I don’t wanna hurt you

As a communicator you can play it safe and make sure that your audience feels comfortable all the time. Avoid controversial wordings and content that might be misunderstood. Use neutral language. Leave the doors open to many directions. Include as many details of your product as possible so that there’s something in it for everyone. And, of course, refrain from putting your finger in their wound.

In fact, this is the default mode for most presentations.

Yet, precisely by trying to not annoy anyone, these kinds of presentations fail to excite anyone. By trying to not hurt, they fail to create the pain that is required to take action.

The problem is that, in a way, you waive the responsibility to create the tension that’s necessary for change. You let your audience figure out why they need this badly. And immediately.

And that might not even be in your audience’s best interest. Because they might actually need your product. It might be exactly for them. Now.

So, if it is, don’t hide from creating the tension. Make them see why it is for them. Make them feel why they need it. Now.

Don’t hide from hurting your audience and exciting them when that’s what’s required for change to happen.

The magical question to increase tension and suspense

In a great movie or book, the question “What happens next” is basically the definition of tension and suspense. Whenever there’s suspense in a movie, we want to know what’s next. When there’s tension in a conversation, we want to relieve the tension.

“What’s next?” is also the magical question that keeps a speech in the flow. If you want to increase tension in your speech, the most important question to ask yourself is “What will my audience be dying to know right at this point in my speech?”

Leaving aside all the theoretical frameworks that teach us how to structure a compelling speech, this one question gets right to the heart of the matter. When you get that question right, you’ll end up at exactly the right structure without ever having to worry about any rhetorical theory.

To bring you on track to finding the appropriate question, here are a few variations for what your audience might be dying to know next:

  • “How is that possible?”
  • “Why is that?”
  • “What can we do about it?”
  • “How does this relate to our experience from that other project?”
  • “How did you manage to overcome that?”
  • “What does it cost?”

So, what’s your audience dying to hear next?

Would they come back?

Remember serial TV? We had to wait a full week to watch the next episode of our favorite show (which was yours?). Back then, great TV shows excelled at creating cliffhangers.

For many of us, it’s a love-hate-relationship with cliffhangers. In a way, it’s why we watched the show in the first place. That feeling of tension. That urge to want to know so badly what happens next. But then, when at the moment of greatest tension, they just said: “To be continued … Please come back next week!” … we were all like “Gosh. Really?!”

But of course we came back.

Is there a moment in your presentation when you could do the same? When you could stop and the audience would riot because they want to know what happens next so badly? A moment to guarantee that your entire audience would come back? (and bring their friends along because they couldn’t help but tell them…)

“Would they come back?” is a much more ambitious goal than “Will they stay on their chairs until the end?”.

Once people sit down, there’s a good chance that they will stick through to the end. You’ll have to torment them quite a bit before they will actually stand up and leave.

But having them come back is something else entirely. Was it really that good?

So, was it? Would your audience come back? What would you need to change so that they would?

The habit of tuning out of a presentation

Ever seen this empty expression on the faces of people having to sit through a sales presentation?

I guess we’ve all been there.

We totally understand: They think that their product is amazing. And it probably is.

We also understand that they want us to learn about that amazing product. It’s ok that they bring a presentation.

Yet, we’ve all seen enough of those.

It’s really the same story. Every time. Again and again. And again. And again. And again.

Really. We’ve seen them all.

That’s why our habit has become to tune out of a sales presentation as soon as possible. Wake me up before you go.

If you want to break that habit of tuning out of a presentation, you’ll need to do things differently.

Spare us the boring parts. Spare us the parts that just put praise on you. Speak about the things that matter to us. Talk not to us but with us. Let’s have a conversation. One that’s meaningful. For us. Not just desirable for you.

That’s why the posture of the servant speaker is being embraced by more and more people. These people understand that we are tired of speakers who waste everyone’s time with boring presentations. We’ve had enough of disrespectful speakers who don’t take the time to prepare well. We’re done with selfish speakers who just read off their generic marketing script.

Long-lasting relationships are built on respect, generosity, and personal exchanges. Value your audience’s time and they will treat you accordingly.

Tell me more

… is a much more powerful guiding principle when designing a speech than “tell me everything”.

We tend to feel the need to tell our audiences everything we know. Yet, our audiences don’t want to know everything we know. They listen to us precisely because we are the experts. They care for one thing: How does what we know improve their life?

Does it make things easier in a certain business situation?
Does it teach them a profound truth?
Does it make them smile?
Does it motivate them to change a habit? Make a decision? Question an approach?

If your speech does that one thing right, your audience is inevitably going to want you to tell them more. To explain how to make that happen. Where to get further information. What to do next …

So, what’s the one thing that makes your audience want you to tell them more?

The loooooooong pause

Many people tend to believe that tension is created by holding back information and having people wait for the reveal. Casting shows love to do that (“The winner is … looooong paaaauuuuuse … the winner is … even looooooooooonnnggger paaaaaaaauuuuuuuuse …”).

Often, though, a much more satisfying experience of tension is created by the opposite approach. By providing information leaves your audience in awe and begging you to tell them more. When you manage to create tension precisely by the things you say then it’s not the performance but the information itself that creates the tension.

If that’s the case you’ll know that you really hit a nerve. Also, it’s the beginning of a conversation rather than the end. Instead of being satisfied by the piece of information they receive, audiences become curious by it. Instead of feeling relieved by the information, tension is built up by the information.

What is a piece of information that you could give your audience that makes them want to know more?

