As you can see from our previous post, Charlotte and I attended Edward Tufte’s Presenting Data and Information workshop.  When it was over, we talked about what worked and what didn’t so that we could add to our repertoire of presentation tips and tricks. We bounced around various topics and ideas, but invariably came back to marveling at his unapologetic superiority.

After writing four books on the subject of data display, and delivering hundreds of presentations from Seattle to Savannah, he has no need to spend time and energy convincing anyone of his street cred.  He doesn’t just think he’s right, he knows it.

Toward the end of the day, Tufte offered helpful advice to the would-be data presenter that also explained his style of delivery: “Every presenter must make an explicit decision about how to communicate his or her credibility.”

He went on to say that only with deliberate self-awareness of one’s own expertise can a speaker ever expect an audience to listen.  He suggests that there are only two things a speaker needs to do:

  1.  Tell your story
  2.  Make your audience believe you

Sage advice.  We all have a tendency to gloss over our knowledge and experience because we think that doing so will make us appear over-confident.  What we all need to remember is that everyone in the room is engaged in analytical thinking – the presenter as well as the audience.  What do they need to know about you in order to believe what you say?  The one thing to avoid is talking in superlatives – or worse: an infomercial.  No one cares if you are the smartest, or your company is the biggest provider of X, or that your website has the highest number of unique visitors.  With that kind of self-promotion you might as well be wearing a NASCAR uniform with a hundred logos.

How do you convey your credibility?  Are you in Tufte’s league and no longer need to explain your qualifications or are you like the rest of us who must establish our authority in order to persuade our colleagues, bosses or customers?  In that case, spend some time mulling over your answer the following question: “Why should we listen to you?”

– Barbara