September 29, 2011

Address your audience's fears up front



I came across this sentence on an opt-in page: "And of course we’ll also send you 30 emails a day asking you to buy various unrelated things – just kidding!"

I had to laugh. This company is going in the right direction by addressing this issue up front. One thing that would keep me (and many others) from signing up for an e-newsletter or downloadable product is the fear of being bombarded by hundreds of e-mails once I sign up. By approaching this fear with acknowledgement and humor, the company reduces the tension and gets the signup.

There are times when we give a presentation that we know will cause tension. Before we even begin, we know there is resistance, hostility, distraction, disbelief or suspicion in the room. Should we ignore the tension and jump right into our points? Should we pretend the tension doesn't exist and go straight for the upside? Unfortunately, no. Your audience won't be able to pay attention to a word you say if you don't address what's upsetting them right at the beginning.

I have a client who has to give a report at corporate headquarters in a few weeks. The numbers aren't good, but there are promising signs that business is turning around. However, my client knows that if she doesn't address the negatives up front, the executives won't be concentrating on anything she's saying. They want to hear the bad news, discuss the bad news, and THEN move on to the good news. Luckily, there IS good news.

When I used to give presentations in high schools about unhealthy relationships and domestic violence, I knew that some boys in every class would already be resistant and defensive. They expected me to come into their classroom and start "bashing" men. So I started right off asking this question: If we know that the majority of relationship violence is perpetrated by men, does that mean that the majority of men are violent? This brought the issue on everyone's mind right to the forefront. We were able to have a brief discussion acknowledging one truth about abusive relationships at the same time another truth was revealed: that only a small percentage of men are abusive in relationships. This simple opening relieved most of the tension in the room and I was able to continue on with my presentation with a much more open-minded audience.

No matter how bad the news, no matter how uncomfortable the topic, there is an upside. Dig deep enough and you'll find your audience's light at the end of the tunnel.

Get the ugly stuff out of the way first. Make sure you acknowledge their fears and concerns and give the group ample time to discuss what needs to be discussed. Put the negatives out there and then put them to bed. And then -- move forward. Bring your audience forward with you as you focus on the new direction, the solutions to the problem and the future vision.

For more on this topic, check out my previous article "Tough topics, tough audiences."

1 comments. Please add yours! :

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