Credibility Appeals

Read this article, which explains how the sources you use can influence your credibility as a presenter.

Defining Credibility

Credibility is defined as the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.

Key Takeaways

  • Credibility is a composite of subjective and objective factors, so it relates to feelings and opinions, as well as facts and evidence.
  • The subjective component of a public speaker's credibility centers on the speaker's self-presentation.
  • The objective aspect of a public speaker's credibility is based on the speaker's expertise.

Key Terms

  • Subjective: formed, as in opinions, based on someone's feelings or intuition, not upon observation or reasoning; coming more from within the observer than from observations of the external environment.
  • Objective: not influenced by irrational emotions or prejudices; based on facts or evidence.
  • Credibility: The objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.

A picture of a person dressed in black spandex. All that's visible is a white face mask

Unmasking Credibility: Credibility is personal. In order to establish credibility, unmask yourself and show the audience who you really are.

What is credibility? Credibility is defined as the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message. Credibility is both objective, or based on facts and evidence, and subjective, based on opinions and feelings. This quality encompasses everything from your college degree or professional certification to the immediate "gut feeling" people get when they walk into the room.

Subjective Credibility: Self-Presentation

The subjective aspect of a public speaker's credibility is based on the speaker's self-presentation. Here are some tips for earning credibility on a subjective level:

  1. Dress the part. Show the audience that you take the speaking engagement seriously, and that you hope to earn their respect. If you are not sure how to dress, professional attire is always a safe bet.
  2. Look at the audience. Establishing eye contact will make you seem open and trustworthy.
  3. Speak loudly, clearly, and confidently. If you have confidence in yourself, the audience will too.

Objective Credibility: Expertise

Mark Twain once said that an expert is just "an ordinary fellow from another town. " If only it were that easy! In reality, if you want to convince the audience that you are an expert, you will have to show some credentials. Here are three ways to establish objective credibility:

  1. State your credentials. Audiences will trust you more readily if you can prove that other people value your expertise. Credentials include relevant degrees, certifications, testimonials, recommendations, work experience, volunteer experience, and informally, other types of personal experience.
  2. Reveal a personal connection to your topic. Your input will have more weight if you can demonstrate that the topic means something to you.
  3. Establish common ground with your audience. If you can explain that, ultimately, you all want the same thing, the audience will be much more likely to trust you and accept your message.

Types and Elements of Credibility

Experience, training, and associations and connections are all important factors that can boost credibility.

Key Takeaways

  • Personal experience in the workplace, at home, in a hobby, or volunteering situations can bolster your credibility. You can support the validity of your experience with testimonials and personal recommendations.
  • Formal or informal training that relates to your topic can also support your credibility.
  • If you connect yourself and your message to credible people, your own credibility will benefit from the association.

Key Terms

  • Credibility: The objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.

Credibility from Experience

Photo of a mountain climber

Experience Is Important: These mountain climbers are scaling a sheer cliff in the Rhone-Alps of France. They have credibility due to their experience.

Imagine this scenario: you, a veteran mountain climber, are slated to give a speech about climbing safety to a group of mountaineers that is about to set off on a dangerous expedition. What would be the best source of credibility in that situation? Experience!

The mountaineers would probably not be very impressed to hear that you read a book about climbing safety once, or that some of your best friends are mountaineers. However, if you bring in stories, photographs, and examples from your own climbing experience, you will assure them that you really know what you are talking about. Drawing from your work experience, volunteering experience, hobbies, and informally, other types of personal experience can do a lot to boost your credibility as a speaker.

Credibility from Training

Do you have any formal or informal training that relates to your topic? If so, mention it during your speech to build your credibility. Relevant training programs and credentials include academic degrees, professional certifications, classes, conferences, and personal research. Even if your training is not directly related to your topic, there may be an indirect connection. Do not feel obligated to stretch your story if it really does not fit, but also do not rule out training experiences that are out of your current field.

Credibility by Association

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him. – Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli's maxim teaches a valuable lesson: people will not only judge you on your own merits alone, but also on the merits of your associates. This rule is not only for rulers, it applies to public speakers too. If you want to be seen as a credible person, align yourself with other credible people. You can do this by citing testimonials from respected figures or mentioning personal recommendations that validate your expertise. Another approach is to quote prominent figures in your field, demonstrating an awareness of the issues and conversations that are current trends in that field.

Building Credibility

If you want to build credibility with your audience, you must demonstrate that you are a person of character.

Key Takeaways

  • Establishing your good character is a crucial part of winning the audience's trust.
  • For a public speaker, character is not only about being a good person or a law-abiding citizen; speakers should also be looking out for the needs of their listeners.
  • To show your listeners that you care about their needs and interests, find common ground with the audience, appeal to shared beliefs and goals, and entertain potential objections.

