How to Look Authoritative when you Feel Anything But

Having to deliver a presentation to people who are older than you, more important than you, or more expert than you, can make you doubt yourself. To look more credible and authoritative do the opposite of what a person lacking in confidence would do. Typically, they would:

  • compare themselves unfavorably to other people
  • be shy about meeting people
  • stand behind a lectern or as far away as they can from the audience
  • stand stiff and frozen or move in a fidgety, uncontrolled way
  • not look anybody in the eye or shift quickly from person to person
  • rush through their presentation as quickly as possible.

Here are some tips to help you do the opposite and look credible and authoritative:

1. Focus on what you know

Don’t compare yourself to people in the audience who may know more than you. There’s always the potential for other people to know more about a topic than you, so this is a losing battle. Focus on why you’ve been asked to speak – your expertise or knowledge. For more on speaking to experts, see this post The four secrets to speaking with experts in the room.

2. Chat to the VIPs

Behave as if you’re the host or hostess of a party. Welcome people as they come in and make a point of chatting to people who you perceive as important or find intimidating. This will turn them into human beings in your eyes rather than objects of awe. And that will make it easier for you when you start your presentation. You’ll also build your credibility in their eyes.

3. Have someone else introduce you

Find someone that your audience respects to introduce you. This has two benefits:

  • Someone else, rather than you, talking about your expertise and qualifications will establish your credibility more effectively.
  • Listening to the credibility-building introduction just before you get up to speak will give you a confidence boost.

However, you should write the introduction for them. For more on how to do this, read this post How to establish your credibility without bragging. In it, I outline the research showing it’s more effective to have someone else introduce you and also step you through how to write the introduction. Denise Graveline also has great advice on establishing your credibility before you start your presentation: “How do I establish credibility as a speaker when my age and looks work against me?”

4. Claim your space

Start your presentation with a black slide. Stand at the center of the stage, close to the audience. This is the most powerful position to talk from. By standing in this position, with no distracting slide, you’ll look confident and credible.

5. Stand square

Whenever you’re standing still, stand square to the audience with your feet slightly apart. If you’re presenting with PowerPoint, beware the “PowerPoint angle” – that’s when the presenter stands with their body permanently angled toward the screen.

6. Own the stage

But don’t stand still all of the time, move around the stage as if you own it. For example, move towards the person you’re talking to. Move to the screen when you want to point something out.  Moving has multiple benefits:

  • makes you look confident
  • helps dissipate your nervous energy
  • the large movements cover up the small movements (ie: shaking).

For more ideas on moving such as mapping your structure, showing a timeline, and picking a storytelling spot, check out this post 9 ways to use space in your presentation.

7. Keep your hands apart

Clasping your hands together looks like pleading and also stops you from gesturing. Gesturing is a natural part of speaking so if you just  keep your hands apart they will naturally start to gesture to support your points.

8. Finish your sentences

Does the pitch of your voice goes up at the end of a sentence, as if you were asking a question? This makes you sound as if you’re asking for approval and so makes you seem less authoritative. The reason for this problem – called a high rising terminal or uptalk – may be because you’re thinking of what you want to say next and so you’re not focusing on finishing your current sentence. The way to get rid of the high rising terminal is to consciously finish each sentence. Your voice will automatically come down in pitch and you will sound more authoritative.

9. Make eye connection

Instead of eye contact, make eye connection. Eye contact has you flitting between people. That’s less authoritative. Making eye connection means speaking to a person until you have made a genuine connection with them. Holding of your eye contact in this way will make you look more authoritative.

10. Chunk

Authoritative speakers often talk in a style of speaking I call “chunking”. They speak in short bursts of words with silence in between. A chunk of words can be a phrase or a short sentence. Listen to Tony Blair in this segment:

An awesome benefit of chunking is that you’ll stop using filler words such as um’s and ah’s.

11. Take your time

Don’t rush through your presentation. Rushing looks like you just want to get off the stage as quickly as possible (which might be true, but don’t let the audience see that!). Think of getting your message through not just getting through your message. Taking your time is not the same as going slowly. Don’t slow down – you’ll lose energy. Instead chunk.

12. Appreciate the applause

Don’t run away as soon as you’re done!

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  1. I was fascinated to see you posting a Blair clip as an example of ‘chunking’, as I must have been posting another specimen from a slightly older Blair at about the same time – which shows that he’s still ‘chunking’, and can even make a platitude sound quite impressive. Bill Clinton can still hack it too!

    • Hi Max
      Your clip of Tony Blair does indeed show him chunking. This style of speaking seems to comes naturally to him but it’s something that anyone can try out. We’ve seen it work wonders for people on our courses.

  2. Olivia,

    Loved the post, your attention to detail is impressive, and I’d add one suggestion if I may (I hope I’m not breaking some bloggers courtesy code in doing so) –

    People looking to add ‘status’ to their style might usefully practice moving with the pace and style of Morgan Freeman playing God. Everything about his performance (in most of his films too) is measured, calm and at the slower end of the pace scale. This measured pace adds gravitas and dignity to his words, and is the root of his status in the role and in life.

    • Hi Jim

      I LOVE people adding their thoughts and opinions to this blog – makes it all the more rich and helpful for readers. Thank you for adding yours.

      I haven’t seen the film “Bruce Almighty” – I’ll look for it next time I’m in the video store.


  3. Olivia,

    It’s probably not worth the outlay as a film! But he’s always good.


  4. Olivia, I especially like the tip about acting like a host or hostess. It puts you at ease and makes you seem likable and confident to your guests or audience.

    Also, good tip to accept some applause before leaving the stage. We all want to be modest, but there’s a difference between humbly acknowledging applause and cowering off the stage as fast as possible.

  5. very good publish, i certainly love this website, keep on it

  6. Hey:)
    I loved the comment abt acting like the host/hostess at ur party. That’s exactly wgat I did this year in my totally new class, and I felt less judged aft having the connection with others. Thanks for this helpful advice:D


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