Building Trust, Collaboration, and Understanding, Through Communication

Getting your message across is important, but what happens when you want the audience to do something with that message? If you are presenting in a workshop or special session you may want the audience to interact with you, join a community, retain and use the new information, or be inspired to contribute to the overall subject matter. When your goal is to have greater interaction with the audience, you will need to consider questions such as; what is the take home message? How might they use this new new knowledge? And what information will they actually retain? In this post we will go over three important concepts to keep in mind if you want to increase audience interaction and participation.

Handshake (Workshop Cologne '06)

1. Building Trust in Your Audience

As discussed in previous posts, building trust and trustworthiness can help the audience retain information and pay attention. If the audience has a lack of trust or respect for the presenter, it can become a large barrier for communication and knowledge transfer. Fostering a sense of trust is not only important during the presentation but also for afterwards. If they audience has a lack of trust in the information or the presenter then they are unlikely to do anything with the new information. If your presentation is focused on trying to get people to commit to a call to action, then you will need to build trust with the audience.  As a presenter you are depending on the audience to trust you enough that they willing to stand behind the message. Building trust with your audience is the basis for thoughtful discussion, interaction and knowledge transfer. 4

Trust can be defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of a person or idea. Trust in new ideas is built when the perceived risk and uncertainty is low enough that people are willing to put themselves in a vulnerable position. Remember that an idea only has as much value as people are willing to put in it, by listening and trust. However, trust and trustworthiness are different traits when it comes to communication. 3 It is better to build credibility and trustworthiness through being consistent with your information. Additionally, be willing to share information and ideas that are not complete or “perfect”. Allowing yourself to be judged and see what people think can build trustworthiness in the audience. The perfect work never gets shared because it is “never finished”, and this can be interpreted as a lack of confidence or secrecy. To build trustworthiness you will need to put your ideas on the line.

The key to building trust is that you need to convince your audience (often in a short amount of time) that not only is believing in your message worth the risk but also that believing in you is worth the risk. Some of the ways that trust can be achieved is by; having a clear purpose or objective, presenting a thorough understanding of the topic, accepting that trust evolves over time, and remembering that some may need to hear the message more than once to be “on-board”. When you want to build trust strive to present a balanced viewpoint and avoid being biased. Obviously you want to be as honest as possible in your presentations, and make sure you are not omitting facts to make your point more appealing. Additionally focus on your message and do not over use technology. Technology is an assistant but not the point of the communication. Often audiences may be “wowed” by technology but it can distract from the actual subject matter. Use discretion when putting together your presentation and be careful not to drive attention away from building trust. Following these basic tips will go a long way to building trust with your audience.

2. Building Collaboration in Your Audience

Collaboration can be defined as working together with someone or a group of people to produce or create something new. When you want to build a collaboration you need to consider what are the best ways to transfer knowledge and making sharing ideas more effective. As a communicator it is your job to get people involved and excited about contributing something new to the project or idea. By actively involving your audience you will get them interested and engaged. Keep in mind that people are highly motivated by the guiding belief, principle, and expected outcome of the project or idea. That is, there needs to be a higher purpose than just making a profit or publishing a paper. Having a clear goal or objective that is beyond short term gains will motivate others to share and work together. The best motivation for a collaboration is often the job itself.

When you are building a collaboration it is a very different than giving a presentation and saying “I am here to tell you about…”. Building collaboration requires different approaches to communication. Someone needs to take on the role as a central coordinator so that people  have a moderated way to communicate. When communicating in a collaborative setting the coordinator needs to be well versed in methods of communication such as; being nondominant in conversation, being noncontentious to the audience, and being attentive to others. 1 It is very important to avoid communicating in a way that causes people to shutdown and disengage. A contentious argumentative style (often over trivial issues) or being overly precise causes the conversation to hang up on unimportant details so that the bigger picture is missed. 1 Additionally monopolizing the conversation by speaking forcefully, causes others to feel pushed back and unwilling to respond. 1 Instead the coordinator needs to remain focused on being attentive and emphasize back and forth communication. 1  Building a collaboration requires a lot effort, but the rewards of  the exchange of new ideas is well worth the time it takes to communicate effectively. Keep these communication styles in mind as you present your ideas for collaboration, and you are bound to see a positive outcome with the introduction of new energy and ideas from your new collaborators.

Wikipedia presentation MU Brno 2009-03-09

3. Building Understanding in Your Audience

Understanding can be defined as the action or capability of comprehending an idea or concept. When communicating with the public or in a workshop setting, being able to predict the level of understanding can be an important tool to addressing confusion and doubt. You can’t expect an audience to tell you what they already know and what new information is confusing to them. Making sure that your presentation or information is not too complex requires that you consider the audience beforehand. Take into account the culture, the technology, and lives of the people you are working with. Additionally thoughtful practice in front of test groups that are not familiar with your information may help tailor your presentation. By taking into account the audience and making sure the content is at the appropriate level you will increase audience understanding. However be sure to keep balance in the content so that you are not just “dumbing it down” to a very basic level. A coherent story leading from point A to B to C is far more effective at getting your information across than just removing information to simplify the message. Challenging material with clear background is much more likely to promote understanding of a topic. 2

It is important to engage the users of your material so they can take it to the next level on their own. When people become motivated about a subject they will often do the hard work to figure out what they do not understand for themselves. When you reach points in presentation that are difficult it may be best to allow the audience time to think about the information. Add break points and silence so the material can sink in, and be sure to allow time for discussion and questions afterwards. Think about what problems might arise for audience, and try to include information throughout the presentation so they can figure it out for themselves.  Encourage the use of additional resources to learn more such as; books and articles, online resources, videos, mentoring, guided learning, and shadowing others to gain the essential knowledge. Knowledge and information are different things, having facts (information) is not the same as letting people develop the skills or experience (knowledge) to become more informed.

In your next presentation think about what you want for the overall goal or outcome. Consider what is the aim of your information is, want you want the call to action to be, what kind of community you want to create, and how you want to inform people? Taking time before your presentation to answer some of these questions will help to create a seamless transition to the desired audience interaction.


1. Coeling, H. V. E., & Cukr, P. L. (2000). Communication styles that promote perceptions of collaboration, quality, and nurse satisfaction. Journal of nursing care quality, 14(2), 63-74.

2. McNamara, D. S., Kintsch, E., Songer, N. B., & Kintsch, W. (1996). Are good texts always better? Interactions of text coherence, background knowledge, and levels of understanding in learning from text. Cognition and instruction, 14(1), 1-43.

3. Rotter, J. (1967). A new scale for the measurement of interpersonal trust. Journal of personality.

4. Vangen, S., & Huxham, C. (2003). Nurturing collaborative relations Building trust in interorganizational collaboration. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 39(1), 5-31.

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