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4 Ways Subject-Matter Experts Earn Their Clients’ Trust

3 min read

When you attune to your listeners’ preferences, explain clearly, and answer authentically, you will look like an expert.

You know what you’re doing—you’re an expert. Are your clients and colleagues convinced? Even a genius sole proprietor can’t make a living off brilliance alone: everyone needs to communicate to get and keep business. Presenting yourself well, in person and in writing, will ensure others see you as the trustworthy expert you are.

1. Match your audience’s tone when you can…

When you’re answering someone, it’s generally best to match that person’s level of friendliness and openness. Conversation is a multi-person game; “speakers and listeners work together” is one of its major rules.

Suppose you, a subject-matter expert, get a question about your field from someone who knows quite a bit less. If your response has a tone that’s drastically different from the asker’s, it often comes across as a rebuke. “No, I want to control this discussion. I know best.”

But that move marks you as insecure, like you think a certain tone is what it takes to prove you’re an expert. As far as delivery goes, a reasonable match—friendly if they are, matter-of-fact if they are—shows you’re working on people skills.

2. …and when you can’t, work to figure out what they need.

In a speech or an introductory letter, it’s harder to get your tone just right: you don’t have a back-and-forth to draw on for context. But you’ll still need to analyze your audience to figure out what approach is best.

Is your message going to an industry peer, a skeptical CEO, a group of interested prospects? You can probably look back on a few similar interactions, successful or not, that will guide you toward deciding how you’d like to come across.

And if you’re not sure, it’s helpful to ask someone with more experience. I may not know just how formal a given company culture is, but if it’s especially important that I present a great first impression, I’ll look toward a network of coworkers whose industry knowledge might help me.

3. Show you know your stuff, but also know how to explain.

When in doubt, remember: experts don’t impress others by being pompous. Nor do they come off well when their explanations sound glib or breezy. It’s mostly about simply delivered content: that’s what people are really looking for!

If you have good ideas, your audience wants to be able to understand them. So use words you know they’ll know, define new terms if you need to, and err on the side of over-explaining.

If you’re presenting information out loud, don’t be afraid to ask listeners for feedback on your speed, either. People who aren’t used to training or public speaking often explain new concepts too quickly.

4. Respond to the questions you get—not just the ones you’d like to answer.

This simple, fundamental principle is tied to all three areas the Ariel Group’s workshops cover. To come across as (and be) truly trustworthy, you need to engage in dialogue rather than a monologue.

How often have you listened to a Q&A in which the speaker just doesn’t answer the question? For a type of conversation that’s meant to satisfy listeners’ curiosity, it’s all too often totally free of the information they want. “Why didn’t you start your hiring search in-house?” someone might say. And the presenter nods: “Great question. We decided to use LinkedIn, which got us over fifty candidates. Over half of them were what we’d consider strong contenders.”

That’s an answer all right—which is more than we sometimes get. But it does not inspire trust.

While we’re sometimes able to hide the details behind a misstep, the process of hiding is often visible from the outside, and it undermines our credibility. Trustworthy people are ready to address others’ concerns, sometimes even before they’re voiced.

The best leaders don’t shrink from language like “I don’t know,” “I’m sorry,” “I made a mistake.” They’re human, like you, and all of us need to say these things sometimes.

We all want to look like we’re experts who know what we’re doing! The best way to do that, ironically enough, is to show you’re not afraid of the opposite. When you attune to your listeners’ preferences, explain clearly, and answer authentically, you will look like an expert—one they’ll want to use again.


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