Tell me only one thing

The default mode for presenting is this:

“I’m going to tell you everything I know and when I’m done, you are going to be convinced.”

Of course, we all know how that usually turns out.

The thing is that “everything” is often quite a lot. It’s overwhelming not only for your audience but also for yourself because it’s hard to find the clarity to speak about “everything”. It’s hard to find a structure that makes it easy for your audience to follow along when you speak about “everything”.

A much easier and much more effective way of approaching a presentation is this:

“Don’t tell me everything but tell me only one thing and make it the most interesting thing.”

Make it the thing that makes your audience curious, that’s most surprising or most exciting for them. When you do this and when it really matters, i.e. when they really care about that thing, then they will want you to tell them more. If it’s exciting they will even beg you to tell them more.

And of course you do.

But not by telling them everything but by telling them the next thing that’s so interesting that they will want you to tell them more. And then you do it again and again and again. You drag them down a rabbit hole, drag them ever deeper and make them curious. You lead them up to the point where you’ve actually convinced them.

So, when preparing your next presentation don’t tell me everything. Tell me only one thing and make it the one thing that makes me want you to tell me more. It’s so much easier to prepare. It makes it so much easier to find the clarity to structure your presentation. And it’s so much more interesting to listen to.

Hard choices

Many people believe that a great presentation makes it easy for the audience to choose you. The easier, the better.

Yet, the most satisfying decisions are the hard ones. The ones where we consciously struggle with the decision.

What makes a decision hard is that it forces us to confront who we are. Do we want this thing so badly that we are willing to pay so much for it? Do we really want to spend the effort of changing our habits to achieve that goal?

If a decision is hard then it is because we care. Because if we wouldn’t, it would be easy, right? If we don’t care, we can just as easily dismiss a thing as we can choose it. It won’t matter much.

So, leading your audience to a hard choice means leading them to something they care deeply about. And if they do, then the decision they make is this:

“If that’s who I am, then this is what I need to do!

This, of course, is only possible if you care, too! Leading them to this point means making them see that you understand something profound about them. That you do care about them.

You care by leading them to the point of no return. The point where this choice needs to be made. The point where tension is so high that it can only be relieved by making the decision.

What separates good from great presenters is that the great ones realise that it’s still the audience who’s going to decide. It has to be. Because when it is, you’ve got commitment. They have consciously decided for you.

Your job is to make this decision obvious. To confront them with it. To make them see clearly so that if that’s really who they are, then, well …

… up to you to decide.

Wenn du das Wichtigste zuerst sagst, warum sollte jemand länger zuhören?

Weil das Wichtigste hochrelevant für deine Zuhörer ist.

Es trifft sie mitten ins Mark. Es ist genau, was sie brauchen. Es ist das, wonach sie die ganze Zeit gesucht haben, ohne dass es ihnen selbst klar war.

Und genau deswegen wollen sie wissen, wie es weitergeht. Wie funktioniert das? Was kostet es? Was müssen sie verändern? Welche Voraussetzungen gibt es? Gibt es noch mehr davon? Kann man das auch auf andere Probleme übertragen? Wann können wir starten?

Wenn dein Produkt gut ist und wenn es genau das richtige Produkt für deine Kunden ist, dann ist dein Thema auch spannend. Dann ist die Frage nicht: „Wie machst du dein Thema spannend?“, sondern: „Wo steckt die Relevanz in deinem Thema?“

Echte Spannung entsteht durch Relevanz, künstliche Spannung durch Hinauszögern.

Künstliche Spannung mündet oft in ein Gefühl der Enttäuschung, weil die versprochene Information gar nicht das hält, was die künstliche Spannung versprochen hatte. Echte Spannung mündet in ein Gefühl der Zufriedenheit. Künstliche Spannung zwingt der Erzähler auf. Sie muss mit immer neuen Finten gefüttert werden, um die Spannung aufrecht zu erhalten. Echte Spannung speist sich selbst, weil die Zuhörer immer mehr wissen wollen. Sie erzeugt ein Verlangen nach Informationen. Und das ist ein guter Grund, um mit dem Wichtigsten zu beginnen.

Warum sollte ich Ihnen zuhören wollen?

Qualitätssicherung in Workshops

Früher habe ich zu Beginn meiner Workshops Regeln auf ein Flip-Chart geschrieben. Eine dieser Regeln war „keine Elektronik“.

Darauf verzichte ich schon lange, weil es für mich vollkommen überflüssig ist. Es kommt praktisch nicht vor, dass jemand sein Smartphone benutzt, nicht einmal dann, wenn es sichtbar auf dem Tisch liegt. Und käme es vor, wäre das für mich eine sehr wichtige Qualitätskontrolle. Wenn jemand in meinem Workshop sitzt und findet, dass seine geistige Anwesenheit woanders besser aufgehoben wäre, dann weiß ich, dass ich etwas falsch gemacht habe.

Ein guter Workshop ist einer, bei dem die Teilnehmer gar nicht erst an ihr Smartphone, Tablet oder Laptop denken, weil sie so präsent sind, dass in diesem Augenblick nichts spannender, nichts wichtiger ist als mitzuarbeiten. Dass das gelingt, ist ureigenste Aufgabe des Workshop-Leiters und kann nicht durch eine „Regel“ an die Teilnehmer delegiert werden. Relevanz und Aufmerksamkeit kann man nicht befehlen. Relevanz muss man sich erarbeiten und Aufmerksamkeit verdienen.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz