Manage episode 375491206 series 2950797
There are facts, provable information, data, research results and opinions. What is the right mix when presenting? Should we just marshal the detail, lay it out for the audience and let them draw their own conclusions or do we need to direct them? How expert do we have to be to start handing out advice to others? Are we seeding the emergence of opposition to what we are talking about, because members of the audience don’t want some speaker lecturing to them? Are we setting ourselves up for a very hot Q&A session, where some of the assembled masses are about to tear shreds off us?
These types of questions are difficult for those of us in industries where we have points of view and are recommending certain actions on the part of the audience. The training industry is a hot crucible for advice and recommendations for others. We are suggesting things which we believe will help them do better in their companies. Or it could be that through your own firm’s experiences, you have observed some things to be careful of and you are going to enlighten the audience, so that they don’t repeat the mistakes you made.
There is certainly a demand for case studies, warnings, examples and the sharing of experiences, in order to guide audiences about where the dangers are and the traps are set. Just stating our opinion though won’t cut it. We have to set that up with some evidence, something relatable for the audience, so that they feel what we are saying is credible. The best options are personal experiences. These always have the most credence and authenticity. The second best is the experience of others and the last is published, public information. In Japan, any time you are tempted to use data to prove a point, you need to have the Japanese version too. If it is only information collected in the US or in Europe, then Japanese audience members will just discount it, because as far as they are concerned, Japan is always different and the data won’t travel well.
Often though, we start out with some data and we even raid previous presentations for slides brimming with graphs and diagrams, to use for the next presentation. That data is too valuable to just leave for one presentation, so we want to recycle it. Or we might have some recent survey data, which will be fresh for the audience and we want to impress them. One of the dangers is we get stuck at the data provision level and we don’t relate this to the realities of the audience members. Data by itself is good, but “what does it mean for me”, is always in the minds of the audience.
This is where we get into the advice business and we have to tread warily. We have to remain the expert, without becoming the schoolteacher, bossing the audience members around and telling them how to fly straight. Extrapolating what the data shows is a good idea, but there is an element of prophesy built in and basically that is just our opinion. Instead of getting sucked into the “listen to me now” business, we can approach it in another way.
Rhetorical questions are brilliant for this. We can lay out the facts or the argument and instead of moving into the advice component, we can ask the audience what they think, without requiring them to vocalise an answer. We frame the construct and let the question hang there unanswered, so that the audience has to draw their one conclusions. When we want to add in our point of view, we can do so in a very small target way. Rather than spruking the answer, we can cloak it in camouflage.
We can say, “there is a view that…” or “ a common conclusion has been….”, or “a perspective I quite like is….” or “most experts seem to agree that….”. In this way we proffer an answer, without having to attach ourselves to it. This reduces the friction with highly opinionated audience members, who may want to argue the point with us. We come across as reasonable, balanced, open, flexible as well as humble.
We can say, “I will leave it to everyone to make up their own minds on this one”. That is fine but often we are asked to speak because we supposedly know something about the topic and this may come across as a cop out and audience members may feel cheated. They don’t want a lecture from us, but they are interested in what we think, and they want to hear about that.
Rhetorical questions and a small target strategy will go a long way toward setting the right frame for the talk. Audiences will vary of course, but if you don’t know what you are facing then caution is a good policy. You have assembled valuable information, given some guidance and have respected the audience to be capable of reaching their own interpretation of what it all means, while offering your humble insights. That is a killer combo.