How to Establish Trust With Your Audience When Delivering a Sales Pitch

Business.com / Leadership / Last Modified: November 29, 2017
Photo credit: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock

To be heard and inspire your audience to take action, you need to be perceived as a trusted authority. How exactly do you get to that level when you're just starting out? Here are four quick hacks to quickly establish trust when delivering a presentation or sales pitch.

A riveting story structure and a visually arresting deck are both requisites of a great presentation or pitch. However, apart from the other presentation mistakes you might make, all your work developing your presentation might be for naught if your audiences don't trust you. If you can't establish credibility early on in your presentation, your message will likely fall on deaf ears.

The adage "Trust isn’t given, it's earned" usually rings true here. Problem is, trust is typically hard to earn. And, unlike personal selling, you don't always get to build a rapport with your audience on a one-to-one basis. Instead, it's likely you'll only speak to a group of people when you're delivering a presentation.

Your credibility during a presentation depends on three factors:

  1. If the audience feels you are authentic and honest as a speaker. Nobody likes a sleazy salesperson. If you appear to be untrustworthy or evasive when delivering your presentation, you can expect to face obstacles getting your audience to take action or believe what you say.

  2. Whether you are perceived as an expert on your topic of choice. There are way too many people calling themselves gurus, and audience members are quick to make snap judgments based on whether you have the requisite knowledge or expertise.

  3. How well you can appeal to your audiences. Even if you hit all the right notes in the other two areas, you might not always appeal to certain audience members that might have deep-seated prejudices which conflict with your cause.

Below are four ways to implicitly build and establish trust as you deliver your presentation.

1. Back up what you say with evidence.

It's easy to make sweeping claims like "We're the best company in this industry," but supporting these audacious statements with hard facts and data is where it gets challenging.

Naturally, you won't always have research to back up every assertion or opinion you might have, but there are some ways you can provide valid references or hard evidence in varying degrees of credibility.

Referencing research papers and aggregated statistics

You'd be surprised at the extent of research that has been published. Scientists have conducted experiments and research on topics such as how to be more persuasive to statistics on mobile penetration in specific countries.

In a formal business presentation setting, there are occasions when you'll need to reference quantitative evidence on why certain business decisions need to be made. These obviously can't be based on your own personal opinion, but, instead, on hard, indisputable factual evidence.

Quote respected authorities or experts

In some cases where you're urging action to be taken on some issue for which you can't find quantitative data, citing a strong endorsement or quote from an authority figure is the next best thing.

As theorized by Robert Cialdini in his book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," we trust people who are considered authorities in their respective fields. For example, Jack Ma of Alibaba has risen to fame as an entrepreneur and business magnate to the extent that his foresight on market climates and the future of industries is widely cited. Can we say that his statements are 100 percent accurate? No. Yet, we still afford his words credibility because of his stature, background and inherent expertise.

2. Develop your expert identity.

A Nielsen research study found that consumers unanimously seek out information and take action based on content provided by companies or journalists the public perceives to be experts. It is critical, therefore, that you are perceived as someone who has the relevant expertise.

One way to do this implicitly is by weaving a mix of client testimonials, credentials and relevant awards to signify your knowledge and expertise.

Share client testimonials and credentials

A great way to immediately build credibility is by sharing customer testimonials that cast you in a positive light. Testimonials are a quick way to do this without seeming like you're selling yourself – instead, it's someone else doing the selling. If you can't share testimonials, sometimes showing a list of past clients you've worked with can help assure your audience that others have put their trust in you, and this can boost your image.

Have an unconventional opinion

True experts are expected to have original ideas that sometimes go against the grain of commonly touted advice or industry norms. While you shouldn't actively seek to be contrarian for the sake of it, being able to hold your ground and have a clear stance is indicative of an expert who knows what they're talking about.

An easy way to do this is to identify a common but misguided belief that the industry has and logically debunk it with your own theory. Having an original stance and supporting it with evidence can quickly convert your audience to perceive you as an expert.

People are captivated by individuals like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk precisely because they seem to offer ideas that are novel and unique. At the same time, because their ideas are at odds with the current status quo, we're drawn to their narratives because of either the underdog effect (e.g., when Apple competes against conglomerates like IBM) or the protagonist-antagonist dynamic of their vision (e.g., Elon Musk fighting against pollution and innovating beyond the public's current perception of what's possible).

Share relevant credentials that matter to your audience

Audiences have various ways of evaluating a speaker's trustworthiness. Being aware of these methods can give you an edge in establishing trust with your audience. For example, if you're aware that your audience values globalized insights, having a slide that validates your experience in a global setting can help you develop a strong position of authority.

In certain industries, factors, like age, play a role in whether your audiences listen to you or discount your views. For example, in tech companies, older workers are often perceived to take longer to "come to grips with new skills." If you're speaking at a tech-related event, it might not be the best strategy to boast about your age, but taking the time to prepare your presentation beforehand and taking into account certain issues and perceptions can make or break your presentation.

3. Add value to your audience.

Remember, your presentation is never about you; it's about your audience. It's about what they want to achieve and how you can help them get there. As such, it's imperative that you find out as much about your audience as is possible prior to developing your presentation. When crafting your presentation, strive to add value, rather than force-feeding your audience a solution they don't need.

Use examples that resonate with your audience

Think back to when you were back in school, listening to a lecturer offer examples that didn't interest you in the least bit. Similarly, if you were speaking to millennials today, there are specific areas of overlapping interest where you can build a rapport.

If you're talking about a business-related topic, try referencing popular companies like SnapChat or Instagram that millennials interact with on a daily basis.

4. Put a process of execution in place.

According to an Accenture study, 94 percent of B2B buyers conduct online research at some point in the buying process. This makes it difficult if you're trying to breeze through your sales pitch without providing any real substance.

In another study by Bain, 375 companies were asked if they felt they delivered a superior value proposition to clients. Eighty percent said yes. Bain then asked the clients of these companies polled if they agreed that the specific company that they bought from delivered this superior value proposition. You know what’s funny? Only 8 percent agreed.

One way to get you closer to buy-in is to detail a process of execution. Generally, when we buy anything today, we have unlimited access to information online to compare products and services and make an informed choice. 

Whenever you're doubtful as to whether your presentation establishes trust, ask yourself if it fulfills these four criteria:

  1. You back up what you say with evidence.
  2. You've developed an expert identity for yourself.
  3. You have a genuine intent to add value to your audience.
  4. You've detailed a process of execution.

There you have it – four ways to establish trust during your presentations, whether you're on a stage, in the boardroom or being piped in digitally.

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