Meetings Pro Tip: Should Your Presenters Dial It Down a Notch?

Presenters who exude overconfidence might have a negative effect on their intended audiences, a recent study suggests. The solution? Tone it down.

Famed football coach Vince Lombardi is reported to have said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”

That may sound like a great slogan for a T-shirt, but recent academic research disagrees with Lombardi’s assessment—and it could have a significant impact on how your presenters carry themselves at your next event.

What’s the Problem?

According to a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, some of the common ways that people highlight their trustworthiness can backfire, making them seem less trustworthy to observers.

“Employing a variety of experimental paradigms and measures and confirming predictions based on attribution theory, we demonstrate that impression management can substantially backfire, at least for competent actors, and that this effect can be explained by decreases in perceived benevolence and integrity,” the paper stated.

In a press release, University of Arizona Associate Professor of Marketing Martin Reimann, the paper’s lead author, explained that the findings demonstrate the risks of trying to highlight your level of trustworthiness. People might wear a mask of overconfidence to try to appear more capable—a concept called impression management—but doing so can have the opposite effect.

“We challenged the underlying theory that ability always leads to trust by saying, ‘Step back, wait a minute, is that true under certain conditions?’” Reimann said in the release. “And since impression management is so widespread, we wondered how it impacts the well-known effect of ability on trust.”

What’s the Solution?

A little modesty goes a long way, both in business and in the way you present to other organizations. As a result, it might be good to ensure that your confidence doesn’t read as overconfidence in a presentation setting.

A lot of this comes down to how you carry yourself, according to Reimann.

“If you consider yourself a highly capable individual, have a good education, are successful in life, then I would say dial it down a notch in presenting yourself to others or managing impressions about what you can do,” he said.

Don’t be afraid to encourage your speakers to be open to other perspectives, including from the audience. A little humility can help—and so can a willingness to understand different viewpoints and embrace the power of changing your mind. That might help build the trust with the audience you’re looking for.

Perhaps the Lombardi quote isn’t the one you should live by. This Jeff Bezos quote might be a better fit: “People who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds.”

(Nicholas Free/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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