Audiences Need to Trust You Before They Trust Your Message

By Jim Endicott

PolitiFact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website, is one of several that are prominent in our daily newspapers these days. What I happen to like is the little meter at the top of the column that rates a recent statement from a politician from True (a rating seldom seen) to Pants on Fire.

No matter what your political persuasion, on any given day you’re likely to find some politician skirting the edge of accuracy if not downright misleading the American people with facts and figures.

I’m not sure if we ever really take all the shock-and-awe statistics thrown at us as gospel (unless it happens to be your favorite candidate), but what we’ve unfortunately come to accept is that ”white lies,” statistical slight-of-hand, half-truths and outright deception using data are too often the norm. And people can screw with numbers to make just about any case.

So how do those perceptions rub off on us as presenters? Whether we like it or not, our audiences have been tainted with a general skepticism towards communicated data. Remember when we were encouraged to start a presentation with “an interesting fact or statistic”?  Now research suggests we might be better off finding a new opener.

You see, audiences need to trust you before they trust your message. And statistics don’t automatically equal trust any more. So maybe it’s time to start earning audiences trust the old fashioned way – by building relationships. And that brand of audience engagement always seems to have pieces of these elements: a healthy dose of personal transparency, the ability to communicate shared experiences effectively and a vulnerability that can admit when you don’t have all the answers. That’s refreshing…and compelling.

You see first and foremost, the art of presenting is a relational skill, not a technical one.

And the most riveting and “astounding” statistic won’t do you much good if people resist taking it at face value. There’s a simple truth about human relationships – trust always comes before belief – a lesson politicians of all stripes need to learn, and soon.

About the Author:

Jim Endicott is president of Distinction Communication Inc, a Newberg, OR consulting firm specializing in message development, presentation design and delivery skills coaching. For more information about his firm’s services, visit www.distinction-services.com

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