Fake It 'Til You Make It

We all have the ability to conduct captivating presentations, but many people don’t ever get to that level. A lot of that has to do with our tendency to focus on the self, as opposed to the audience.

When we are caught up with the terror of giving a speech, we become flooded with thoughts of what can go wrong, how we can avoid those things and what we can do to appear as calm as possible.

Nowhere in that equation does the audience’s feelings come into consideration. Instead of preparing for a great speech, we prepare for safety. You must realize that safety from humiliation isn’t found in blandness; it’s found in being exceptional.

Even worse, people think they have to be experts to give a speech on a subject. This couldn't be further from the truth.

In 1973, the University of Southern California (USC) conducted an experiment to identify what had the greatest impact on an audience’s perception of a speaker. The researchers hired an actor, Dr. Fox, who sounded authoritative and had a distinguished look, to give a lecture to a class of 11 students and well-versed professionals in a particular field.

Dr. Fox was instructed to fill his lecture with contradictory statements and pointless references, to cite nonexistent books and research papers, and to throw in a bit of gibberish. He was also told to maintain the appearance that he knew what he was talking about and to be very charismatic and entertaining. The following are the results of that test:

Question Percent agreed

Did he dwell upon the obvious? 50
Did he seem interested? 100
Did he use enough examples? 90
Did he present in well-organized form? 90
Did he stimulate your thinking? 100
Did he put his material across in an interesting way? 90
Have you read any of his publications? 0

Plenty of conclusions can be drawn from these research results. For one, you can argue that people are dumb and would believe anything you throw at them, as long as you look like you know what you’re saying. This shouldn't be your takeaway. 

The likelihood that Dr. Fox walked up to the podium and spewed out a bunch of nonsense about something he had no knowledge about—and somehow managed to convince 11 professionals that he was an expert—is zero. Dr. Fox worked harder to prepare for this speech than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. His clothing, personality, demeanor and a strong introduction were important factors in making him seem credible, but they weren’t the only things. Dr. Fox studied and practiced until he convinced himself that he was an expert.

The researchers behind the study concluded the following about the results of the test:

Teaching effectiveness is difficult to study since so many variables must be considered in its evaluation. Among the obvious are the education, social background, knowledge of subject matter, experience, and personality of the educator. It would seem that an educator with the proper combination of these and other variables would be effective. However, such a combination may result in little more than the educator's ability to satisfy students, but not necessarily educate them.

So, whether you’re trying to be a fraud or simply come off as an expert to your audience, prepare for it. It’ll get you further than you could ever imagine.

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