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3 Ways to Enhance Your Credibility in the Classroom

NOTE: This is an updated version of my post originally published on

Over the last few posts, we've been taking the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die principle by principle. We've discussed the principles of simple, unexpected and concrete. Today, we'll break down the principle of credibility.

The credibility that you demonstrate in the classroom is a critical component of delivering educational content that resonates with your students. Drop the ball in this area and there's little you can do to recover.

1. Demonstrate What You Say

It's one thing to stand at the front of the classroom and state features and benefits about your product. Or talk about the state of your particular industry in terms of how many people are leaving vs joining. Or what you've witnessed as far as how effectively people are doing their jobs.

If you have some credibility already - either from your time in the industry or from your recently published book - then you can make such statements and be believed by your audience.

But for most of us, me included, possessing such credibility isn't a given. So the things we state as "truth" can only go so far on their own.

How do you demonstrate that your statements are indeed true? You back them up with evidence. Tell them, then show them.

For example If you're speaking about a product, and you've listed some amazing features, support that by actually showing the product in person. Bring the product to the audience or the audience to the product (depending on the size of the product) and show them exactly what you just mentioned.

Maybe you can't have the product on-hand or in-house, but you have video or images to support your points. This is still great evidence to support your claims. Tell them, then show them.

Want to take it one step further? Tell them, then show them...then let them! You've talked about specific features of your product. You've shown your audience those features in-person.

Now let them test those features out for themselves. Let your audience test the product, touch it, change dials or settings...and see for themselves.

2. Show Data and Statistics

If you don't have a live product or videos to show, you may have to rely on data to support your claims and enhance your credibility. Data and statistics are great tools to support the claims that you are making, and they can be very convincing.

With one primary caveat - make sure the data your present are clear and easy to understand.

In Made to Stick, the authors describe a situation in which Stephen Covey's company conducted a large survey across many industries and thousands of workers. The aim of the survey was to see to what degree workers believed that their day-to-day efforts contributed to the larger goals of their respective organizations.

While the data Covey's team collected was valid, the big idea was difficult to communicate. For example, here are some of the original survey results:

  • Only 37% said they had a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to accomplish and why.

  • Only 20% were enthusiastic about their team’s and their organization’s goals.

  • Only 20% said they had a clear line of sight between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals.

  • Only 15% felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.

  • Only 20% fully trusted their organization.

The problem is that by when you look at these findings, you see a variety of valid percentages, but Covey and his team felt the big idea was being lost in the communication of the data (37% believe this, 20% 20% 20% believe that, etc.) It's confusing to succinctly interpret such results, much less communicate it simply. So, they took a different approach.

Soccer Anyone?

Their idea: what if these findings were applied to the metaphor of a soccer team? What would the data communicate in that context? Here's what they found:

  • Only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs.

  • Only 2 of the 11 would care.

  • Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do.

  • And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.

When you see the data in this context, the problem - the employee disconnect emphasized by the survey statistics - really becomes evident.

The point: When you are presenting data, make sure that the story you want to communicate is clear to your audience. Otherwise, you will only confuse your audience and detract from your credibility.

3. Provide the form of Stories

Through our years of working, we collect stories. Those stories could be our own personal experiences. Or, they could be stories we've heard from colleagues or coworkers within our industry or from different industries.

Such stories and experiences are a vital part of the classroom experience you create. They can support your content with important details that can help your audience better understand and remember what you say. And they add tremendous value to your credibility.

But, sadly, we all had to start somewhere. And when we did, we probably didn't have a lot of stories or experience to rely on. How does that play out in your classroom? I've witnessed it in person.

My True Story

In 2006, I was managing our technical training courses, and one of our support guys was chosen to conduct his first training class. This was a 2-day technical course in which Day 1 was all about content and then Day 2 was all about hands-on exercises and troubleshooting.

Our team got the instructor set up and ready to go the morning of Day 1. About 2:00 pm on Day 1, I look up from my desk to see the instructor standing there.

He says, "I'm all done."

Puzzled, I think my response was, "What do you mean?"

"I've covered all of the material."

"But you still have 2.5 hours to go. How did you get through the content so quickly?"

Ah, yes. How did he get through the content so quickly? And what does this have to do with stories and personal experience...and credibility?

Well, upon further digging, here's what I discovered:

  • The day began well enough, and then our instructor was asked a question. His response: "I'm not positive. Let me check on that at the break."

  • He continues teaching until the next question. His response: "I'm really not sure, I'm going to have to ask someone."

  • A few minutes later: "That's a great question. I just don't know."

Starting to see the pattern? The questions being asked by his students were over his head, given his limited time (6 months) answering our technical support calls. But it was a situation where we were short-staffed and needed people to step into the classroom.

And our instructor genuinely wanted to find out the answers to those questions, but his responses weren't exactly instilling confidence or exuding credibility.

Pretend you're a student in this course. How many questions are you going to ask before you do what? Stop asking questions! What's the point - he clearly doesn't know?

With the audience now in listen-only mode, what does our instructor have to work with? Only the training material.

And because he hasn't yet linked his stories or personal experience to that training material, he doesn't have any "credible" stories or experience to expand on and support the training content.

What does that mean? Without such stories or personal experience, our full day of content could apparently be delivered in about 5 hours instead of 8.

Ok, so lot's of lessons learned here for us. Not the least of which is how we approached preparing our new instructors. Unfortunately, we were in a situation where we needed a warm body in the front of the classroom. Again, lesson learned.

But the good news: This instructor, who crashed and burned on that day, went on to become a very confident and credible instructor.

What about you? Have you ever crashed and burned due to a lack of credibility?


As Chief EMU Wrangler at The EMU Experience, LLC, Ken helps learning professionals deliver engaging, memorable and unexpected learning experiences. By teaching practical techniques to purposefully increase student engagement, along with methods that incorporate creativity into the design and delivery process, Ken can help you create a learning experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected.

Got questions? Email Ken –

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