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The company I worked for planned to announce a major change in employee benefits. The manager I coached was tasked with the tough announcement. Tough because the rumor mill was that the benefits change was not good, negative. I advised them to listen to concerns and be prepared for all questions. His task was to communicate with empathy to the skeptical audience and not try to pitch the program as he would try to do with a ready audience. He needed to get right to the point and recognize that there were concerns.
This strategy worked very well, and the reports back from him were so positive. Employees appreciated the candidness of the dialogue, and the chance to express their concerns. Then, one day, I got a call from him saying that he blew it. He went into a particular unit with the assumption that the audience would be resistant, but this particular group was not. They'd heard through enough of the grapevine of the upcoming changes. They were ready to discuss next steps.
When our managers started with the list of issues and problems, the ready audience became anxious. He unnecessarily created a situation that turned a ready audience into a skeptical one. When you plan to deliver a message, the audience will either be ready to hear it, they will be apathetic to it, and in some cases, they might be skeptical. To be an effective speaker, you need to consider your audience's reaction and adjust your approach.
Here are a few tips for each situation. If your audience is ready to hear your message like in Katie's case, unify yourself with the content. Take ownership and show your investment in the research and knowledge of the information. Be sure to identify next steps for the information your presenting, or ask questions at the end of the presentation that will ignite dialogue within the group. If there are next steps, you might want to take the initiatitve, and investigate them in order to make it easier for your audience to move forward.
For example, if Katie talks about the importance of having a cultural interpreter in Brazil who can act as an advisor or liaison, she might want to have a few contacts ready. If your audience is apathetic, you have a much tougher task in your hands. Be sure to grab the retention from the very start. All presentations need strong attention-grabbers, but with an apathetic audience, it's crucial that you don't miss a beat. Communicate the value of your information, the "so what", and even use someone from the audience as the protagonist in your examples, showing how your information will help them.
In case you have a resistant audience, show that you're well aware of their worries. Have your talking points, but direct them as answers to every possible question. Most importantly, allow for early dialogue in the presentation. It can help if you start by saying, "I know that the number one concern "from everyone in this room has been X" It's very valid and credible, and then right jump into Q&A. Your tone needs to be different from that type of audience.
It needs to be empathetic, thoughtful, and most of all sincere. Take time to research the reaction of your audience. As with my manager example, it's possible that not all of the groups will be in sync. For your upcoming presentation, ask around to see how people feel about the topic. Was it discussed in the past? If it was, what was the consensus? Did anyone disagree? Is this a new topic, or can you get people's general thoughts about it? The more research you do ahead of time, the better prepared you will be on your presentation day.
Use the worksheet with specific questions to think through the needs of your audience for your next presentation.
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