In my last post on presentations, I cautioned against taking a one-size-fits-all approach to presentations, and suggested that you should adjust the relative length of different sections depending on the audience’s relationship toward the situation. When it comes to selecting your goal for the presentation, the same idea applies.
While the ideal would be to get your sale closed or your project approved in every presentation, that’s not realistic. There’s a certain thermodynamics to persuasion, in the sense that the audience’s attitude has to reach a certain temperature before they will act. The presenter is responsible for supplying the necessary heat (emotion) and light (logic) to raise the temperature.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you can sometimes cause problems by trying to raise the temperature too fast. People need time to adjust to new ideas and if they are pushed too hard too early they may shut down or strike back.
A favorable audience may range from lukewarm to hot, but you’ve got to get them to boil over to take action. There are three possible goals with a favorable audience. First, you might want to strengthen their support, either to reinforce attitudes already formed or to recommit to previously agreed changes. If they’re in favor but don’t have the authority to make it happen, you have to arm them with arguments and information to sell your idea for you. If they need a push, you have to inspire them to take action. Regardless of which your goal is you should have some specific measurable agreements or actions you expect to judge whether you achieved your goal.
If your audience is tepid, your goal depends on why they’re neutral. If they don’t know about the situation, you have to inform them. If they know about it but don’t see why they should care, you have to get them to agree to the consequences or costs of inaction. If they know and care, but haven’t decided on what to do or choose, your task is to gain agreement that your alternative is the best.
When the audience is cool or even cold to your proposal, they are unlikely to become strong supporters after just one presentation. You have to be realistic in your goal: you might be able to nudge the needle into neutral, or get them to agree not to stand in your way, or at the very least continue to keep talking.
Of course, all this begs the question that you have to do some legwork before the presentation to find out the attitude of the audience. It’s further complicated when different attendees may have different views, in which case it helps to know who the decision makers and important influencers are. That’s why it helps to have a champion or coach to act as your guide. Just don’t charge in blindly with a one-size-fits-all goal.