Digging deeper

Yeah, sure, inspire me!

But please don’t stop there.

At every virtual corner, people want to inspire us to reach our true potential, the next level, or you name it.

We have short talk formats that provide a glimpse into exciting topics. TED has spearheaded that movement. Great videos that let us skim the surface.

We have stickers, images, and inspirational quotes on Instagram and other networks.

But you know what I actually prefer: to dig deeper. To understand things. To connect the dots. To commit.

Inspiration might be an initial flame that gets one started. But what good is it if we ever only get started. If all of us are inspired, but none of us actually travels to the finish line to understand the deeper meanings, complexities, and relationships of things? If we never reach anywhere meaningful.

The willingness to dig deeper and the ability to communicate what you’ve discovered is a skill that becomes more important as the addiction of surface skimming is multiplied by the social networks.

This niche is broadening quickly. So, what’s a topic where you dig deep?

Speaking to audiences means talking to people

The old way of presenting was the lecture. The monologue. The speaker preparing a speech and delivering it to the audience. The audience’s role was – in essence – to accept the delivery. (And if it didn’t get it, it was more the audience’s fault than the speaker’s).

Today, we know that a much more satisfying approach is to consider presentations and speeches as conversations. When you think of a conversation, it’s not about speaking to masses but about talking to people. To the humans in your audience.

For the best speakers, this conversation starts long before the moment they step onto the stage and doesn’t stop when they leave the stage. Great speakers – as well as great leaders – talk to people all the time. They talk to people so that they themselves can listen. Because only when you listen will you be able to attach to what’s important to the people.

Speaking really means talking to people, before, during and after the speech.

Don’t sell bad news as great news

A question I get asked a lot is how to offer bad news.

The thing with bad news is that they won’t magically turn into better news if you put a sugarcoating on top.

So, if you ask me, then just tell the bad news. Make it short and stick to the point. It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to hurt, anyway.

One thing that this attitude does for you is that it increases your credibility. If you earn a reputation for meaning what you say then people will trust you not only when you offer bad news but also when you offer great news, especially then.

However, if you hide bad news behind a curtain of dust and smoke, or worse, if you sell bad news behind a façade of great news, sooner or later people will notice because sooner or later it is going to hurt. And so, whenever you have news, they will be unsure about what to make of it.

Don’t sell bad news as great news.

What’s her job?

When doing a sales presentation to a group of people, it really helps to understand what each person’s role in the meeting is.

Who is the decision maker? Why did she bring this or that person? Often, it’s not what it seems at first sight. And sometimes, we might underestimate the importance of these roles.

For example, there might be a finance manager whose job is to take care that you don‘t overcharge. There might be a product manager whose job is to take care that you don’t bullshit. There might be a marketing manager whose job is to take care that what you propose fits the overall brand story.

But it might just as well be the other way around. That the product manager is really dying to use your innovative solution and hoping for you to convince her boss. Or it might be that the boss is eager to pull your proposal off but the sales director needs to be convinced because if she isn’t all-in her team won’t be motivated to make it a success.

When knowing exactly why everyone’s there you can much better resonate with what’s important to them.

Not my fault

“On slide 19, I clearly stated this …”

Of course you did. But your audience didn’t get it. And that’s the end of the story. If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it. It’s our job as a speaker to make our point obvious. To speak with clarity. And to light the path so our audience is willing to follow.

If they don’t it’s not their fault. It’s ours because either we haven’t been able to create that clarity to follow our line of thought or we haven’t researched well enough what resonates with our audience. If we want to make an impact, we’re better off taking responsibility for it. This way, we can improve the next time.

How to serve your audience well

Here are four ways that make your audience’s life so much easier.

Keep it short! How often have you been frustrated by speakers who just won’t cut to the core. We are all busy and still grant the speaker access to our time. The more the speaker values our time, the more we value her effort.

Make it relevant! You’re not doing a presentation for you. You do already know what you’re going to say. You’re doing it for them. So, what do they need from you? What do they need to know? What do they want to know? What is it that matters most to them? Make it about these things.

Take responsibility! There’s a very simple rule in speaking: If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it. This is always the speakers fault and never the audience’s. So, take responsibility and keep it simple. Use their language. Use examples that make it easy to relate to. Have a clear structure that makes it easy to follow along.

Make it entertaining!
Just because it’s serious doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Think about yourself: if in doubt, we’d always choose entertaining over boring. So, if we can deliver the exact same content but 10x more fun, why shouldn’t we?

