You have put considerable
time into preparing your presentation. You want to make sure that your audience
both understands your main points and comes to the right conclusions. How do
you get them up to speed quickly, especially when you can predict that there
will be some conscientious objectors in the group?
Having worked in Europe
for many years as a trainer, I had a chance to see different cultures and their
presenting styles, as well as gaining an understanding of Canadian and American
styles by comparison. North Americans often start with an anecdote and then
launch into their content, as if the story will have introduced and "sold" the
major concepts to an audience without further explanation. Try this in France
and you will get thrown out on your ear.
The French prefer a more
structured approach. Presenters outline their topic, what it will include and
exclude; taking care to define all the major terms to be used. Sometimes they
go on far too long for my taste. But defining one's terms doesn't mean that
the audience has "bought" the underlying messages.
For a while I tried both
the North American and French approaches together. Structure the talk, define
my terms, and tell a story to illustrate my point. I still detected resistance
to some of my weirder concepts. Have you ever had someone in your group who
keeps questioning what you are saying? Or objecting to each new point you are
making? Or just when you thought everyone got it, someone says something that
makes you realize they are not at all comfortable with where you are going.
The Missing Link
From my 15 years of studying
Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)1, I have learned there are processes
that are happening for my audiences, outside of their conscious awareness. There
is a lot going on, that a presenter needs to predict and build responses for,
right in the very beginning of a presentation.
One of the wackier concepts
I talk about is in fact, the existence of the unconscious mind. Imagine a group
of dark-suited business people nodding enthusiastically when I announce that
90 to 95% of what they do is controlled by parts of themselves they know little
or nothing about. Yeah, right. Think about your own response. What are your
objections to that statement?
Remember the last time you
lost your keys? And you had to look all over the place? And when you found them,
you couldn't remember putting them there? Somebody put them there and if it
wasn't you, who was it? Have you ever been driving your car to a place you know
so well, that it almost seems like someone else took over your body and drove
you there? Someone else?
Some people may find it
hard to believe, when they first think about it, that we have so highly trained
ourselves to do most of the things we do, we hardly have to think about them
consciously anymore. You just take them for granted. Others may be thinking
that if our unconscious minds are doing all that, why can't our conscious minds
just take a holiday instead? And why is it, that if your spouse or mother suggests
you do something, a part of you objects immediately without even considering
Many of the ideas that any
presenter is "selling" are just as weird to their audiences. Just try challenging
commonly held beliefs about successful strategies in your organization.
How to Sell Weird Ideas
After having written your
outline for a presentation, you might wish to consider using the following process
to make sure that you are not asking your audiences to take a leap of faith.
1. Identify the underlying
message you wish to get across, i.e. "Setting specific goals will transform
how this team functions."
2. Think about your audience.
What are the most extreme objections that anyone could have about your underlying
message? List several. Ask your cynical friends and family for help with this
if you are stuck in a positive frame of mind. For example, "Goal setting
will not help us when most of the things are decided somewhere else."
3. Search for, or make up
four common experiences that most people in your audience will have already
had that provide evidence that your underlying message is true. (For specific
groups, your can tailor your examples to their situation.) The key here is to
choose experiences that each member of your audience can internally verify.
For example, "a time when there were many choices available and you ended
up doing what other people wanted and not being happy about it because you just
got kind of pushed in that direction." (You can tailor this to specific
situations; career decisions, etc.) Another example, "Think about a time
when you were so determined to accomplish something you wanted, that no matter
what obstacles were put in your way, you still made it happen."
4. Design your opening:
- First, do what you normally
would do to create credibility and rapport with your group and briefly introduce
- Next, address the conscientious
objectors in your group by telling them the objections that you came up with.
For example: "Some people may be thinking that setting goals won't help
them because most of the things are decided somewhere else."
- · Ask your audience about
the common experiences, to get your audience to relive each one, going inside
and checking for themselves the truth of your underlying message. Have them
raise their hands or otherwise physically indicate to you that they have had
each of these experiences. For example: "Have you ever had a time when
you weren't sure of what you wanted and then ended up doing what someone else
wanted? Raise your hand (demonstrate) if this has happened to you. Raise your
hand if you've ever had an experience of being so determined to do something,
that no matter what obstacles were put in your way, you still managed to make
it happen." (Always end on positive experiences.)
- Link to your subject
matter to start your presentation. For example: "Many of you have had that
experience. It's all about figuring out what is important to you and how you
can make it happen. Well that's what we will be doing today….."
Every time you give your
presentation you will get feedback on how well you "sold" your underlying message.
Watch your audience with your peripheral vision to detect anyone who is not
buying it. Find out their objections, respond and make a note to include the
objection the next time you give similar presentation.
You know how hard you have
worked to become an expert in your subject matter. Using this process may enable
your audience to quickly come up to speed on the important ideas you really
want them to get. Only God can demand blind faith, everyone else has to prove
The study of the structure of subjective experience. See Introducing NLP., by
Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour.