For credibility, hit the tables

by Peter Watts

To persuasively get your presentation point across, there’s a lot to learn from studying the ethos of casinos.

Oxymoron there? Maybe in the classical sense of “ethos”, but in terms of presenting, when we mention “ethos” we’re talking about credibility. The more ethos you can build in the eyes of an audience, then the more logic or “logos” they will assign to you, and the more logos you have, the more inclined they are to accept your argument. No matter how flimsy it might be. More on that later!

It’s possible to have a watertight argument, but not persuade the audience. Casinos meanwhile have a completely illogical argument, and yet persuade their audience to part with bucket-loads of cash, and this little piece of presentation power is called the ethos-logos loop.

Looked at logically, we know that when we walk into a casino, the odds are against us. The best way to walk out a millionaire is to walk in a billionaire. We know this. And yet still people gamble at the casino. What workings are at play?

Gambling relies on a logical fallacy. Author Jay Heinrichs refers to this as the fallacy of hasty generalization.

“If this person won a million bucks, then you can to.”

Sure you can, but the odds are monumentally against it.

So as a presented proposition, casinos have really weak logic. They overcome it by manipulating that ethos-logos loop:

If an audience perceives you as being credible (ethos), they become more inclined to accept your logic (logos). And as they accept your logos, they become even more inclined to believe that you’re credible

Round and round it goes; an unfortunate little persuasion loop in the human brain that gambling establishments have known about since the first dice rolled across a table.

The logos the casino wants you to buy into is the idea that someone, somewhere, is winning big, and it could be you! It’s a weak argument, but the ethos-logos loop suggests we might buy into it, given a sufficient dose of ethos to power the loop.

How does the casino do this, and how can we do the same in presentations?

Clear Rules

Casinos come with rules, and they emphasize those rules. Croupiers for example work under rules about how each and every poker cards is dealt from the shoe.

Rules indicate ethos. There are policies, there are procedures, they are transparent, and they are the same for everyone. Even the classic sidewalk “Shell Game” scam starts out with an apparently thorough demonstration of the “rules” in order to indicate ethos.

In your presentation: Look to timing, agenda, and audience questions

The closest thing to a book of rules in a presentation are the agenda, the stated duration, and how you intend to take audience questions. Once you’ve put those rules on the table, it’s surprisingly important to stick to them. Deviation means you break your own rules, and when you break the rules, your ethos breaks too.

Pay-off stories

Walk into a casino and you’ll see flashing displays of how many millions of dollars have been won that day. Even individual machines boast their pay-out levels. This is another logical fallacy in play. It’s one-sided information. What you don’t see is how many thousands had to be paid into the machine in order to achieve the payout.

In your presentation: Share pay-off stories

By sharing examples of how your product, your service, or your message has helped others, you boost credibility through saying “this happened for these guys; it can happen for you”.

Cognitive Consonance

The one-sided information presented in all those flashing pay-out displays works because it matches the hopes and beliefs of the audience as they walk in. They want to see how much is being won. They’re not so interested in knowing how much is being lost!

Audiences are pre-inclined to think in certain directions, and they look for information that confirms their pre-held beliefs.

In your presentation: Head for the common ground

Even if you want to shake an audience up, it’s not a good idea to confront pre-set world views too early in a presentation. All you achieve is an uncomfortable dose of dissonance, and rather than doubt themselves, the audience will prefer to doubt YOU!

Start by stating common ground that you have with the audience. Where you already know that they buy into certain areas of your message, emphasize those areas.

Shared views emphasize ethos. Disagreements reduce it.

Cheer Leaders

Listen to all those cheers you hear from the gambling tables around you. Each cheer says that yet another member of Joe Public just won big. If they are winning, then it could be you. A logical fallacy again; we don’t know how many people lost, or if the person who just got the cheer only experienced a reprieve during their landslide to a massive loss. We just hear the cheer, and that’s all we need.

In your presentation: Boost-up the cheer leaders

The important thing about cheer-leaders is that they have to be independent. They have to be fellow members of Joe Public.

That’s why independent benchmarks, customer testimonials, awards, and press reviews are gold within sales presentations. Where you’ve got them, flaunt them. Just make sure they are relevant to your message.

Casinos have a lot to teach us about presenting. They’ve spent many, many years, perfecting their craft.

If careful manipulation of ethos boosts the wobbly logic behind gambling, then imagine what it can do when applied to the positive logic of your next presentation.

Should I wear a neck-tie for selling diapers?

by Peter Watts

What you’re wearing when presenting  impacts the credibility that your audience invests in your pitch.

For your consideration:

Ethos clothing proposition 1: Recognised uniforms boost the pitch

When selling diapers, try a lab coat and a stethoscope?

Imprisoned on a treadmill at the gym this morning, I was watching the adverts that were running between the morning news shows. One of them turned out to be for adult diapers.

A smart looking lady in her 40’s was speaking to camera about the display of adult diapers beside her. Let’s call this spokesperson Dee-Dee Diaper. I couldn’t tell what she was saying because the TV monitor’s sound was off, and the ads, unlike the news shows, weren’t subtitled. Dee-Dee however, was wearing a medical  lab coat and had a stethoscope around her neck so I assumed that she must be a medical practitioner of some variety.

For unpleasant conditions such as adult incontinence, we might well turn to the family doctor for advice, and if a doctor is recommending this brand-X adult diaper, then there must be a certain credibility to the product.

This is ethos in action; credibility. Because the person speaking is wearing the recognised uniform of their trade, we become more inclined to accept the logos, or logic, of their pitch. Speakers call this the ethos-logos loop.

By boosting the power of our ethos (and some form of uniform is a great way to do it), then we boost the perceived power of our logos.

Approximately one mile later, a second thought hit me. At no point during the advert had a caption appeared that said “Dr Dee-Dee Diaper, M.D.” In terms of having any medical qualifications, Dr. Dee-Dee had most probably been a fake. Had she been a real family doctor, then I’m sure that would have been emblazoned all over the screen.

So, even the mere presence of the uniform can incline us to believe a message. Uniform is powerful indeed, and one might therefore conclude that if your profession has any type of recognised dress code, it becomes a tremendous asset when pitching.

However, if as a Doctor you were to walk out onto stage to make a conference pitch and were dressed in your lab-coat and stethoscope, and the audience were all in business suits, how would you look? Probably out of place. The audience would assume you either hadn’t bothered to change on your way from the office or that you were trying to ram your credentials down their collective throat.

This leads to a second idea about ethos and clothing:

Ethos Clothing Proposition 2: Dress to match your audience

When convincing IT hackers, dress like an IT hacker?

An alternative view says that you should try to look as similar as possible to your audience, and that uniforms harm ethos by screaming  out “I’m different to you!”

If your audience dresses in one particular way, then by matching them, you give the message that you see, hear, and feel the world as they do. This message then boosts the ethos-logos loop because if the audience sees you as being similar, they will be inclined to believe that you understand their world.

To explore this, we need the help of the Head of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander.

In 2012 General Alexander addressed the annual BlackHat Conference of IT hackers in Las Vegas. This gentleman is head of a significant government agency and a decorated US General. That’s a uniform with some serious power, but in deference to the idea that you should dress in a style similar to your audience, somebody sent the General on stage wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

The result was that the speaker didn’t look as if he was mirroring his audience so much as mimicking his audience. Sincerity is a crucial part of ethos and an insincerely worn costume reflects back on the speaker.

The mistake is not limited to US Generals. British leaders are equally good at it. In the past, politicians such as Foreign Secretary Hague and Prime Minister Cameron, have both attempted to mirror their audience with excursions into backwards worn baseball caps and rolled-up shirt sleeves that have made them look not simpatico, but insincerely silly.

We have a clothing conundrum:

  • Uniforms enhance credibility and boost ethos-logos? Or……
  • Uniforms emphasise difference and collapse ethos-logos
  • Dressing for similarity emphasizes shared perspective and boosts ethos-logos? Or….
  • Dressing for similarity looks insincere and collapses ethos-logos

Question: Punk graphic designer meets conservative bank. 

What to wear?

Here’s one final thinking point: Uniforms and dress-codes come in multiple guises. Imagine you run a design business and amongst your staff you have a brilliant young designer who you want to have with with you at a client meeting. That designer however is of a multi-pierced, multi-colored haired, ripped jeans and diaper-pins in odd places type appearance. The customer meanwhile, is a highly conservative bank.

How would you ask your designer to dress?

What would be your ethos-logos clothing solution to maintain their credibility in front of the customer?

Presentation Ethos, Mr Burns, a Dental Nurse, and Me

by Peter Watts

Credibility in public speaking is associated with the level of ethos that you command with your audience, customer, or patient.

Ethos is founded on reputation, it’s founded on the title before your name or the qualifications that trail after it. It’s bolstered by visible accoutrements such as your premises, your equipment, or your uniform. It’s your past track record and your client list. Ethos is that diploma you keep framed on the wall. When ethos is visible, ethos is easy. Once you’ve got the titles and the trappings, then you can ride on them. Right?

Wrong.

Most of all, ethos is similarity. It’s can people like you? People buy from people. Are you a likable human, or a cold diploma?

Allow me to illustrate, because I just met this phenomena in the flesh in my Dentist’s office. Or rather, I met her eyes in the flesh because every other bit of anatomy was covered in surgical-wear, and a gloved hand was sticking some cold whining torture tool into my gum-line. How’s that for all the accoutrements of ethos with none of the likability?

About ten minutes into treatment, I must have angled my jaw into the perfect position for oral penetration, because unexpectedly, from under my tormenter’s mask came a creepy but perfectly phrased “Excellent”. Joann the Hygienist had just delivered a grade A impression of the Simpsons character Mr Burns.

Treatment had to stop immediately. I was experiencing an overwhelming urge to respond with a Burns quote of my own:

“Release the hounds.”

Complete strangers till 15 minutes earlier, Joann and I had just established a level of intimacy born of our shared enjoyment in a TV character. Once that connection was established, all Joann had to do was slowly steeple and then drum her fingers together for me to become instant dental putty in her hands (fellow Burns fans will know what I mean!)

In this coincidence of connection, I was experiencing ethos at first-hand. While Joann had all the visible elements of ethos, the Burns connection suddenly gave us a shared cultural reference point. It gave us an aspect of similarity, and we are most readily inclined to favor and believe those who we regard as being similar to ourselves.

Doctors are held up as a prime example of ethos, and yet, how many Doctors find themselves getting sued?

As Malcolm Gladwell explored in his book “Blink”, there is an inverse correlation between the amount of time Doctors spend on social orientation with patients, and the likelihood of their later being sued for malpractice. Malpractice suits are the ultimate expression of the collapse of ethos. Ethos is collapsing through a lack of social connection.

Joann and I connecting over Mr Burns was maybe an extreme example, but the fundamental point remains. For complete credibility, connection is as important as  qualification.

Leap the first frontier: Connect early with your audience

by Peter Watts

To make an audience like and trust you early in a presentation is a holy grail. The new Star Trek movie shows us how.

How many times have you been to the movies and almost trampled as everybody rushes to be first out of the theatre the moment that the end credits roll? Few of us stick around to watch those final frames, hence the number of films where all the important names now appear at the beginning of the movie and not the end.

What we’re seeing is the behaviour of an audience who have just sat through the shared experience of a presentation (or film), and remained nicely isolated as solitary individuals. Nothing has touched them as a group to produce a shared action other than dash-for-the-exit. If this movie had been a sales presentation, then it’s outcome would have been polite handshakes and “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Star Trek produces a different outcome, and I saw that  that actively demonstrated as the end-credits rolled. As the original 1960’s Star Trek theme music pumped 1960’s sci-fi Americana out of the Dolby surround-sound, not a single audience member moved so much as an inch from their seat.

The music is re-mastered, but unmistakeable. Audience: spellbound. By the time the first person stood-up to leave, the popcorn cleanup-crew were standing at the front and brandishing brooms like cattle-prods.

Whether it’s a movie or a presentation, every audience has invisible bonds that connect them together as a group. Glancing around the Thursday night movie crowd, the common bond appeared to be age. We were almost all old enough to remember from childhood the original TV Star Trek, and that theme music was reaching out and holding us.

When you link to a common value, you build trust and rapport with an audience. That link then provides the vital connection that bonds you to that audience as a credible presenter.

The concept is called ethos, and amongst its various components such as knowledge, reputation, and integrity, is the aspect of similarity. How similar are you to your audience, and can you link with them by slipping in amongst the common connections that hold them together as a group.

Some similarities are visual and obvious, such as how the audience dress and behave amongst themselves. Are they formal or informal? Outgoing or reserved? The NLP technique of mirroring tells us to establish rapport by consciously reflecting those factors back at the audience, thus projecting an image and behaviour pattern that is reassuringly familiar.

Other links are more subtle. The questions you are looking to answer are:

  • How does my message or product relate to the audience
  • How do I relate to my audience
  • How do my audience relate to each other

The more answers that you can identify, and the more that you can weave strands of similarity into your presentation, the more the audience will see you as being “one of us”.

Find ways as part of your planning process to speak with prospective audience members beforehand, or speak to others who have presented to this audience in the past. At the very least, Google for nuggets such as values, mission statements, or news articles that reflect the people that you’ll be presenting to.

