Building Trust while Giving a Speech

Christopher Witt —  February 26, 2013

When you give a speech, especially when you want to influence your audience, you must first win their trust. 

Trust is a belief in or a reliance on a person’s competence, integrity, and benevolence.

  • Competence: People are able to do what they intend or promise to do. If we doubt people’s ability to carry through on their good intentions or to keep their promises, we won’t trust them.
  • Integrity: People consistently act in accord with ethical standards: they are honest, fair, and decent. It’s hard, if not impossible, to trust people who do bad things.
  • Benevolence: People are concerned about other people’s welfare. They may have their own agendas and goals, but they care about other people’s feelings, needs, and wellbeing. We distrust people — for good reason — who are only out for themselves.

Hard Truths about Building Trust

It would be nice to think that there are simple rules — dos and don’ts — for building trust. (Do tell the truth. Do be respectful. Do keep your promises. Don’t withhold information that people need and have the right to.) But the truth is more complex and challenging.

1. There’s No Quick and Easy Way to Build Trust.

We earn trust by showing people over and over again that they can rely on our competence, integrity, and benevolence. And we earn people’s trust, paradoxically, by trusting them.

2. Building Trust Is Not All Up to Us.

Sometimes people distrust us not because of what we do or say, but because of their experiences, expectations, and temperaments. It’s only in our power to be worthy of trust. It’s up to the other person to choose to trust us or not.

3. Trust Puts Us at Risk.

When we trust others, we accept and believe in their words, actions, and decisions. And we may be wrong. To earn people’s trust, we let them know what we think and feel, what matters to us, what we want. And they may use it against us. If no risk is involved, trust is unnecessary.

Trust is not easily given, nor easily earned. That is, in part, what makes it so valuable.

There are things you can do when giving a speech — techniques you can employ — to build rapport with an audience. (Establishing rapport is one step in building trust with an audience.) But it’s more important (and effective) simply to be worthy of trust. Your competence, integrity, and benevolence will show through in your words, in your voice, in your gestures. And that’s what matters, isn’t it?


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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.