First posted November 2011
We’ve all been there. Stuck in a room, listening to a presentation that has been hijacked by someone with an axe to grind. Instead of being informative or inspirational, the talk has turned into an irritating one-on-one debate or vanished off on a tangent. (I have to confess right now, it’s often me causing the problem.)
Don’t write this off as an issue for the “big” gatherings – town hall meetings or formal PPT–aided dialogues – it applies to every situation where a group of people get together with a goal in mind, whether getting information or updates; learning something new; or simply talking around an issue that needs to be solved.
There are plenty of articles and blog posts about how to deal with questions. This is not one of them. Instead, it’s why you need question handling skills in the first place.
You want to be in control of the message, and like it or not, that means having the first and last word.
Audiences remember about 20 per cent of what is said in any kind of presentation; the unexpected, passionate or controversial is going to dominate a lot of that time if you let it.
Don’t forget, your message can be implied. If you are a project leader running an update meeting, the “message” could simply be that the project is running on time and everyone is doing their bit. Someone latching on to a short delay that has already been resolved effectively hijacks your message.
Admit it, you never give 100 per cent of your attention in any discussion, whether about your kid’s day at school, the features of a time-saving gadget or the business unit’s fiscal results. It’s humanly impossible. We aren’t built like that.
Your audience has arrived with set expectations of what will be covered, anything that deviates too far from that is simply giving them permission to tune it out as irrelevant.
They have also entrusted you with their time. Everyone is extremely busy and whether they attend voluntarily or because they have to, failing to respect their time is a mighty turn off.
Once you have lost your audience, for whatever reason, it’s a hard task to win them back.
Failing to keep to your schedule is probably the biggest mistake you can make. You have two choices: run over time and risk losing your audience, literally when the get up and walk out, or figuratively as they study their time pieces; or finish on time and fail to close the discussion by bringing all the threads together and reinforcing your message.
Good reads on question-handling skills
You might be interested in my earlier post: Advice for presenters: ignore all other advice