Perception of Credibility: Do You Have It?
It Means Everything
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clin-
ton, Oprah Winfrey, Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Benjamin Franklin
. . . all masters of persuasion.They differ(ed) very much in their goals, ob-
jectives, and vision but they are/were all successful at influencing the
masses. Why? Credibility. Among those they wanted to influence, they
are/were believable.They knew their business.They knew their outcomes.
They were incredibly competent.
Credibility is one of the common denominators of success at influenc-
ing others. Credibility . . . (O’Keefe 1990, 181), is the “perceiver concern-
ing the believability judgments made by a communicator.”
Credibility Is the Pivot Point
Credibility matters. Credibility is the pivot point in influence. Unfortu-
nately, it doesn’t initially matter whether you have credibility (or are credi-
ble); it matters whether you are perceived that way.
The perception of your credibility is critical to your being recognized
as a person of influence.Credibility is an emergence of six component fac-
tors of which the first is most crucial to success in persuasion.
What factors make up credibility?
Competence is the first major component in the credibility puzzle.Go
back to the list of the names at the beginning of this chapter. They
are/were all very competent people.Competence is a cornerstone of cred-
ibility. (Notice that competence isn’t correlated with having good values,
morals, or the best interests of others.) You can fake competence for a
while, but eventually competence is tested and it makes or breaks you.
Competence is expertise. It is your qualification(s).
Golden Key: Building your true competence level and building the per-
ception of your competence are two separate projects:You must be the ex-
pert, and you must be perceived as the expert.
What specifically do you want to work on? (McCroskey and Young
1981) You want to work on the Seven Scales (continuums) of Competence
(being experienced, informed, trained, qualified, skilled, intelligent, and an
expert) with those two goals in mind.
Key Point:You want to be competent, and you want to be perceived as
competent. It does you no good at all to be competent and be perceived
Do an important exercise.Answer these 14 questions.Take your time
and assess yourself with great objectivity. If you do this and don’t fly past
these questions to the next set of techniques,you will make great strides in
determining your real and perceived credibility.
1. Are you experienced or inexperienced?
2. Are you perceived as being experienced or inexperienced?
3. Are you informed or uninformed?
4. Are you perceived as being informed or uninformed?
5. Are you trained or untrained?
6. Are you perceived as being trained or untrained?
7. Are you qualified or unqualified?
8. Are you perceived as being qualified or unqualified?
9. Are you skilled or unskilled?
10. Are you perceived as being skilled or unskilled?
11. Are you intelligent or unintelligent?
12. Are you perceived as being intelligent or unintelligent?
13. Are you an expert or not?
14. Are you perceived as being an expert or not?
After answering all these questions,you must construct a competence-
building and perception-of-competence building system. If you aren’t ex-
perienced, you need to become experienced. If you aren’t perceived as
experienced you must make clear verbally,in writing,via testimonial,or in
some covert fashion that you are experienced.
If you look in the yellow pages you may come across words and
phrases that attempt to establish credibility, because this is such a big piece
of the influence puzzle.
“Has 27 years of experience.”
On television you see Michael Jordan lend his credibility and compe-
tence as the world’s greatest athlete to everything from hamburgers to bat-
teries to underwear.This is roughly what a testimonial on the back of a
book does for the author. It is called the “halo effect.”You are borrowing
someone else’s credibility to build your own. It’s smart to do and some-
thing you should pursue as well.
Competence is the cornerstone. Covertly make your client base aware of
your competence. (Have awards on the wall of your office. Have testimonials
in your portfolio.) Then, make it certain that in all of your interactions
with your clients every single one of them knows that your knowledge
runs deep and wide.You are the obvious expert in your field.
There are four pieces of the persuasive setting.The first three all de-
mand the dimension of credibility for success.
1. The environmental context.
2. The persuader.
3. The message.
4. The audience/recipient.
Of course, having credibility and presenting a credible image to your
customer are very different things. Here is a list of a number of character-
istics of credibility building.These words identify areas of credibility that
you must have to be a person of influence.
Here are a few words you can utilize when you communicate your
message of credibility to the public:
“as seen on TV” . . . hard to believe but true.
Has 25 years’ experience.
In any given situation you have four ways to show your credibility.
Within each of these factors are some polarities that form a continuum
of your behavior.Where would you be seen by most people in each of
3. Sociability (likability).
4. Being inspiring to others.
Once again, don’t fly past these characteristics. Go back and look at the
characteristics again.Where do you find yourself among them?
