them in the presentation. For example, the speaker may be an expert or an authority on the chosen topic, but he or she may also have nothing more than a vested interest in the topic and a genuine desire to share the information with others.

Scholars and philosopher have conducted a lot of research on Aristotle’s concept called “ethos,” which mean credibility. The late James McCroskey, a communication professor at the University of Alabama– Birmingham, and Jason Teven, a professor at California State University, Fullerton, spent years researching the concept of credibility. They identified three components of individual credibility: competence, trustworthiness, and caring/goodwill (1999). This portion of the introduction should provide three important pieces of information to the audience:

  1. Competence: The degree to which an audience perceives a speaker as being knowledgeable or expert on a given topic. What are the speaker’s credentials, if any, regarding that person’s relationship with the information? Has the person researched the topic extensively or taken coursework in this area of study? Does the speaker’s work experience relate to the topic? Without giving the audience an exhaustive résumé and work history, make this connection clear, yet brief. Explain just enough to establish credibility.
  2. Trustworthiness: The degree to which an audience member perceives a speaker as having honest and sincere qualities. Why does the speaker want to discuss this topic? What vested interest does the speaker have in conveying this information to the audience today?

Note to Self

Is there a specific inspiration that might show the audience why you care about this topic? What is your motivation?
  1. Caring/Goodwill: The degree to which audience members perceive a speaker as genuinely caring about them.

Note to Self

Let the audience know that you chose this topic because you care about them and have concern for their welfare. Convince them you are not trying to manipulate or mislead them. If the audience members believe you have their best interest in mind, they may overlook imperfections in your style or delivery, in addition to other concerns relating to competence and trust.

Review the example below that combines these three aspects:

I’m a biology major, so talking with you about the potential for a pandemic relates pretty heavily to my future career goals (Competence). Pandemic diseases fascinate me, which is why those goals include pursuing a career in medical research (Trustworthiness). I believe that we should all have a basic understanding of what a pandemic flu could do to us as a society, so that we can better prepare ourselves for it, when the next pandemic does strike (Caring/Goodwill).”

Be careful with this step, though. Try not to seem boastful or arrogant. Instead of stating, “I have a Ph.D. in this subject, so I’m the most highly educated person in this room,” say something like, “I have extensive training and education on this subject, and since it was the topic of my doctoral studies, I feel well prepared to share some of my findings with you today.” Again, keep this section relatively brief, but long and detailed enough to provide the audience with a reason to trust this particular message.


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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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