How to influence if you’re not an expert (yet)


In his best-selling book, ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’, Professor Robert Cialdini sets out six ways to influence others:

  • Liking
  • Reciprocity
  • Social proof
  • Commitment and consistency
  • Scarcity
  • Authority

Based on participants’ questions in my workshops on topics such as presentations, communication or – surprise – influencing and persuading*, the last of the six can bedevil the less-experienced: Authority.

Q: “How can I have authority if I don’t have much experience?”

A: “You can borrow expertise and knowledge while you’re building your authority”

This isn’t about claiming someone else’s work as your own. It’s about drawing on reputable sources to support your point.  Let’s take an example of preparing a presentation.

1. Focus on what’s needed

What do you need to happen as a result of your presentation? Get agreement to start a project, consider a change in direction, or have a budget approved? What does your audience need from your presentation? What questions do they need to have answered? Forming questions will help you focus as you search for the authority of others, rather than going down a rabbit-hole.

2. Who and what does your audience respect?

Your audience may have their own data that you can access and use. There may be a professional or industry body that regularly shares research and trends. Check the source: when was the research carried out, with whom? Who paid for it? As one of my former tutors always warned us: “no data are innocent!”

3. Beware fads and fallacies

What’s hot may not be based on sound facts. What worked before might not work again (a bias known as ‘gambler’s fallacy’). Beware borrowing others’ guesses and hunches.

4. Safety in numbers

Borrowed authority is best supported by multiple sources. Focus on just one and you run the risk of quoting a source that your audience can easily brush aside. Aim for at least three attributed sources to support your main message.

5. Test and take a contrary view

In what ways might your audience challenge your supporting data? It can be all too easy to let our biases (such as confirmation bias) distort our view, cherry-picking data that support our own opinion. Play ‘devil’s advocate’ – or better still, get someone else to – and test your viewpoint from a different perspective.

*No, I don’t use Prof Cialdini’s material in Zoomly’s ‘How to Influence and Persuade’ workshop; however, the book is a recommended read for the topic.


You may find this post useful: ‘Appealing to people’s preferences to be more persuasive – respectfully’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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