Four Ways To Establish Your Authority With an Audience

Your financial investor suggests you adjust the allocations in your retirement portfolio. You agree.

After your plumber comes out to check a leak, he suggests it’s time to replace the pipe. You agree.

Say, however, that you are casually talking to your financial investor about your plumbing woes. He suggests you replace the pipe. As a persuasive technique, it would not likely be all that successful. That is unless you knew he was a plumber before he became a financial adviser or has a side plumbing gig.

The same goes for your plumber. If he started giving you financial advice, you’d want to know the basis of his expertise before transferring your nest egg to the risky new fund in which he’s placed his life savings.


The Power Behind Authority

Persuasion is a part of daily life – from small asks to large demands. The reason we follow through on these requests is often the result of an effective persuasive technique. (We previously covered one of the more enduring ones – reciprocity – which plays upon our sense of obligation.)

The principle of authority is a persuasive technique that works on our tendency to trust and be persuaded by people who we believe are credible and knowledgeable. We trust that their information is valuable and vetted. It’s another of our cognitive shorthand strategies, given we don’t have the time to do in-depth research for every decision.

The reason you work with a financial adviser is that you believe they have the knowledge to help you make the best choices when it comes to your money. You may also choose a financial professional because of their years in the business or their track record in picking solid investments – both of which make them more credible.

When you are an authority, people are more likely to consider what you have to say. They also are more likely to be persuaded to do what you are suggesting they do.

Persuasive Technique: Authority in Action

When it comes to your presentation, it’s important to consider how you appear to your audience – something you can begin to shape long before you ever make it to the stage. Will they believe that you have the authority to address this topic? Will they see you as having the level of knowledge and credibility to make the statements you are making?

Here’s how you can harness authority as a powerful persuasive technique:

Make a proper introduction. Before your talk, assess whether your audience has the information it needs to consider whether you are credible, have the expertise, and are likely to practice what you are preaching.

You can do that by:

  • Providing biographical and professional information that reveals your expertise in all promotional materials associated with your presentation or talk.
  • If you are not making your own introduction, ask if you can provide the organizers with the introduction that will be read. In it, you should have your name and title, your qualifications that pertain to that audience and subject matter at hand, and why you have been asked to speak. Here’s an example:

“We know you are all here today to learn more about how the nursing profession will continue to grow and change in the years to come. Today, we have invited Abigail Smith to talk about the challenges the future may bring to patient care. Abigail began her career in nursing 30 years ago and has since held several leadership posts in varied healthcare settings. She has developed a deep expertise in how to balance patient needs with administrative demands and has won several prestigious awards that recognize her success in achieving better patient outcomes.”

Dispel doubt. If you think your audience is scratching their collective heads as to why you are at the lectern, identify any incongruity or discrepancy that is creating that doubt and have an answer at the ready.

Here are some examples:

“I may appear too old to be talking about this, but …”

“Why is a chemist talking about art? Well ….”

“You may be wondering why the president of a small network of local banks is being asked to talk about the global financial market. These days, the global financial market is the market. Banks large and small have to have a deep understanding of how money is moving around the globe.”

“Five years ago, if someone would have told me I’d end up speaking to this group, I wouldn’t have believed it. My plan was never to enter this line of work, and my path to get here was not a conventional one. What I’ve come to learn over the past five years, though – from an internal and external perspective – has allowed me to see this issue with a unique lens. The reason I’m here is to share that alternative perspective.” 

Stress similarities. You are credible. You have the expertise. But, you believe your audience somehow does not believe you are uniquely qualified to be an expert on your topic. Maybe you are a young museum curator who is speaking to your peers who have been at it far longer than you have. Given studies show we are more likely to comply with a request that comes from a friend or someone who we believe is similar to us, share common bonds early on.

Here are some ways you could do that:

  • Play up your shared interests. Do you all have a passion for 18th century European print art? That already puts you and your audience in the same distinct club.
  • Identify common challenges. Misery loves company, but what is even more powerful is how you successfully overcame the same obstacles that vex your more established colleagues. How can the audience benefit from what you learned?
  • Utilize affiliations. Perhaps you worked with an expert in the field who is well-known to many in your audience. Or, you and many audience members graduated from the same university. Such affiliations often serve as a third-party endorsement of your skills and expertise.

Be wise with self-effacing humor. Modesty, humility, and the ability to laugh at oneself certainly can help to form a connection with your audience. Your jokes, however, should not undermine your credibility, question your expertise, or diminish the topic of your talk.

Doctor team with medical clinic background for nursing care professional teamwork and patient trust in hospital's hospitality concept

How it works

While social psychologists have discovered that we have a propensity to listen to, respect, and follow those in authority, that doesn’t mean you can expect blind obedience from your audience.

You move from inaction to action, noncompliance to compliance, or lack of understanding to understanding when you best convey your credentials and expertise early on in your talk. Audience members still need to decide for themselves if the argument or change you are seeking is in their best interest. When you are truthful, knowledgeable, and credible, you go a long way toward convincing them that it is.

This is Part Two of three techniques that can help you to become a more persuasive presenter. Look for Part Three in a future post.

Part One: Reciprocity, The Persuasive Gift that Keeps Giving