It isn’t necessary to find common links that connect to all 100% of the audience in order for the magic to work. The teenage couple sitting immediately beside me, keys in hand and legs in athlete’s crouch starting-pose, clearly wanted to leave, but because the rest of the audience were transfixed, they too stayed in place. Clearly they were thinking that if everybody else was paying rapt attention, then they should too.

This is the beauty of ethos; connect with enough of the audience and even those outside the immediate chain will fall under its spell through the power of peer pressure.

If you can identify and merge with the common bonds that link a group together, then they will see you as being “one of us”. You will have met the audience where they’re at, and there can be no stronger place from which to boldly go, where no presenter has gone before.

Now why is my grammar-checker insisting that I have a split-infinitive?

 

Links:

For more inspiration on making an early connection to your audience, try these four ideas from Presentation Pro, Dr. Michelle Mazur

Santorum out. But can Romney learn to like himself?

by Peter Watts

The personal characteristics that enable others to believe in us the most, are often the ones coached out of us as being most likely to frighten the horses.

The Republican nomination process for the candidate to face President Obama this November, has demonstrated this supremely.

Candidate Rick Santorum spoke from the tightly constructed belief system of a 17th century religious fundamentalist. He knew what he stood for, and had that stand consistent. He knew his social views made him unacceptable, yet he trumpeted them through all pronouncements. The interesting result was that while we might have abhored his policies, we couldn’t help but believe the man. When Santorum spoke, we believed him. When his opponent, Mitt Romney speaks, we don’t.

Romney appears insincere. His character appears disparate and dislocated. We are shown the urban sprawl, while denied even a glimpse of the central city. What is so awful that Mitt Romney hides it from view?

The problem is that Romney has been told his wealth does not play well with the electorate. He’s been told the same thing about his Mormonism. The result is a candidate hobbled by the two defining characteristics that should be surging a Republican candidate to victory; red-blooded business success and missionary-grade religious ardour.

Romney struggles to portray himself as something he’s not, or to put it more precisely, he struggles not to portray himself as what he truly is.

We should have been hearing about Mitt-the-Merciless. Instead we get Mitt the Etch-A-Sketch; one quick shake and the policies dissolve.

While Romney flustered, Santorum flew. Santorum flew despite the fact that he knew he would never become the nominee, but still consistently put his own true self out onto the stage. Result: respect.

Mitt Romney came into the campaign as Republican heir apparent. He came into the campaign as the candidate the White House feared. And yet, while he will indeed leave the campaign as nominee, he will also leave it weakened by evasiveness and flip-flopping.

Mitt Romney is no longer a candidate the White House fears.

To speak in public with passion and integrity, your own personality attributes must lock together into a convincing narrative. Try to run away from your own true self and you’ll find your audience can run even faster! This was the strength behind Rick Santorum, and the weakness behind Mitt Romney.

Problematically for Romney, it is also the strength behind Barack Obama.

Presentation mission + belief = PASSION

by Peter Watts

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…..”

These words launch many a spy story. The key elements I would like to pick out for your consideration are:

“Your mission”

and

“Choose to accept it”

Every presentation is a mission, and for that mission to succeed you must bring your total commitment to it.  We want audiences to believe in us and the case we are making. For this to happen, we need to do two things:

  • Know what our mission is
  • Choose to both fully accept it, and own it

Your mission

The word “mission” sounds similar to “envision”, and we want audiences to be able to clearly envision the positive outcomes that our recommended course of action will produce.

In doing this, we can sometimes be tempted to believe we can let “the facts speak for themselves”, but this is a mistake. Facts and figures are merely secondary indicators of something else; they are evidence that we have achieved a mission, but are seldom the mission itself. For example, achieving a 100% customer satisfaction rate is a great metric, but why? What does that gain? A 50% increase in sales is very worthy, but why? How does that help the business?

Supporters rally to a flag, never to a number. What is the mission you are waving before them?

Choose to accept it

The mission must be whole-heartedly embraced. Where does this mission connect with either our organization, department, or with ourselves as unique individuals? If you share that connection with the audience then you reveal a part of your own belief system that adds tremendous weight to your message. As James Kouzes and Barry Posner state in their book “The Leadership Challenge”:

“You can’t believe the messenger if you don’t know what the messenger believes.”

The best public speaking is always accompanied by passion; and passion is conjured from mission and belief as surely as the name Martin Luther King conjures the words “I have a dream”

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