How to Influence an Audience When You Lack Authority

Many presentations are doomed to fail from the start because the presenter believes they lack authority. We see so many clients who are genuinely scared about presenting to a room full of eminent people, but they really shouldn’t be. It’s amazing to see how the very same people can change their outlook completely once we give them some quite basic advice. So we will share this advice now, and we will make the promise that all of the tips and tricks we are about to share are applicable to absolutely anybody, whatever level of ‘authority’ you think you may have.

How to Make it Easy for Yourself

It’s only natural to start planning a presentation by thinking about yourself and what you will say to the audience, but your best chance of eliminating the issue of ‘lacking authority’ is to start by concentrating on them.

Get this right and the content of your presentation will effectively write itself, i.e. if you truly understand who you are speaking to then it figures you will have a very good idea of what they want to hear. And if you say what people want/need to hear then it is completely irrelevant what high-powered job or dazzling expertise they may have. They will listen to you. Every time.

Research Research Research

This really is the easy bit. It doesn’t require talent, it doesn’t require charisma, it has nothing whatsoever to do with how confident you are as a public speaker… it’s just simply a matter of diligence. Just who exactly is going to be in the audience, and why are they there?

One email or phone call in the run up to your presentation could be enough here – in fact you may not even have to do as much as that. If you are speaking to other members of your company and/or existing clients for example, you may know some or all of your audience personally. In which case the brief is to simply make an educated evaluation as to what they might be hoping to gain from listening to your presentation.

If you don’t know who you will be presenting to, then find out! In almost any conceivable public-speaking scenario, information on who will be in the audience will be readily available. You may not know them in the same way you would know work colleagues, but you only need a small amount of information in order to make that all-important educated evaluation. What companies/organisations are represented? What is the range of expertise in the room? What might they be trying to learn?

To reiterate the point: once you’ve done this educated evaluation , whatever ‘authority’ you may appear to have in comparison to the audience should be of no concern. The very existence of an audience suggests there are people in the room willing to listen to what you have to say, so the only remaining challenge is to say it correctly.

Open Their Ears


There’s the old adage that people always prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust. The same applies to what we’re talking about here, i.e. if your audience knows, likes and trusts you then by default you will have enough authority to compel them to listen.

An interesting example to cite here is Jacinda Adern, the recently sworn-in Prime Minister of New Zealand. Despite admitting publicly that she thought she would struggle to cope with the rigours of being PM if the job ever came up, the nation gave her their resounding backing. Nothing diminishes authority more than apology and admission of weakness, but Jacinda Adern is proof that likability trumps authority. What ultimately won the day was the fact her audience felt like they knew, liked and trusted her.

The takeaway here is not that you should go off and look for an excuse to be self-deprecating. It is that you should think about what sides of your personality/back story you need to share in order to get people to like you.

Craft the Message and Deliver with Conviction


Once the audience is on-side your authority will only become an issue if your message is confused and/or your delivery of the message is poor. There are a multitude of things to consider here, such as body language, use of pausing and the simplicity of your arguments, but the upshot is always that if your basic presentation skills are good enough, your authority is good enough.

DO NOT

Pretend to have authority you don’t actually have. It can be tempting to exaggerate your back story in order to impress an audience, but there is more than enough you can do to engage your audience without having to pretend. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of misleading people, the risk of tripping yourself up (not to mention the extra nervousness you will feel when trying to avoid this) is far too great to make it a viable option.

A Final Note on Authority

Why is authority important anyway? Our parents had authority over us when we were children but that didn’t stop us trying to influence them. So the same should be true of an audience you’re presenting to. If you’ve done enough homework on the audience, a well-executed presentation should be good enough to influence anybody.

If you would like to learn more about leveraging rhetoric and body language to persuade an audience, get in touch with us today.

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