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.