How to Annihilate Your Credibility

Presentations and addresses, ideally, should be inspiring and informational. For people to take notice of what you say and act on it, it is imperative you pay attention to the minute-to-minute management of your credibility and trust quotients.

If you wish to become a virtuoso in getting an audience’s back up, the following credibility and trust annihilators may help you create the perfect recipe for suspicion and doubt. With a little practice, who knows, you could become a world authority on the subject?

1. TRY TO BROWBEAT YOUR AUDIENCE: Tell your audience that they’re here to change their minds to your way of thinking – read your map on to their territory.

"It’s essential that you change the way you think about and do things. I think that unless you dramatically switch direction and follow my plan for this, we haven’t a chance in hell of getting this project up”

2. TRY TO FOOL YOUR AUDIENCE: It rarely ever works. Audiences usually know when someone is trying to fool them because they’ve had a lifetime of experience fooling and being fooled. They sense when a speaker’s delivery and content are congruent and have inbuilt ways of determining whether he/she "walks the talk". They also sense when someone has chapter heading knowledge and can recite nice, plump clich├ęs without really knowing the substance and depth of the ‘book’. When you are speaking, your audience needs to believe that you are not just a noisy bucket of water, but, rather, a fountain of knowledge.

3. CREATE SUSPICION ABOUT YOUR MOTIVES: Create suspicion that you are seeking to influence your audience for reasons of pure self-interest: that you have everything to gain from their assent

“Forget the other wealth management funds. First National is one of the best companies I’ve ever held the agency for and I can tell you that the level of professionalism in fund management is second to none.”

4. DEVELOP A SERIOUS “I” INFECTION: Demonstrate through your behaviour that your speech is all about you, and not about your audience. Constantly self-reference your material, inflate you self-importance with wonderfully telling stories about yourself. Show interest only in your agenda

“Look, I’m not really interested in history. What I’m about is getting some serious runs on the board now. I think that’s the best option, and I believe that will set us up better for next year. I think that is priority number one and I reckon that is where most of our development funds should go ”

5. TREAT YOUR AUDIENCE WITH CONTEMPT: Talk down to them. After all, they’re just plebs. Indicate in your words and ideas that you are the guru and they are the followers.

“Anybody who knows anything about Risk Analysis would tell you that you’re on the wrong track. If you listen to me and follow what I say then you might have a chance of working out where the real risks and opportunities are”

6. USE INSIDE STORIES. Be sure to talk about actions, stories, and anecdotes involving people that the audience knows nothing about. Put a barrier between you and the majority of your listeners. Keep them in the dark. Make them feel that they are not among the elite group of which you are a member. Use their valuable time to have private, in-house dialogue with some individuals. They will be riveted.

7. BECOME A SPIN DOCTOR: Twist facts and truths to suit your argument or your convenience

“We have simply made all the necessary logistical arrangements to have our troops in place in the Middle East in the event that the United Nations sanctions military actions. We have not made a decision to commit our troops to war, nor have we made a commitment to a non-UN pre-emptive strike. We are just readying ourselves in case”

8. CREATE DOUBT ABOUT COMMITMENT: raise doubts about your belief in what you’re saying or show that you chop and change with the prevailing seasons.

“Circumstances may have dictated that I say that at the time. People say a lot of things, but what I’m saying now is that this program is the one that is going to deliver what we need.”

9. PERSONIFY GOD-LIKE PERFECTION: Never admit to any flaws in your idea, argument, or proposal. Exaggerate excessively the worth of your own proposals and totally demolish the proposals of others

“This plan is foolproof. It’s guaranteed to increase your customer flow by one hundred and fifty percent. The other plan on the table is rubbish!”

“New blush blows all other toilet cleansers out of the bowl: with blush, germs are history, your family will love you more, you’ll never die, and your fuel economy will go through the roof.”

Never admit to any wrongdoing

“It was the absolute right thing to say. The fact that the markets responded negatively was due to the paranoia of a few idiots who caused a panic.”

10. LET PEOPLE KNOW YOU’RE A LIAR: tell your audience that you tell the occasional porkie pie

“When someone raises that objection I tell them it’s nothing to worry about and really get them to focus on the benefits. You don’t want investors worrying about the market bottoming out.”

11. LOWER THE VALUE OF YOUR WORD: Go back on your word without any apologies or requests to be released from a commitment.

“Yes I did say we would consult on this, but there just wasn’t the time.”

12. ATTACK OR MAKE YOUR AUDIENCE THE BUTT OF YOUR JOKES: If you have a streak of the stand-up comic in you, humour can be an effective device if placed tactically throughout your presentation.

Self-deprecating humour that reveals your own vulnerabilities and foibles works as long as it is tasteful and ego-neutral. Stories about people and events, other than your audience, if done in good taste, sets the tone for both message retention and acceptance. But if you make your audience the butt of your jokes you create a division between yourself and your audience, and it may severely limit the impact of your message.

Attacking an audience, or making a direct attack on an audience’s belief or values systems, even if not meant to offend, will produce defensive and sometimes aggressive responses.

13. TEST YOUR AUDIENCE’S PATIENCE: The normal quid pro quo that speakers establish with audiences is based on investment of attention versus keeping to agreed time. Your listeners can be very unforgiving if you go over the time you are allocated to deliver your presentation. Preparation should ensure you don’t do this. If, however, you need more time, you should ask your audience for it and you’d better ensure you make it worth their while.

If no time restrictions have been given, you must decide during your preparation phase the optimum amount of time it will take to persuasively deliver your message. Then, tell your audience at the beginning of your presentation how much time you are asking them to invest – and stick to it.

We have about twenty minutes to explore the moral ramifications of gene therapy with you and during this brief time…."

"I will be your speaker and you will be my audience. If you get done before I do, please let me know."

“Those are fairly hard chairs, and I believe that your backsides can sustain about 15 minutes on the topic of Getting the Best from your Advertising Dollar, and so……


14. READ A PREPARED TEXT. Unless you can read a text like the best of orators, looking up to the audience more than you look down, drop the idea of reading prepared texts. Prepared texts send a number of signals to audiences, not the least that you do not have the confidence to speak from your heart and mind!

Cue sheets, or dot points designed to assist you in making crucial points are quite acceptable, but if you feel that your content must be read, hire a professional actor who is trained to bring it to life!!

Know your material back to front. Rehearse your main information loops. Edit and shape your presentation as you go along, keeping a keen eye on how your audience is responding to each point. If your audience reacts favourably to a particular point, expand on it. Feed them to the point of nearly sate their hunger, remembering to leave them with a taste for a little more.


The above trust annihilators are some of the most common faux pas committed in the name of persuasion. It may be occurring to you that audience trust goes hand in hand with how you manage your credibility.

Become an expert in credibility mismanagement. Notice what you and other people do to annihilate trust and lose the respect of colleagues and audiences. Keep building on your observational experiences, become a people watcher in persuasion situations and begin to observe the subtle and not so subtle changes in people’s demeanour when you or colleagues press their resistance buttons.

(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2004


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