3 Ways a speaker can build trust

How Speakers Can Build Trust

As Amy Cuddy writes in her book Presence, research has shed light on how people (including your audiences) form those all-important first impressions. The two questions they are looking to answer, in this order, are “Can I trust this person?” and “Can I respect this person?”

In this article, I focus on the first question. By the time you finish reading this, you will have three techniques at your disposal to build trust with your audiences.

  1. Share your failures as well as your successes. Of course you want to establish your competence, but remember that applies to the second most important aspect, respect. That means that before you tell the story of some wonderful accomplishment that establishes your competence, tell a story of a time your efforts missed the mark.

An excellent way to do this is to use a technique known as “Then, Now, and How.” This is where you tell a story that represents a personal failure – one the audience can relate to emotionally – followed by the phrase, “Now fast-forward a few years” and your story of triumph. Then you ask the audience, “What do you think made the difference?” Once you have heard a few of their answers, you say, “Here’s how I was able to go from [your failure] to [your success]” and you give them your process. If you made them really feel the pain of your failure, they will now be eager to know how to avoid it themselves.

  1. Tell stories, especially ones where someone else is the hero. Stories are by far the best way to build trust and an emotional connection with your audience. However, they don’t always accomplish this! Why? Too often, it’s because a speaker will make himself the hero of every story. Who wants to hear someone repeat three variations on the theme of “Look what I can do!”? Instead of telling a story that illustrates your great wisdom, tell the story of the person who gave you that wisdom, back when you needed it most. Make that person – your “guru” – the focus of the story. For example, here is a key line in one of my speeches:

And then a friend of mine, Sherry Winn, said, “David, what you tell yourself becomes your truth.” That’s when it hit me: every time I said, “I’m not good enough,” I was rehearsing failure instead of success.

This shifts the focus from “Look what I know” to “Look what someone taught me.” It’s a subtle shift, but one that will make your audience much more receptive to your pearls of wisdom.

  1. Demonstrate integrity by making a promise and fulfilling it. Early in your speech, tease your audience with a promise of what they will get out of listening to you. Then, keep that promise.

Did you notice what I did there? I modeled this technique for you. See that promise I made in the second paragraph? I just fulfilled it! Granted, the payoff comes perhaps too late to make that first impression, but it will certainly leave your listeners feeling they made the right choice by giving you their trust from the beginning.

3 ½. Be authentic. Did I promise you three techniques? Sure, but who says I can’t exceed your expectations? Here’s perhaps the most important technique: don’t let your technique show! Audiences can spot superficial attempts to force a connection. If audiences truly can’t – or shouldn’t – trust you to put their needs ahead of your own, then you are starting from a trust deficit that no technique will fully overcome. If you are not there to serve the needs of your audience, then please stop talking and sit down!

There you have it. Did I fulfill my promise? More important, do you trust what I have told you?

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