A professor in Nanjing, China had the bright idea of getting his students to put on a play with Japanese students.
This was a bright idea because most historians tell us that the Japanese army massacred 300,000 civilians in Nanjing during WWII.
When the students got together, they first planned to put on a 20-year-old Japanese play, but the Japanese students soon realized it was anti-Japanese, and withdrew their support.
Then the students decided to create a play using the structure of the Indian folk-tale in which six blind men feel an elephant and describe it from their own experience-one from the trunk, another from the ear, etc. But this became unsatisfactory as a drama.
Finally, they wrote a play about themselves struggling to write a play. They put it on in Nanjing, and the audience was deeply moved.
One of the Japanese students said of the experience, "We couldn't even talk about the war until we got to know each other and became friends. You have to build trust first, then you can talk."
"Build trust first, then talk" would appear to be true for the students in Nanjing, but every communicator has to talk first in order to build trust. Moreover, most public speaking--an important form of business communication--is a monologue. It's one-way: the speaker speaks and the audience listens.
So how do we speak first, then earn trust? Keep your focus on the needs of your listeners. Then, structure your message and delivery to ensure this focus is clear.
Be genuinely interested in helping your listeners. Genuinely. Actually. Shall I say that again? Really interested in helping! Lower your self interest and get more interested in them. Want more for them than you want for yourself.
Structure a presentation or pitch so it's like a conversation. When you raise a point that some listeners might disagree with, give voice to their point of view, and address their concerns. And of course, invite questions either during your talk or at the end.
Display humility. Humility is profoundly appealing and inspiring of trust. It speaks of wisdom, perspective, depth of feeling, sensitivity. Humility is not lack of self-respect. It is the zenith of self-knowledge. Any young hotshot can display cockiness. It takes true character to approach people with humility.
Display confidence. This does not contradict the display of humility. The easiest way to display confidence is to be confident. And the easiest way to be confident is to know what your listeners need and how you can help.
Get personal. Reveal something about yourself. Speak from your experience. Be vulnerable. I've written elsewhere about a woman at an executive meeting who revealed to her colleagues, after many years of close collaboration, that she had worked as an exotic dancer to pay for college. She made her point that we all come from somewhere-and we can get where we want to go if we keep our eyes on the prize.
Stay balanced. Speak to your listeners as an equal. Do not think of yourself as lesser than them, even if you are younger, poorer, or less knowledgeable. And do not let yourself think that you are better than them--that you are older, richer, or wiser. They will feel your arrogance, and withdraw their approval.
Don't show off. Show-offs take attention away from their message.
Give them what they want. Speak to your listeners in their language about what is most important to them. You do that by understanding how the information you possess can help them get something they want.
Good speakers earn trust because they are in the giving business. They give themselves and their knowledge to their listeners in order to be helpful, and in turn their listeners give them applause, praise, and respect.