Seven Ways to Increase Your Credibility:
The Nucleus of Influence
Current scientific research reveals that credibility is one of the golden keys
to getting anyone to say “yes” to you.Very few people have credibility in
their profession because they don’t understand what it is and why they
need it, and they certainly have no idea about how to acquire it.
Write down the following formula and keep it nearby at all times.
Whether you are a therapist,a small business owner,or a sales manager at a
major corporation, this is the formula that will determine whether anyone
will ever listen to you:
Expertise + Trustworthiness = Credibility
Imagine these two lists of topics about which a company might want
to hire Kevin Hogan for training, consulting, or a keynote speech:
Group A: Sales, Influence, Marketing, Body Language, Unconscious
Communication, Persuasion, Motivation, Goal Achievement, Per-
sonal Authenticity, Communication Skills.
Group B: How to Be Politically Correct, Union Power, How to
Change the Oil in Your Car, Government Support for the Arts.
You get the idea.You can see Kevin Hogan making major progress in
the company about group A topics because of massive credibility in
Credibility = Expertise + Trustworthiness
I have no expertise in group B topics and certainly would have no
trustworthiness if I claimed to support those issues (although oil changes
are very important, and I love the arts—just not the government support
of them). It would be inauthentic to promote myself as a sensitivity trainer
or someone who wants people to communicate anything but the gentle
truth to their company.
Nothing persuades like credibility in people’s decision-making processes.
You need it,I need it,and indeed everyone needs credibility or we will all ul-
timately fail at whatever we do.Consider:
That name not long ago was perceived as having massive credibility. Not
long ago Martha Stewart had a TV show, a profitable publicly held busi-
ness, and her own magazine: massive credibility. But then one day it all
slipped away. Poof. In a matter of days Martha Stewart had zero credibility.
It’s hard to trust the Martha Stewart name today, and when there is no
trust there is no credibility.
Nothing persuades like credibility in people’s decision-making
Remember when she said,“Get with a big company that gives you lots of
benefits and retirement.”Then boom! In 2001/2002 millions lost their re-
tirement pensions, their jobs, and many their self-respect because of the
corruption of a few in their companies and a bad economy. Lesson: Don’t
trust everything to anyone. How many people look back at the lousy ad-
vice someone they loved gave them only to have been hung out to dry—
innocent and well intended as the advice giver was? Mom.A great Mom,
lousy business adviser.
So what are the seven research-proven ways to build your credibility?
Daniel O’ Keefe discussed these seven in his book, Persuasion. My take
is a bit different from his but you get the idea!
1. Stress your education, position, and experience. The evidence is
overwhelming. People respect someone who has a higher position
(M.D. vs. orderly), more extensive education (Ph.D. vs. high
school),and more experience (20 years of X vs.just out of school).
You cannot immediately change your education but you can re-
frame your position and frame your experience so that it accents
you in the best possible light.You should never lie or exaggerate
but definitely put yourself on stage at the better angle.
2. Be a fluid communicator. Again, the evidence is overwhelming:
Communicate your message without the use of “uh”or slips of the
tongue. Don’t mispronounce words. Each flaw counts against the
communicator.This is so important that the lesson is clear.A fluid
communicator will not read a script or use notes to any significant
degree.You need to know everything about your topic, product, or
service.You need to be able to influentially communicate that in-
formation, and don’t even try until you are ready.
3. Pick up your speaking pace.The research is mixed here,but usually
a slightly faster than normal pace is superior to other options.The
reason is simple.You can’t communicate quickly if you don’t know
4. Cite evidence. I always tell people to never buy a book without a
bibliography unless they enjoy fiction. No sources means no credi-
bility. It’s better to say “Daniel O’Keefe says” than to say “research
shows.” One shows you are well read, while the other shows you
read The National Enquirer.
5. Argue against your point of view. Every great speaker knows that
when you bring up the point of view that disagrees with your own
you are more likely to win the audience over.Why? That is what
they are thinking, and you defuse or inoculate your audience to
the opposite point of view.The more you say that surprises your
audience/client in this respect,the more likely you are to gain crit-
ical persuasion points.
6. Be likable. This quality won’t affect your listener’s perception of
your expertise but it will affect their perception of your trustwor-
thiness, and that is the second key aspect of credibility. Being lik-
able doesn’t happen overnight. Read a book like my Irresistible
Attraction or Talk Your Way to the Top to enhance your charismatic
influence on others.
7. Use humor . . . carefully. Humor can increase the trustworthiness
of a communicator if the humor is appropriate to the context and it
is not excessive.A little humor can really help your persuasiveness—
a little,not a lot!