Across the globe, we trust scientists, doctors and teachers. Over half of us consider these professions to be trustworthy (Ipsos Global Advisor). Business leaders don’t fare so well. Just one in five are described as trustworthy and, perhaps not unexpectedly, politicians are at the bottom of the heap with a mere one in ten of us placing our trust in them.
What is it about scientists, doctors and teachers that makes us trust them?
We tend to associate them with putting us first, caring about what happens to us, rather than their own self-interest. They have integrity, seemingly share our values and we tend to consider them competent and reliable.
When they speak to us, we sense their sincerity and credibility. That trust matters because it creates a connection, a willingness to listen and engage and, ultimately, to do business.
To become business owners that people trust, we need to convey such qualities and speaking and presenting are our golden opportunity to develop trust among potential clients, employees and other stakeholders.
Whether via Zoom or in person in the room, you need to demonstrate your trustworthiness across the three communication essentials of Connection, a message that drives Change and Confidence.
Trustworthy connections happen when you demonstrate you’re likable, as well as competent, reliable and engaging. The more you know about your audience, the stronger your ability to connect sincerely with them and influence their thinking and behaviour on their terms.
Consider for a moment pitching for new business. You don’t just focus on the product or service you’re offering, but also what the working relationship will be like. You’re selling trust that you can deliver, but also an experience the client will enjoy.
Likeability and shared values
There’s no getting away from the fact that if our audiences don’t like us, they won’t connect with us or what we have to say – so our first job, when we are in front of an audience, is to give them things to like. This means we need to make people feel good about us.
Think about how you connect with people socially. You probably smile, make good eye contact, talk in a friendly and interested conversational style, etc.
This can only work when you are being yourself, openly and sincerely, with nothing to hide, sharing personal stories and vulnerabilities. By showing people who you are, your beliefs and values, they can relate to you as a fellow human being and begin to trust you.
As far as possible, choose to talk about subjects that you care about, your ‘why’. Granted, this may not always be possible. In such situations, try to find angles that are important to you and matter to your listeners.
When you talk about something you care about, your sincerity and enthusiasm for your subject shine through. It is yours and, assuming you’ve taken care to choose a topic that’s relevant to your audience, they will happily connect and engage with you.
It’s no coincidence that judges on reality TV shows talk about a contestant being relatable or say ‘I like you’. This happens when they come across as someone who could be a friend. They can feel the person’s vulnerability and humanity.
Part of this process involves using language and gestures that are aligned with your listeners’. In addition, the word ‘you’ in the English language gives the sense that you are having a one-to-one conversation with each person in your audience and conveys a sense of caring about them as individuals.
In business, we don’t just trade products and services, but also the experience of working together. We need to convey the quality of that experience, so presenting ourselves as likeable is key.
Competence and reliability
However, likeability alone is not enough. When Mr Bean travels to America with the responsibility of bringing a highly valuable painting to a Los Angeles museum, he is likeable, but far from competent or reliable.
What you say also needs to be well researched and accurate as evidence of your competence and reliability. Testimonials and recommendations can also help here.
A combination of evidenced information, illustrated with relevant and relatable stories and anecdotes connects, engages and stands out.
Storytelling connects us as human beings. Opening a presentation with a well-crafted and relevant personal story will captivate an audience. And because it’s personal, it’s authentic and uniquely yours to tell.
Stories are not only relatable, but they are also memorable and far more so than facts and figures. So, judiciously used stories and anecdotes that are relevant and presented in the appropriate speaking style for your audience are invaluable in connecting with your audience and making a positive impact.
Your delivery is perhaps even more important in demonstrating competence and reliability as a business leader, supplier or employer. Congruency is paramount in transmitting sincerity and trustworthiness because your body doesn’t lie. If your words don’t match your facial expressions or hand gestures, audiences will believe what they see over what they hear.
You want to use gestures and expressions that feel natural and reinforce your words and meaning. Be aware of your body language in everyday conversation and bring that authenticity to your speeches and presentations, scaling up or down for the size of your audience and the platform (scale it up for a large conference style, dial it down for a smaller video meeting).
A sincere message that drives change
We’re seeing increasing numbers of articles about Zoom fatigue and Teams tedium. As business owners, we have a responsibility to make sure we’re not adding to this groundswell of disappointing meetings and events that seem to lack purpose and relevance.
Speaking is a privilege, an opportunity to share your knowledge in a way that positively impacts others. There is no point in speaking if you are only going to tell people what they already know. Having researched your audience, you will have a good idea of what information and message they’ll value, i.e. what’s relevant to them.
