Presentation Skills

Establishing Authority

What is establishing authority?

You’re about to give a presentation. Your topic is Cryptocurrency: Investment Opportunity or Folly? Your audience is made up of businesspeople – bankers, accountants, lawyers, perhaps some CEO’s and CFO’s of small companies.

Why should they listen to you?

After all, they’re all smart people. What makes you think you know more than they do? The audience looks restless. They’ve been to presentations before that were a waste of time. You need to let them know - and quickly - that you have expertise on your topic and that you have valuable experiences to share.

You can do this through a simple technique called establishing authority.

Basically, you explain at or near the beginning of your presentation exactly why you are qualified to talk about your topic.

For example, for the scenario above:

As a portfolio manager with over 25 years of experience, I first became interested in cryptocurrency around 10 years ago. Using selection techniques which I will share with you today, I slowly increased my exposure to various cryptocurrencies to achieve an average annual return of 13.5% over the past five years.

Now, your audience has a reason to listen to you. Now, they know that you know exactly what you are talking about. The audience is no longer restless; they are listening attentively to every word.

Sometimes and important speaker will be introduced by an emcee who will summarize their profile:

Our next speaker, ladies and gentlemen, is a portfolio manager working at Ridgeway Financial. He has over 25 years of industry experience and currently manages investment portfolios worth $500 million. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome...

This is also a way of establishing authority, but it’s not as powerful as when you do it yourself.


Let’s look at three examples from TED Talks.

Example 1

In our first example, David Rose establishes his authority very directly right at the beginning of his talk, by referencing the amounts of money he has raised and invested:

Good morning. My name is David Rose. I am a serial entrepreneur turned serial investor. And by the use of pitching PowerPoints to VCs, I have personally raised tens of millions of dollars from VCs through PowerPoint pitches. And turning to the other side of the equation, I've personally supervised the investment of tens of millions of dollars into companies who have pitched me with PowerPoint presentations. So I think it's safe to say I know a little bit about the process of pitching.

Watch the video below:

Example 2

In our second example, Professor Linda Hill begins modestly by talking about how she has only recently changed her views on the relationship between leadership and innovation.

However, in the second paragraph, she talks about her experience as an ethnographer in great detail. It’s a very persuasive way to show us that she is well-qualified to talk about her presentation topic.

I have a confession to make. I'm a business professor whose ambition has been to help people learn to lead. But recently, I've discovered that what many of us think of as great leadership does not work when it comes to leading innovation.

I'm an ethnographer. I use the methods of anthropology to understand the questions in which I'm interested. So along with three co-conspirators, I spent nearly a decade observing up close and personal exceptional leaders of innovation. We studied 16 men and women, located in seven countries across the globe, working in 12 different industries. In total, we spent hundreds of hours on the ground, on-site, watching these leaders in action. We ended up with pages and pages and pages of field notes that we analyzed and looked for patterns in what our leaders did. The bottom line? If we want to build organizations that can innovate time and again, we must unlearn our conventional notions of leadership.

Watch the video below:

Example 3

In our final example, Audrey Choi takes a double approach to establishing her authority. First, (in the second paragraph below), she talks about her unusual family background. She wants to explain why she is able to look at things from a unique point of view (“that has made my story so different”).

Then, in the third paragraph, she establishes her authority in a more conventional way, mentioning that she has worked for The Wall Street Journal, The White House and one of the largest financial institutions in the world.

In fact, this is a great example of establishing authority and really makes the audience want to learn from her.

I believe big institutions have unique potential to create change, and I believe that we as individuals have unique power to influence the direction that those institutions take.

Now, these beliefs did not come naturally to me, because trusting big institutions, not really part of my family legacy. My mother escaped North Korea when she was 10 years old. To do so, she had to elude every big institution in her life: repressive governments, occupying armies and even armed border patrols. Later, when she decided she wanted to emigrate to the United States, she had to defy an entire culture that said the girls would never be the best and brightest. Only because her name happens to sound like a boy's was she able to finagle her way into the government immigration exam to come to the United States.

Because of her bravery and passion, I've had all the opportunities that she never did, and that has made my story so different. Instead of running away from big institutions, I've actually run toward them. I've had the chance over the course of my career to work for The Wall Street Journal, the White House and now one of the largest financial institutions in the world, where I lead sustainable investing.

Watch the video below:

Final tips

Following our three great examples, here are some tips for establishing your authority:

Good luck with your presentations!