Tough Crowd

You know that moment when you’re standing alone on stage or giving a presentation, and someone in the audience challenges your ideas or your knowledge or your information, and you want to have security quietly escort that person out of the auditorium and help them (gently) into the trunk of a car…

You’re not alone. It happens. But guess what. It’s your fault, not theirs, and there is nothing that will kill a presentation faster than responding negatively to dissent.

This week I witnessed what has been described as a colossal presentation FAIL… a panel of three experts in the field of digital transformation speaking to a group of developing future leaders. While there is no doubt the panel┬áhad nothing but the best of intentions and were rather generous with their time in making the effort to come speak to us, their message was off-point and off-putting. In the end, a few challenging questions and anecdotes from audience members sent them astray. One presenter said he felt “demoralized” by┬áhearing some of the stories from the crowd.

Keep in mind, these people work in IT. Yes, it’s true, IT professionals in every organization are everybody’s favourite enemy. Frankly, we blame IT the way we used to blame the Soviet Union during the cold war– for everything. Hell, I break a pencil and I’m all like, “Bloody IT!”

So, if I’m in IT, and I’m giving a presentation about my “transformation success” to a group of end users… I’m probably going to be prepared for some tough questions. And I’m NOT going to blame them for not understanding what I’m trying to say.

I think what was most concerning was that the panel became fixated on the negative, rather than working to turn it all around. There were several opportunities for them to do so, but they chose to focus on the problem and react defensively instead of 1. empathizing with the audience, and 2. offering some potential solutions.

Remember, when you’re presenting in front of a large group of people from diverse backgrounds, there is a solid chance there may be a challenger or two among them. Be prepared. Know your audience before you present, and when those tough questions or criticisms come up — NEVER get defensive. Never. You’d be better off to to eat a bucket of broken glass.

A simple way to handle it:

“Yes, thank you for raising that. It’s a good question and I understand your frustration completely. In fact, we’ve heard that from others, so you’re not alone. Here are a few things we’re doing to try to fix that problem — and with your help and understanding, I think we can get there. I’d be happy to discuss this with you further if you’d like to chat later.”

Or, just have security escort your new friend to the lobby, and have someone beat them with a bat. Responding negatively or defensively has about the same effect. Either way, your presentation is going to leave a blood stain on the floor.


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