Thank you for confirming my opinion

The other day I stumbled upon an article that someone shared on social media with these words:

Thank you for this article which confirms my thinking so much.

It’s a great reminder of how people are looking for statements that reinforce their point of view. She didn’t thank the author for a balanced view on the topic, let alone for challenging her point of view. She specifically thanked the author for confirming it. She appreciated being right.

This is yet another hint at how hard it actually is to convince people of something they don’t believe, yet. It’s so much easier to resonate with what they already believe.

Marketers and politicians understand this better and better and it is one reason why worldviews seem to drift more and more apart. As more and more people become good at resonating with what people already believe, worldviews are more and more reinforced, ever less likely to find common ground.

But!

It’s also an important reminder of how essential empathy is for communicators. If you don’t see what they see, if you can’t understand why what they believe is true from their perspective, if you are not willing to acknowledge their point of view, it’s going to be a tough sale to make them see what you see.

Yet, given the deep separations of today, it’s more important than ever that, as communicators, we succeed in resonating with those who disagree. To find the common ground. To find ways to make them see what we see. However, this is not going to work by insisting that we are right and they are wrong but by resonating with what’s important to them and making them see it from their perspective. If you can’t do this then how is your audience supposed to be able to do it?

Know it all, know it quick?

It’s the default mode in Q&A: Know it all and know it quick. The common intuition is that as an expert you just have to have a good answer quick. Because if you don’t, your status may be challenged. Because – so the reasoning goes – how would you be an expert if you didn’t know that right away, right?

I think the opposite is true.

If you take your time to come up with a well thought out answer rather than give me the first answer that pops to your mind. If you admit that you need to fill in a gap and then let me observe how you come up with connecting dots while thinking out loud. And if your response then will make so much more sense than the quick answer, then that will actually rise your status.

Because it shows that you treat your audience with respect. It proves that you’re not in it for the show but for the cause. It’s evidence for that you’re looking for the right answer rather than the quick answer.

Audiences appreciate it being served well a great deal.

So what?

A presentation can be brilliantly argued, beautifully designed, masterfully delivered …

… and still fail because it lacks a compelling answer to one simple question: “So what?”

Audiences look for an answer to this simple question every time and if they don’t find one, they will sooner or later tune out. Without a compelling answer to the question of relevance, any effort you put into other aspects might be a waste of time.

So, why should they care? Why them? Why now?

The more compelling the answers to these questions are, and the earlier you provide them, the more likely it is that you can make change happen.

Fixed worldviews

When we listen to someone, a basic process that happens in our brains (in very simplified terms) is that we compare what we hear with what we know and then – if necessary – adapt.

Yet, there are two extremes in how people do this:

On the one extreme are people who fit what they hear to what they know. These people will default to adapt new information to confirm what they already believe. If people like this believe that their business partner is cheating on them, everything they learn about that new deal will reinforce this perspective.

On the other extreme are people who fit what they know to any new information. These people will frequently adapt what they believe to new information. If an “expert” offers them her opinion, they will frequently adapt this as a fact.

Both, of course, have an utter deficit in critical thinking. The former judge any information by their existing worldview – it’s what ideologies are made of. The latter shy away from trusting their own assessment and avoid any judgement of their own.

What’s surprising at first sight (at least to some) is that the former group is just as easy to manipulate as the latter. Demagogues excel at this. They manipulate their followers by attaching to people’s beliefs. Knowing that these people will approve of anything that reinforces their worldviews, demagogues craft their story in a way that does exactly that.

The way to react to this is not by trying to convince these people that their worldview is wrong. They will dismiss any attempt at this simply because their worldviews are closed. Any new information will be judged against these worldviews. The way to react – probably the only one – is to acknowledge their worldview, understand it on a deeper level, and then – if possible – attach to it in a way they can approve. You need to speak their language, give them a feeling of being heard and seen and of being in control.

As someone being capable of critical thinking, ask yourself: What’s right from their perspective? Why do they believe what they believe? What might have led them to believe it? What do they really care about on a deeper level? What are they afraid of? How can I acknowledge their fears? What would need to be true for them to accept a fact or a point of view while staying true to what matters to them?

It’s easy to dismiss different perspectives. It’s easy to laugh at people who just seem to not get it. It’s easy to rant about this or that worldview. But it doesn’t help very much. It’s much more helpful to acknowledge different perspectives, try to understand them, and act accordingly – not by manipulating but by offering a balanced, ethical perspective to attach to.

Spread the Word

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz