How to Establish Authority

Through a strange sequence of events, a college friend had his rehearsal dinner at a major celebrity’s property. We’re talking major-major. Everyone reading this knows who this guy is.

As a courtesy, the couple invites Famous Guy to the rehearsal dinner. Never do they think he’ll show up. Oh, but he does. 

Without prompting, the room goes silent. Perhaps out of awkwardness, perhaps out of social obligation, Famous Guy walks to the front of the room. He starts to give a speech.

Now, you would think that in a ten minute speech, he’d find a few seconds to, I don’t know, congratulate the happy couple?

Nope. Instead, it’s ten minutes of “can you believe how good the food is here?” and “have you walked around the whole property?” and “don’t we have the most amazing staff?”

Nothing about the couple.
Nothing about the wedding.
Everything about himself. 

Why am I bringing this up right now?

Well, a few weeks ago I was helping a sales team in Colorado. Given the chance to practice their pitch, everyone began the exact same way:

My name is __ I’ve been in this industry for [NUMBER OF YEARS] I’ve worked at this company for [AMOUNT OF TIME] Before that I worked for [OTHER COMPANY]

Don’t be that guy.

Y’all. You don’t need to read your resume to your audience. At best that comes off as braggy; more likely it comes off as insecure.

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking – then where does my authority come from?

To that, I say: Bravo to you for thinking about the authority part. But when you are presenting, you need to do so with both authority AND empathy.

Empathy meaning putting yourself in the audience’s shoes.

If you do that, you’ll realize nobody wants to hear your resume. Think about it. Have you ever sat in rapt attention as a presenter walks you through their professional background?

Let’s look at a better way of doing this.

Version 1 (braggy/insecure, desperate to prove you have authority):

My name is ___
I spent 22 years in private equity, where I worked with clients X, Y and Z.

Then I came to work here and have spent the past year as the CFO.

Version 2 (combining empathy and authority):

My name is __ . For twenty-two years I worked in private equity. And when I worked in private equity, I was always on the lookout for companies that had high opportunity for growth AND did social good. One day there was one that stood out in a way I’d never seen before.

That’s the company that persuaded me to leave private equity. I had never seen a better opportunity to work for a company that could provide growth AND help the world. I’d love to spend the next XX minutes telling you about that company.

Now you’re using your expertise in a way that helps them understand the topic – which, by the way, is the whole reason the speech should be taking place.

My friends, if your instinct is to read your resume or the top of your LinkedIn profile, instead ask yourself:

How can I make this information connect to my audience?

If you can do that, you’re golden.

P.S. Some of you are reading this right now thinking “OMG but I don’t have 20 years of experience. I have never been published in Entrepreneur. Now what do I do?”

I’ll let you in on a secret: In the whole time that I worked for Duarte (eight years, intimidating audiences, hundreds of workshops), rarrrrrrelllly did I say anything about my background or qualifications. Under five times total.


Because the ultimate blend of empathy and authority is when you are confident. When you know the material inside and out. People can see that from the first moment on stage and they know: I can trust this speaker.


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Metaphorically speaking, a lot of us do the same when we start a speech: we make it all about ourselves. We read our resume to the audience.

Y’all. We don’t need to do that. At best that comes off as braggy; more likely it comes off as insecure. 

Don't be that guy.

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These are stories, hacks, speech critiques and recommendations. I spend an inordinate amount of time writing these.


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