Building Credibility to Persuade Your Audience in Public Speaking

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  • 0:01 Building Credibility
  • 0:32 What Is Credibility?
  • 1:55 Types of Credibility
  • 4:37 Gaining Credibility
  • 7:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Building credibility is an important component of your speech. Without credibility, your audience members won't trust what you have to say! This lesson will teach you about the different types of credibility and how to build credibility in your speech.

Building Credibility

If you think about it, you are constantly being bombarded by persuasive strategies. Many of these strategies depend on the ethos, or credibility, of certain people to persuade you to buy a product, sign a petition, do business with a certain company, and so on. You'll see companies use credibility in the form of celebrity endorsements, doctors' or dentists' recommendations, or testimony from people that have experienced the benefits of a product or an excellent service. These are just a few examples.

In this lesson, you will learn about credibility, the types of credibility, and strategies for gaining credibility in a speech.

What is Credibility?

Credibility is the characteristic of being trustworthy. If the audience can't trust you, then they won't believe you. Credibility is often related directly to the audience's perception of the speaker's competence and character.

First, the audience must believe that you are a competent speaker - that you are capable of creating valid arguments and sound reasoning. You can establish credibility with your audience by mentioning your expertise in the particular field in which you are speaking. Credibility can also refer to the reputation of the speaker. If you have a positive reputation, or are an expert in the topic area of your speech, then that can help establish credibility in your speech.

Reputation doesn't just mean you are an expert in the field, however. If the speaker has a poor reputation, or does not appear to be trustworthy, then the audience will be less likely to listen. The character of a speaker is also related to the credibility of the speaker. This means you will have to watch your demeanor towards people before and after you speak. If you are rude to the hostess of the event or act stressed out in front of a classmate, then you will lose credibility with your audience.

Types of Credibility

Each speaker has different types of credibility. For example, if you go to a technology conference to hear a keynote speaker, you can bet the speaker has some sort of credentials in technology. If you are listening to a classmate give a speech, you may find that you have learned to trust this classmate and value his or her speeches. There are three types of credibility:

  • Initial
  • Derived
  • Terminal

Initial credibility is the credibility an individual has before beginning his or her speech; this is mostly based on the reputation and credentials of the speaker, if they are known to the audience. You can remember initial credibility by thinking about the initials in your name. If someone asks you for your initials, they are asking for the first letters in your name, right? Initial credibility is the first credibility a speaker has with an audience. If you are speaking in front of classmates with whom you are unfamiliar, then you probably have very little initial credibility. Your initial credibility will come from how nervous you appear to be, how prepared you are, and even how you are dressed.

Derived credibility is the credibility an individual has developed while delivering a speech; the quality of the speech and the professionalism of the speaker creates this credibility. Think about the word 'derived.' The dictionary definition of this word means 'to take or get something from' or 'to get something from a source.' In this case, your credibility is coming from the speech that you give. For speakers that have no initial credibility, derived credibility can be very important. Not only do you experience the concept of derived credibility in public speaking, but also in the case of job interviews, where your only initial credibility may be your resume or contacts.

Terminal credibility is the credibility an individual has gained or lost after delivering a speech. Think of terminal credibility as more of the lasting impression that an audience has of a speech and a speaker. This is different from derived credibility because terminal credibility lasts long after derived credibility. For example, if there is a speaker that you really like and has high initial credibility, then the speaker gives a poor speech, the derived credibility from the speech may be quite low. This will change your impression of the speaker and may lower the overall credibility that you have of the speaker. However, just because a speaker gave one bad speech, if he or she has high initial credibility, the one bad speech won't completely ruin his or her credibility. This is where terminal credibility comes in - your impression of the speaker may be altered beyond the initial credibility, but not as low as the derived credibility.

Gaining Credibility

Now that you understand the different types of credibility, let's discuss how you can gain credibility during your speech. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Establish a credibility position
  • Establish common ground
  • Use of supporting materials
  • Language
  • Delivery

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Additional Activities

Credibility Critique

In this activity, students will practice the concepts associated with building credibility through critiquing the credibility of known public speakers.


  • Access to public speakers, such as:
    • Speakers at a political rally
    • Speakers at a conference
    • Television ads with a single speaker
    • Ted Talk recordings
    • A speech given at a family gathering (like the best-man's speech at a wedding)
  • It is okay to use recorded public speeches from history if desired.


  • Students should pick three different public speeches to critique/evaluate.
  • For each speech, the students should:
    • Note the name of the speaker, the date of the speech and the reason for the speech.
    • Document his/her opinion on the speaker's initial, derived and terminal credibility.
      • Students must give explanations for each of these opinions.
    • Note if the speaker attempted to establish a credibility position (if so, state it).
    • List any common ground the speaker attempted to gain with the audience.
    • Discuss the supporting materials used.
    • Evaluate the language used during the speech: was it appropriate? Why or why not?
    • Critique the delivery.
  • After critiquing all three public speakers, students should write a brief reflection highlighted what they have learned about building credibility to persuade an audience in public speaking.


  • Imagine a student chose to evaluate an infomercial speech in which the speaker is attempting to sell a product.
  • Types of Credibility:
    • Initial Credibility - The speaker is unknown to me, thus there is no initial credibility. I am also unfamiliar with the product, so there is no credibility offered to the speaker based on my knowledge of the item either.
    • Derived Credibility - The speaker seemed knowledgeable; derived credibility was strong.
    • Terminal Credibility - The final words spoken were demonstrably wrong. This tainted the entire speech, thus left the speaker with very low terminal credibility.
  • Gaining Credibility
    • The speaker established a credible position by opening with the number of years he has been using the product being sold.
    • The speaker referred to a common problem most people have that can be fixed by this item. I have had the problem as well, so this built common ground between myself and the speaker.
    • The speaker used supporting materials and examples to prove his point.
    • The speaker used very coarse and informal language, including slang, which did not lead me to feel confident in him. More professional language should have been used.
    • The speaker spoke very quickly, such that I had a difficult time following what he was saying. The delivery of the speech was difficult to follow, thus lowering his credibility.

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