Executive Speaking Weblog

Communication – the future of business

Are You the Authority?

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 25, 2008

You are speaking to a prospective client. You are making your pitch for business. As part of your presentation you quote some figures to support your argument. The question is, ‘Do you quote the source of the figures or do you leave that bit out?’

What is the answer? Well that all depends. What are you trying to achieve? Are you setting yourself up as the expert or are you after another authority to back your argument.

Today I was working with Peter as he prepared his sales pitch for new business. He is an expert in trading commodities (iron, oil, wheat etc). During his presentation he said,

‘BHP tells us that in the last 10 years, China has used more steel than the U.S. has used in the past 100 years. You need to be in commodities to be part of the action.’

So should you quote the figures as coming from BHP or leave them off?

What is the effect of quoting BHP in the figures? Quoting BHP as the source will set them up as the expert. They will be the people with the information and you will be seen as ‘the messanger’ that knows the information. This puts you in a subordinate role and not the true authority.

To overcome this, we changed the sentence to read,

‘In the last 10 years, China has used more steel than the U.S. has used in the past 100 years. You need to be in commodities to be part of the action.’

The difference is subtle, but profound. Without the reference to BHP, Peter became the expert. He was no longer playing a subordinate role to BHP. Peter was now the one to be listened too and the centre of authority. If he is pressed on where the figures come from, he could state that the figures come from BHP. This would act to further reinforce his position.

Should this be the tactic that you use all the time? Certinally not. Once you have set yourself up as the expert, you can use other authorities to support your position. By using other authorities to support your stance as an authority you are strengthening your position. However, if you do it the other way around, you will be seen as trying to achieve your authority by riding on the coat tails of others.

What if you are not an expert at what you are trying to argue? What do you do then?

This is where you can draw on other authorities to establish your credibility (as opposed to authority). By stating what you believe and then having others support your position you gain vicarious authority. Alternatively, you can state how others support what you are saying. This authority will never be as strong as setting yourself up as ‘the’ authority, but it will be better than having no authority at all.

Do you agree?

Cheers

Darren

Speak Motivate and Lead: How Real Leaders inspire others to follow

www.executivespeaking.com.au

 

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5 Responses to “Are You the Authority?”

  1. Darren, thanks for a very interesting and profound point about credibility and authority.

    One thing: I think that should be “effect”, rather than “affect” when talking about quoting the BHP source…

  2. Hi, Darren, this is a very good point. Leaving out the source of the information can be a very difficult issue, especially for people who are used to academic writing – you are always supposed to quote the source of your info, and there is a sense of intellectual dishonesty in passing off other people’s information as your own. It has taken me a long time to reconcile these issues (up to a point – I do still reference some things). Related issues are whether you should send out relevant and interesting articles by other experts, which can provide extra value to your clients, and the question that you and I discussed, should I interview experts and provide their insights as valuable information? I think the answer is still, as you say, “once you have established yourself solidly as an expert”. Otherwise you are constantly deferring to the expertise of others, and people can easily miss the point that the very reason you were able to find and provide this information to them is because of your own knowledge, interest and expertise.

    Thanks for an interesting piece.

  3. HI Shelley,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I take your point about academic writing/speaking and referenceing. However, I think that the academic world is different here (and many other ways!) In the academic world, the more you can quote other people the more informed you are perceived as being. I have found that in the ‘real world’ clients want ‘the expert’ and not someone who has read what ‘the experts’ have said. Because, after all, they could go and read what those experts have said too.

    Cheers

    Darren

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  5. HI Alex,

    No problems at all. Feel free to link back as many of the articles as you like.

    Cheers

    Darren

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