Guest post by Jeff Shore
The purpose of a presentation is persuasion. That’s it, plain and simple.
Every single presentation – whether a keynote, a sales pitch, an argument or explanation – is designed to bring others around to your way of thinking.
Now, did what I just said make sense? Do you agree with that assessment? If so, I made it through your filters.
If we are to understand how our audiences evaluate our messages, we must begin with the awareness that they listen through two primary filters.
The first filter asks the question, “Does this relate to my past experiences?” The second asks, “Can I apply it to my future?” If the answer to either question is no, the presenter has failed.
Audience Filter #1: The Past-Experience Filter
Suppose I want to persuade you to purchase a new brand of laundry detergent I invented in my garage. Of course, if I am a good salesperson I will begin by establishing that you have a need of some sort, right? A problem or dissatisfaction you want to resolve, or something you hope to obtain or become.
If I assume you have a particular need or dissatisfaction, I might take the approach of reminding you of it: “Don’t you just hate it when your laundry detergent turns your whole load purple, and the clothes come out smelling like overcooked broccoli?”
That’s not going to work, is it? I’m not going to generate any interest by offering a solution to that “problem,” because it isn’t a problem that’s part of your past experiences. It’s never happened to you (and you have no reason to suspect it ever will), so you couldn’t care less how to solve it.
Now suppose I do my homework and discover a real-world laundry problem, shared by lots of real-world people. I come up with a way to remind you of that problem: “Don’t you hate it when you’re finishing up your laundry, and discover you’ve got one sock left without a mate? Again??! I can help with that.”
Now – if my research was correct – I’m likely to have your attention. Who hasn’t suffered that pitiful plight?
Applying this to presentation planning, you should begin by asking yourself, “What need that is part of my audience’s real-life experience does my product (or project, or whatever) solve?”
If you do not connect with a need which is part of their past experience, your audience will filter you out. Your presentation will be over before it even gets going. Whether you are identifying a problem or just drawing them into a good story, they will always start from the perspective of their own experience.
Audience Filter #2: The Future-Promise Filter
Your audience craves solutions, but they will tend to shy away from suggestions that are difficult to grasp and even harder to implement. What they want instead is solutions which they can easily understand, and which they can easily imagine themselves using to resolve their problems. In short, solutions that give them real hope for the future.
Too many presenters, in an attempt to impress, cause cognitive (mental or thought-related) stress instead. You see this in presentations which are:
- too “dense,” trying to relay too much information in too little time
- too abstract and difficult to relate to, or too complicated and involved to follow and grasp easily
When an audience is confronted with such stresses, there’s no perception of future promise. The mental filter switches on, and you’ve lost them.
This doesn’t mean presentations should be “dumbed down.” It just means they should be made simple to follow and easy to understand, with no feats of mental gymnastics required. This could be called cognitive ease. Audiences definitely prefer it.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, when we’re in the audience chair, easy equals right. It’s a mental shortcut we all enjoy; if something is easier to grasp, it just seems “righter.”
This is one of the reasons storytelling is such a powerful tool for relaying ideas. People place themselves inside the stories, following along in thought, observing, experiencing and even participating. The concepts the story contains are absorbed and retained because they become part of the listener’s experience.
Past and Future
Understanding the past-experience filter is about connecting with where your audience has been and what they’ve seen and lived.
Understanding the future-promise filter is about giving them information and solutions which they can understand and relate to, and which give them hope for a better future.
Get past the filters; the audience will be all yours, and your ideas will be theirs.
About the Author
Jeff Shore is a highly sought-after sales expert, speaker, author and consultant. For more than three decades, Jeff has worked with sales teams across the globe to inspire them to peak performance utilizing his innovative BE BOLD methodology. Jeff doesn’t just teach you how to sell, he shows you how to change your mindset and change your world. His latest book, Be Bold and Win the Sale: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Boost Your Performance, was published by McGraw-Hill in January 2014. You can get more from Jeff here or connect with him on Twitter.