In the News: (Don’t) Drop It Like It’s Hot (Updated)

In The Science of Speaking, I present many different techniques you can use to bolster your expertise and increase your credibility in the eyes of your audience.

While there are many effective methods for doing this, it turns out that there’s another popular method that almost always backfires: name-dropping.

Of course, as Leah Fessler recently reported on Quartz, there are logical reasons that we resort to this tactic. Citing experts bolsters our credibility, so why shouldn’t associating ourselves with them? Unfortunately, a recent study found that it doesn’t actually work this way. Instead of improving the audience’s perception of a name-dropper, using this tactic actually resulted in the audience viewing the name-dropper as less likable, less competent, and more manipulative. Another study found that indirect self-promotion (such as name-dropping) has none of the benefits of direct self-promotion (i.e., boasting), but all of the detriments thereof.

Interestingly, while this traditional kind of name-dropping doesn’t work, another recent study found that a different kind might. Instead of focusing on the people you know, it suggests, you should focus on the people your audience knows. In particular, by associating the audience with someone successful, or praising the success of someone the audience is associated with, you can actually succeed in getting them to like you, in a way that traditional name-dropping can’t!

Update (4/6/17): In her article, Fessler notes that another danger of name-dropping is that you don’t always know what your audience thinks of the person whose name you’re dropping—maybe they think that person is a total scoundrel! In fact, this danger applies to all of the possible name-dropping techniques. Just as you don’t want to associate yourself with someone the audience doesn’t like, you also don’t want to mistakenly associate your audience with someone they don’t like, or praise someone they don’t like. Similarly, you don’t want to insult someone they do like.

In the News: The Power of Trust

In a recent article on Select/All, Jesse Singal reported on a recent study by the American Press Institute about how people decide what to trust on social media.

What they found was that for the most part, people “ignore the source of a given claim, focusing way more on the trustworthiness of the person sharing it.” Specifically, “people who see an article from a trusted sharer, but one written by an unknown media source, have much more trust in the information than people who see the same article from a reputable media source shared by a person they do not trust.” (For example, how much you trust what I’m saying right now depends more on how much you trust me, Nick Enge, than it does on how much you trust Jesse Singal or the API.)

Although this research was conducted in the context of social media, it has important implications for speaking as well. First, in case it wasn’t already obvious, getting your audience to trust you matters—a lot. In the study, when the sharer was someone the viewer trusted, the viewer not only perceived the shared article to be more accurate and well-reported, but also less biased, more entertaining, better organized, and more “share-worthy.” Furthermore, how much the audience trusts you is more important than how much they trust your sources. This means that although you can bolster your expertise by citing trustworthy experts, you can’t rely entirely on this technique—the audience needs to trust you as well. Of course, the best thing you can do is make sure that your audience trusts everything along the chain of evidence—from you, to your sources, to your sources’ sources. But as this study shows, while all of the these things matter, what matters most is that the audience trusts you.

In the News: Leading with Emotion and Expertise

In a recent study, Quantified Communications analyzed speech samples from Fortune’s 50 greatest leaders of 2016, focusing on the type of appeals they used. What they found was that these top leaders used three times as many appeals to emotion and intuition as they did appeals to logic.

For the purpose of the analysis, appeals to logic include “studies, statistics, data, and proof.” Appeals to emotion include “stories, imagery, metaphors, and visual aids.” Appeals to intuition include “achievements, testimonials, citing sources, and case studies.” In the language of The Science of Speaking, these are essentially equivalent to head, heart, and expertise.

While the analysis doesn’t explicitly examine the effects that this trend toward emotion and expertise has on the audience (though other research suggests it will be positive), if you want to speak like the greatest leaders of today, it clearly tells you what you need to do.