5 Illustrations Mediocre Speakers Don’t Know: Endorsement

When should you use a quotation, stat, testimonial, or endorsement? Mediocre speakers all sound the same because mediocre speakers tend to do things for the wrong reason. You can’t answer when to do it unless you first understand why.

Last week we showed how evidence should be used not just to make a point, but to build the credibility of the speaker. My SpeechDeck communication skills system used the five Es of illustration. Today is number three–Endorsement:

What is an Endorsement?

Here are three common types of endorsements:

  2. Testimonials
  3. Associations

Evidence such as facts, figures, and research can be used as an endorsement, similarly quotations or testimonials may include factual evidence or have a basis in research. There is often overlap between the two. So what’s the difference?

“There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” – Mark Twain

Are the words from Mark Twain above an “endorsement” or “evidence”?

For our purposes, what matters most is the your PURPOSE for using the words of Mark Twain.

As explained last week, the PURPOSE of “evidence” is to prove the credibility of the speaker (and only rarely your argument).

In other words, if I quote Mark Twain to illustrate that I know a lot about public speaking and that I am familiar with the industry, then I am using that quote as “evidence” — evidence that makes me a more credible messenger on public speaking.

On the other hand, maybe I just want to quote Mark Twain because he’s funny. Maybe I used Mark Twain because I know that in America, most people know who he is and love his pithy wisdom. That would be an “endorsement.”

The purpose of an endorsement is to NORMALIZE your message and yourself.

If I and everyone in the room laughs together, I instantly become NORMAL–no matter what I’m talking about. When we all do the same thing–laugh–I can’t be perceived as too different. In the SpeechDeck color-coded presentation skills system this is the orange principle of “Developing Relationships.”

Bad Endorsements

Anytime I quote Mark Twain the sentiment of the message seems quintessentially American. It builds relationships and develops rapport because Mark Twain seems NORMAL (to Americans raised in America).

But what if I was talking to a Chinese Audience?

Some of the audience might still laugh, but for those that don’t really know Mark Twain or relate to American culture I can easily do myself a disservice. Instead of building rapport, the exact same quote might actually seem AB-NORMAL. By reinforcing my cultural difference, a Mark Twain quote to a non-American audience might make me seem less NORMAL, less credible, and more foreign.

Mark Twain calls people liars. It’s normal for Americans to call people liars. That’s not normal everywhere.

So back to my original question: When should you use a quotation?

NOT when it breaks rapport.
NOT when it highlights differences with the audience.
NOT when it seems ab-normal.

This is why quoting Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in a politically diverse audience is likely to get you into big trouble. No matter how wise the words, half the audience won’t think it’s NORMAL, even if the other half does.

Good Quotations

Good endorsements, on the other hand, are those that align with the listeners’ existing in-group relationships and experience.

If you’re talking to an audience of Republicans, quoting president Reagan seems a lot more normal, because Reagan is already in the Republican in-group.

A good quotation is one that comes from a person the listener already admires and understands. Or perhaps even better said, someone who understands the audience. The originator of the quote must seem NORMAL.

When do you use a quotation? When it makes you and your message seem NORMAL.

Good Testimonials

This is why testimonials make great endorsements. A testimonial is pretty much just a quote from someone in the audience member’s own peer group.

If you have ever been to a sales presentation of any kind, a skilled presenter probably had people “just like you” who already bought the product stand up in the room, or speak on video about how great the product was.

The salesperson–if he or she was good–was trying to make the product seem NORMAL!

When do you use a testimonial? When you need your message, or yourself to seem NORMAL.

Good Associations

Associations are the cheater’s endorsement.

If you don’t have a good quote from someone the audience already respects, and you don’t have an audience peer to quote, then you just associate yourself with someone or something that seems normal.

An association is an implied endorsement without the direct quote.

Master inspirational Zig Ziglar is really good at making associations

Do you see what I did there?

I’ve never met Zig Ziglar.
I didn’t quote Zig Ziglar.
I have no idea what Zig Ziglar thinks about this blog post.

Nevertheless, I associated him with my main point. Subconsciously, the reader also associates my message with him–someone more famous than I am in my industry. Some of his gravitas rubs off on me props up my message.

And I didn’t even lie! Nothing I said above was dishonest — so I didn’t really cheat.

I can associate myself with objects, people, experiences, language, traditions, or anything that my audience finds NORMAL.

Like … totally normal, dude!

If I jokingly say it that way I automatically associate myself and endear myself to people who are my age who remember that kind of language as a NORMAL part of  junior high school. If you don’t get it, you’re probably not my age. I shouldn’t use that specific language association when I’m speaking to someone that never thought it was NORMAL.

The Weatherman

As we have done in every post of this series, let’s help the TV weatherman become a better communicator by adding endorsements. Our mediocre weatherman starts by saying.

It’s going to be a comfortable 82 degrees tomorrow.

The weatherman could appeal to a third party that the listener already respects:

According to the National Weather Service, it’s going to be 92 degrees tomorrow.

He could appeal to an audience peer testimonial:

We received an e-mail from Jessica in Springville who said she’s going to use the nice weather tomorrow to take her kids to the park.

The subconscious message is: “If normal listener Jessica believes him, I should too.” Alternatively, the weatherman could associate himself indirectly with someTHING that seems normal to the audience:

This is the kind of weather that makes it really hot in a parked car. Be careful for pets and children.

