"One of the most important assets a writer has is her authority. The reader has to trust you enough to believe in your writing." - Susan Breen
The same thing is true about entertainment. The audience has to trust you enough to believe in your performance.
It is my opinion that some of the clown organizations put too much emphasis on appearance, and that there are many clowns who look great but don't know how to entertain. However, your appearance does play an important role in establishing your authority. When you enter, if you look like you know about clowning the audience will assume that you do. If your appearance is amateurish the audience will assume that you don't know what you are doing. The more that your audience knows about clowning the more this is true. Your appearance is not limited to your make up and costume, but includes your props and any set pieces.
Other aspects of showmanship contribute to establishing your authority. Your use of pre-show music and the musical introduction to your show can contribute to the perception of your ability as an entertainer. The way that you enter and using a microphone properly, if you use one, influences that perception. The proper use of lighting can also help convince an audience that you know what you are doing.
Gaining credentials is another way to establish your authority. Many people enter competitions just so they can be introduced as an "award winning" entertainer. I know a magician from the state of Washington who worked hard to obtain a booking in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, just so he could be introduced as an "international entertainer." The fact that I could claim to be a columnist for Laugh-Makers Magazine opened many doors for me as an instructor and a performer in the mid-1980's. That did not mean that I knew more than others, but it was a credential indicating that others accepted me as an authority. I was honored by the World Clown Association as their 1993 Clown of the Year. For a while I used that as a credit in my introductions and promotional material. I have stopped using that because a credit that old makes it seem like I haven't accomplished anything worthwhile since then.
The first few moments of your act or show are vital in establishing your authority. I work hard on my openings. I want them to establish my character and gain the respect of the audience as soon as possible. I want my act to begin with something amazing, a big laugh, or both.
Before the audience will trust you, you have to trust yourself. You have to be confident in your success. Being thoroughly prepared is a key to confidence. I try to be well rehearsed, and if possible have back up plans in case things don't go as I want. I don't worry about things going wrong if I know I am prepared for that eventuality. For example, I used invisible thread for my floating balloon swan routine. I knew that the thread could break, so I always had a second thread available to insure I would ultimately succeed. It is not necessary to have a perfect performance if you don't let mistakes shake your confidence. I have found that often if I make a mistake and persevere, the audience appreciates my eventual success even more. If I forgot about a mistake and continued with the show, the audience forgot about it as well.
Audience members know that what we do is not real. However, if they trust that you will give a good performance they will voluntarily "suspend their disbelief" and willingly enter your world of make believe. Then they will become participants instead of dispassionate observers.
How do you gain the trust of your audience? How do you demonstrate that you know what you are doing? Do you look like you know what you are doing? What elements of showmanship do you use to establish your creditability? What credits do you have that can be used in an introduction? Does the opening of your show establish you as a performing authority? What can you do to bolster your confidence?