Ladies and Gentlemen…The elephant in the room

It’s there — all 8,000 pounds of it…and you’d better say something.

Obama did it last week as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo – and he did it effectively. Definitely not an ideal place to address war, but most certainly necessary. He began almost immediately: “I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated…I am the Commander In Chief of the military of the nation in the midst of two wars…I am responsible for the deployment of thousands…I come with an acute sense of the costs of our conflict.”

At Decker we’ve been working to prep several executives for their upcoming annual kickoff meetings. In many of these situations there’s an elephant in the room – a BIG one. It’s been a tough year, sales are down, layoffs have happened (and may still be happening), reorgs shuffled people and places, and entire business models have shifted. Those are the elephants, sitting front and center, just waiting to be acknowledged.

Our advice? Address it. At the very least, nod in its direction.elephant in the room2

But it’s not just for high stakes presentations. What happened at your last quarterly review meeting with your customer? The one after the logistics team completely blew the delivery date and failed to install the product on time. Did you try to ignore the issue? Or maybe just gloss over it?

The best way to address the elephant is to know it. Sit back and take stock of your audience. You may be talking to the same group of people that were in last year’s meeting. The individuals might be the same, but their outlook, opinions, and attitude have changed. Before you begin working on your message, ask a few questions:

  • How do they feel about you?
  • How do they feel about your subject?
  • Why would they challenge your Point Of View?

Then summarize your listener profile into three adjectives that best describe them. For example, maybe they’re skeptical, worried, and eager. Or supportive, excited, but hesitant. Then, as you’re crafting your message, continue to refer to your listener description to make sure that you’re hitting the points they will really hear. The result? They’ll have a feeling of understanding, of hope, of moving forward and beyond.

But take caution! Don’t let the elephant become your topic. Address it, and move on.

Want more? Here’s a good find for salespeople on doing a little prework to identify the elephants before even going into the room.