This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
People believe an expert. Research has consistently shown that the opinion of an expert quoted in a major newspaper or on a national television news program can shift public opinion immediately by up to 5%.
Also, findings from the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer survey echoed consistent results from previous years in rating company technical experts and academic experts as “very or extremely” credible sources of information about a company. The details were as follows:
(In our ‘post-truth’ age, this principle isn’t quite as true as it used to be. Some people only want to hear their own pre-set views repeated by others, especially in politics. This is called Confirmation Bias, which is alignment with a person’s current beliefs. Accepting a claim that fits in with our belief system is easy to do. However, accepting a different view may pose a challenge our beliefs and makes the change harder to accept. Nevertheless, I suspect over time, truth will become more respected again as events unfold.)
When someone has expertise in a particular field, their credentials should be communicated to the target audience so the audience understands the value of the credentials. When this is done, the audience will take notice and align much more readily with the views of the expert.
For instance, if you want to demonstrate your knowledge in a particular field, the simple act of placing your (or your organization’s) awards, diplomas and certificates on the wall where visitors can see them, increases the visitors’ respect in one stroke.
In a more subtle way, if you are due to deal with someone to negotiate or participate in an important meeting with them, it is worth getting together with them beforehand to have a meal or a few drinks together. These occasions make discussions easier, especially when each person can share common experiences and grounds for liking the other person. Anecdotes become useful ways of demonstrating that you have solved a problem successfully that is similar to the problem at hand.
Likewise, you can chat casually before a meeting starts, enabling you to establish your expertise as part of a sociable exchange, and positioning yourself subtly as an expert before the business at hand begins.
In a similar way, you can enlist third party endorsement. If you have an issue looming, or even a crisis, you can approach an expert such as a university professor or medical researcher to explain the situation and seek their support. If that person is willing, you can nominate them to media and stakeholders (including adversaries) as an independent person who can offer their considered view, which coincides with yours.
You may not even need to ask for their support. You may already know their view in principle or as previously expressed, and therefore you can safely suggest to others that the endorser is worth talking with.
Testimonials are effective as another form of third party support. You can ask a customer or expert for their considered view of your product or service and gain their permission to quote them. However, to be effective, the testimonial should indicate the person’s initial view and the specific benefits gained from using your product or service. Ideally, you would use a photo of them and show their first name and last name and preferably the name of the organization where they work as well as their email address.
(This is one of six principles outlined in Influence: Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini.)
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