However, not any message will do. It needs to be something you also care about, so that your sincerity shines through and your audience meets the authentic you.
The acid test is to swap places with your audience and answer the question “What do I get out of listening to this talk/presentation?” What’s in it for me? A key element of building trust in the way of a teacher or doctor is that they’re doing it for us; there’s no sense of self-interest in the way that we might suspect in a politician. It matters, personally.
To avoid self-interest and ensure we focus on the needs of our listeners we must start by thinking about our message and its value to our listeners. When preparing a speech, try starting at the end. What do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently after they’ve heard your talk or presentation?
What is the single most important message you need them to take away? Jot it down in large letters in fewer than ten words and keep it visible. Any content you try to include that doesn’t support your message doesn’t belong in this particular talk or presentation.
Confidence matters because it is part of your authority and credibility as a businessperson and as a speaker.
If you don’t feel confident in what you have to say, then why should your audience? When audiences sense you’re nervous, they will often be more concerned about your wellbeing or even whether you have something to hide.
Authenticity is key here. We shouldn’t assume being confident means being extrovert, but it is about being yourself.
People often say to me that they can’t be a good speaker because they are introverts and feel uncomfortable trying to show up as some high-energy, gregarious, perhaps larger-than-life version of themselves. Maintaining this persona is untenable and exhausting. It’s also unnecessary.
Public speaking isn’t about being a ‘big’ presence. When you are yourself and talking about something that matters to you and your audience, people will listen. Quiet confidence is still confidence.
People like Bill Gates, JK Rowling and Mahatma Gandhi are all testimony to how introverts can be great speakers, not least because they understand that speaking is about connecting sincerely with their audience and sharing their ‘why’ to benefit others.
Sincere body language is fundamental in communicating confidence and delivering trust:
- A sincere smile engenders both likeability and trust.
- Steady and assured eye contact helps people feel comfortable and willing to engage.
- An open stance and posture show that you have nothing to hide. They send a signal to the audience that you are confident and open.
- Your voice is part of who you are. Your accent is part of your identity. Authenticity is not about trying to hide or change your voice. It’s about being proud of your voice and learning how to use it effectively so that you bring both ease of understanding and interest to your listeners. If you stumble over certain words, don’t use them, or practise tongue twisters to make them easier to say. Think about the pace, pitch and volume of your voice and how to project it so that your words are clear, interesting and meaningful. Use pauses for impact or, for instance, to give your audience time to reflect on what you’re saying.
Trustworthy speaking styles
Sincerity is at the heart of skilful speeches, talks and presentations that enable you to deliver a meaningful and memorable message to your audiences and engender trust in all aspects of your business and among all your stakeholders.
Of course, different audiences and speaking situations may well require different speaking styles. For instance, if you’re talking to a technical audience, they tend to favour visual aids and ‘data’ to support your message. That’s not to say that they don’t appreciate a story or anecdote, but they also value an evidence-based focus.
If your intention is to inspire, you probably need to share your personal story, reveal your vulnerabilities and invite your audience to adopt your experience and learnings into their own lives. In these situations, slides can be an obstacle and undermine the emotional connection of a story.
During a new business pitch, you obviously need to demonstrate your competence for the proposed project, but also what it will be like to work with you. It is after all often the nature of the working relationship that differentiates one business offer from another.
Whatever style you deem appropriate to connect with, and delight, your audience, remaining ‘true to you’ is crucial. If you try to conceal the real you behind some persona, your audience will know and wonder what you’re hiding.
A final thought…
Trust is, arguably, your most important business asset. Without it, you’ll struggle to develop long-term and lucrative client relationships, have an enviable record in staff retention and be a go-to spokesperson for your other stakeholders. Sincere speaking will help you stand out as a trustworthy business owner and continuously build business success.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Lyn Roseaman, DTM, a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit educational organisation where Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. With 400+ clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, find your local club at Toastmasters.org
More help on perfecting presentations, pitches and talks
You can find lots more tips to help you deliver winning presentations, pitches and and talks in these other ByteStart guides;
- 12 Common Presenting & Public Speaking Myths De-Bunked
- The 3 Golden Principles of Public Speaking
- The 10 Things You’re Doing Wrong in Your Presentations & How to Fix Them
- How NOT to Network – 7 Business Networking Mistakes to Avoid
- How to Get More Out of Your Networking Than Passable Plonk & Canapés
- The “Magic 10” Tips on Networking – How the Experts Build Great Networks
- Perfecting your pitch: 10 Principles for entrepreneurs
- How to deliver ‘rocking’ presentations and pitches that will captivate your audience
- Harness the “Power of Three” to nail your pitch