Of course you already know that. Nevertheless, I bet you’ve heard some newscaster actually say something like it — because everybody listening knows what’s it’s like to get in a parked car that feels more like a sauna. It makes the weatherman seem NORMAL.

There are 5 types of illustrations — 5 Es:

  1. Explanation
  2. Evidence
  3. Endorsement

Next week we discuss the biggie: Examples.


Myth-buster: Dress for Success

You have an important presentation. You have to make a good impression. What do you wear?

I’m not a fashion consultant. My father gave me his fashion sense–I inherited the who-cares-about-the-paint-stains-it’s-still-a-good-shirt gene.

If you took fashion advice from me, you’d definitely “stand out.” I’m even colorblind. I can’t give you specifics about accessories and colors, but fortunately, I don’t need to be a fashion expert to answer the question in principle.

So what do you wear?

What NOT to Wear

320px-statelibqld_1_207213_a-_g-_murray_1901Years ago I began a job that gave me the opportunity to do training in US federal government agencies all over the USA. I was fortunate to get public speaking experience in front of audiences ranging from secret service agents, to smoke jumpers, to pencil pushers.

My first day training, I wore my best suit!
A few months later I quit wearing the coat.
Months later I wore just nice pants, nice shirt, and tie.
Months later I downgraded to cotton pants.
Months later I lost the tie …
… and kept it that way for the next 5 years.

It wasn’t just because I was uncomfortable. People actually liked me better, learned more, and gave me better evaluations when I DIDN’T wear the tie.

Something about the pretense of your “best” is just a pretense. Decades ago, this blog post would not have been the same, because US culture was different. But in 2017, at least in US culture, pretense is out, and “dressing for success” doesn’t mean what it used to.

Back when I still wore the tie, I happened to be at a US department of agriculture facility in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Just in case you’ve never worked for the US government, outside, in the sun, all year long, in the middle of the New Mexico desert, let me assure you: They don’t wear three-piece suits to work!

At the end of my seminar, I joked that because of my tie I was overdressed. The next thing I know, a man in the front row, opened up to me about how often “city-slickers” show up in their suits to give official presentations. According to this US government employee, guess what happens after the presenter leaves? They make fun of the guy in the suit!

Why? Because when you show up in a three-piece suit (or a little black dress) in the middle of the desert to talk to a bunch of people wearing blue jeans, everybody in the audience is feeling the same thing:

You’re not one of us!

By over-dressing (or under-dressing), you’re unintentionally sending the message that you are not part of the group. That unintentionally makes you less interesting and less persuasive.

The same thing happens when you’re the only one in a dress, or the only one in jeans, or the only one in shorts, the only one in a tee-shirt, the only one in makeup, etc.

What to wear?

So what do you wear? Easy:

Start with the same thing as everyone else.

The answer of what to wear is not about fashion. If you want to be an effective communicator, you don’t have to look the best, you just have to look normal.

Depending on to whom you are speaking, normal may be anything: a tux, a dress, blue jeans, boots, high heels, or anything else.

I’ve heard WAY too many people promote the myth that you should always dress for success. Technically, that’s true. You should dress for success, but dressing for success does not always mean dressing your BEST!

steve_jobs_wwdc07Why was a black turtleneck and jeans good enough for Steve Jobs? Because it was normal!

If your best does not fit in with the audiences version of “normal” you are breaking rapport with your audience. In that case, dressing your best will actually do you a disservice.

Standing on stage and talking about your imported designer shoes will give the wrong impression if your audience isn’t made up of the kind of people who also wear imported designer shoes. I’ve seen this happen. The audience politely ignores the shoes, and the speaker obliviously ignores the lack of rapport.

You must dress nice enough that they notice–so they know you care–but not extreme enough to be a distraction.

It’s true that scientific studies have shown that better looking, better dressed people can appear more trustworthy, more confident, more credible and smarter. In isolation, yes.

But in a public speaking or presentation situation, rapport is the more important goal. No amount of IQ points or trustworthiness will overcome a lack of rapport, and to build rapport you must mirror the audience. Mirror their words, mirror their attitudes, mirror their body language, and yes–mirror their attire.

Public Speaking Attire Rules

You can’t answer the question what to wear unless you know the audience. My rule of thumb is this:

Dress slightly nicer than the audience.

First, I have to know what the audience will wear. I mirror their attire in some way, so that I appear “normal.” That builds rapport. Whenever I’m hired to give a keynote or a seminar, one of the questions on my checklist is to ask the host what people in his or her organization will wear.

Second, I want the advantage that science tells me better dressed people achieve, so I take my wardrobe up just one notch–not all the way up–just enough that they know I’m supposed to be the center of attention, but not enough to break rapport.

Yes, there are exceptions. Just remember that the exceptions are always based not on what YOU think is appropriate, but based on what the AUDIENCE thinks is appropriate:

Nice and noticeable, but normal.

Don’t wear a three piece suit in a room full of agricultural field researchers.
Don’t wear a bathing suit to an awards ceremony.

Do dress for success.
Dress slightly nicer than the audience.
That’s how you’ll succeed.

Beyonce and Evangeline Lilly image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beyonce_and_Evangeline_Lilly.jpg