Monday, May 9, 2011

Audience Check-In Tips

Ask someone who’s just delivered a presentation how things went, and you often hear something like, “Um…I think it went pretty well.”  Ask further, “What might be different for the audience as a result of the presentation?”--and you may see shrugged shoulders and a quizzical expression on his/her face.  Don’t know about you, but I tend to desire a stronger sense of how things have gone when I’ve presented…so, I want more data from the audience.  I want to do some research.  I want to know what—if any—delta (change) has occurred.  So, I conduct “mini-debriefs” or “audience check-ins” throughout my deliveries.

To "debrief" means to "question to obtain knowledge or gather intelligence."  It's helpful to begin debriefs with open-ended questions such as:

*  What are you thinking about after that content?
*  What--if anything--struck you about that?

*  What's on your mind?
*  How do you react to this information?
The benefit of debriefs is that they provide an opportunity for the presenter to gauge--or check-in--with where an audience is in its thinking or understanding.  It is NOT a time to seek AGREEMENT or ensure "buy-in" (this cheapens the experience, and serves to try and push people through pre-determined hoops).  An ideal mindset for presenters is, "It's all Good!"  They should ACCEPT whatever content is shared from the audience—even when it is different than hoped for, or even contrary to goal of presentation-- and NOT try to "fix" (at least initially) a viewpoint shared from a learner.  Better to focus on helping the other feel heard.  Worth repeating: better to help the other feel HEARD. 
OK…yes.  For you, this new idea feels like it might make us feel good to be doing SOMETHING—but, it may not ultimately be an effective thing to do.  This format can greatly reduce the chance a speaker creates an adversarial situation, or a power struggle with an audience member. 
After getting several audience member perspectives, it can also be helpful to give a summary:

"OK...we've got a variety of takes on this topic.  Some are excited about the proposed direction; some concerned; others waiting to decide—and still others are a little fearful we’ve been down this road before.”
(Demonstrating this, "It's all Good" mindset actually serves to enhance the credibility of presenter, and raises safety in the room).  

If the speaker has additional ideas or information that may influence the audience’s perspective/concern, a strategy that can be helpful is to provide a teaser that establishes some credibility and generates interest—and offers the audience a chance to have ownership in whether it wants to hear the additional information:
I recently read some research that explored a very similar issue [credibility]…would it be helpful if I shared a couple of their findings with you [ownership]?”
This approach heightens the chance that the audience may be more receptive to hearing the additional information because they had ownership in choosing to hear it.  By the way, if they had said “no,” it would have likely indicated they still hadn’t felt heard by the speaker!
A presentation shouldn’t be done TO an audience, it should be conducted WITH them…checking-in throughout--or at the minimum, at the end—to gauge perspective is an important component of the experience.  Know what’s “different” at the end of your presentations!  Be curious.  Enjoy and savor the interaction…

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Initiating Difficult Conversations

My brother, Cliff, recently forwarded an article from the Wall Street Journal titled, “Friendly Fight: A Smarter Way to Say ‘I’m Sorry’” (April 19, 2011).  The article shared five steps for when you’re angry with someone else:
1)      Calm Down
2)      Acknowledge the Difficulty (of having the conversation)
3)      Say ‘I’ not ‘you’
4)      Find out WHY
5)      Say Everything (put it ALL on the table)
The 4th step is fascinating to me.  We have become a nation somewhat obsessed with the need to know “why?”  We want to know why Lindsey Lohan keeps making apparently poor decisions and why Bernie Madoff scammed all of those unsuspecting investors.  We also want to know WHY our child didn’t do his homework; why our co-worker was so critical of our idea; and why our partner didn’t follow-through on what they said they’d do.
In the context of this article, they have identified “finding out why” as an apparently necessary step when confronting someone with something they’ve done that resulted in our own anger/disappointment.  But, perhaps the “why” isn’t so important.  What, essentially, is the goal when we confront someone?  It might be tempting to think it’s to make the other feel our pain, or deliver some good ol’ fashioned guilt, or vent our general frustration.  However, if we really think about it…shouldn’t the goal be to inspire the other person to consider not doing “it” anymore, or to follow-through on the “thing” they had committed to before?
In this case, we are dealing with a CHOICE the other person has to make moving forward (hopefully, to modify their behavior)…and Aristotle, that Master of Rhetoric, counseled us long ago that if debating where CHOICE is involved (called “Deliberative Rhetoric”), we should seek to use the Future Tense as dialogue progresses.  So, asking about “why” seems to focus our energy in the past—while ultimately we should be trying to influence the other’s behavior moving forward. 
Consider giving up the need to know “why” when confronting another: if the reason “why” they did “it” is relevant, they’ll tell you.  If it doesn’t come up, chances are they’ll be focused forward considering altering their behavior. Is the goal to understand why someone did something, or to ensure they consider not doing “it” again?