Key Terms

  • Character: Moral strength; consistency of values and principles.

Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.  – Aristotle

You can not dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one. – James A. Froude

Greek philosopher Heraclitus's famous maxim, "Character is destiny", has echoed through the ages: if you want to win the audience's trust, you must demonstrate that you are a person of character. Aristotle argues that establishing good character is one of the most important means of persuasion. Roman orator Quintillian defines persuasive rhetoric as essentially "the good man speaking well".

British historian James A. Froude takes the colloquial idea of "building character" one step further, leading us to imagine a laborious undertaking in a blacksmith's forge, shaping "character" with a hammer. The literature surrounding public speaking emphasizes the importance of establishing good character, but also admits that it is not easy.

Credibility, Character, and Caring

Personal character is an important addition to the elements of credibility we discussed in the last segment. However, it is important to note that, for a public speaker, character is not as simple as being a nice person or a law-abiding citizen. Public speakers are responsible for communicating something of value to a large group of people. A public speaker of character should listen to the needs of the audience, entertain potential objections, walk the audience through opposing viewpoints, and respond to questions. Show your listeners that you are looking out for them. After all, why should they trust you if you do not care about them?

To bring the audience's needs and interests to the forefront of your speech, follow these steps:

A room filled with oversized building blocks for children

Building Credibility: Credibility is built through character, trustworthiness, experience, expertise, and associations/connections.

  1. Find common ground with your audience.
  2. Appeal to shared beliefs and values.
  3. Identify a shared goal.
  4. Return to this shared goal throughout the speech.
  5. Demonstrate that you have considered other perspectives on the issue.
  6. Show that you understand the appeal of opposing positions.
  7. Make a case for your own position.

Ethical Usage

Credibility appeals, while an effective form of persuasive speaking, carry a unique set of ethical challenges and considerations.

Key Takeaways

  • There are three types of appeal techniques in persuasive speaking: logos, pathos and ethos. Ethos is focused on the credibility appeal, that is, a rhetorical appeal to an audience based on the speaker's credibility.
  • It is unethical to lie to your audience about who you are and what you bring to the table in terms of experience, credibility and authority.
  • When it comes to ethical usage of credibility appeals, stick to authenticity and speaking honestly about who you are.

Key Terms

  • Ethos: A rhetorical appeal to an audience based on the speaker/writer's credibility.

Ethical Usage of Credibility Appeals

The words logos, ethos, and pathos

Appeal Techniques: The three types of appeal techniques in persuasive speaking are logos, ethos, and pathos.

Speeches grounded in the principles of rhetoric focus on three types of rhetorical appeals: logospathos, and ethos. While logos and pathos appeal to reason and emotion, respectively, ethos takes on a decidedly different approach entirely. Speakers using ethos seek to persuade their audience by demonstrating their own credibility and authority.

To elaborate, the construction of authority is reflected in how a speaker presents themselves, what diction they use, how they phrase their ideas, what other authorities to which they refer, how they compose themselves under stress, their experience within the context of their message, as well as their personal or academic background.

Ethical Considerations

Obviously, if you elucidate a persuasive portrait of your personal credibility and authority, you make a more persuasive case on the credibility and authority of your words. However, when building a persuasive case using ethos, it may be tempting to stray into territory that borders on the unethical. Consider the following example:

You might not realize it at first, but interviewing for a job is an abbreviated form of persuasive speaking. You are trying to persuade an employer to offer you a job. This method of persuasion relies heavily on the use of ethos, as you are trying to make your case as to why you are the best person for the job.

When you submit your résumé and cover letter, you provide your potential employer with an overview of your skills, experiences, and background and how they best fit with the position and company with whom you seek employment.

While many employers complete extensive background reviews and reference checks, they may not follow up with every single bullet point on your résumé. While it might be tempting to beef up your list of achievements by stretching the truth: naming yourself a college club president as opposed to member, listing an award you may have nominated for but not having won (without clarifying that fact) – these are all unethical ways of padding your résumé, and thus, unethically using ethos to persuade your potential employer to hire you for the job.

This same example holds true in more formal scenarios of persuasive public speaking. It is unethical to lie to your audience about who you are and what you bring to the table in terms of experience, credibility, and authority. It is equally unethical to even bend the truth in the slightest detail about what makes you a credible or authoritative speaker on your given subject.

Whether it is a flat-out moment of dishonesty or a simple "little white lie", disingenuousness, once discovered, will eradicate any credibility or authority you have as a speaker. When it comes to ethical usage of credibility appeals, stick to authenticity, and speaking honestly about who you are.


Source: Lumen Learning,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 License.

Last modified: Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 2:07 PM