When a Presentation Turns into a Conversation

I’m not big on sports, but a few months ago a friend “forced” me to watch a football game. Heads down, charging forward, the players reminded me of so many office presentations I’ve sat through where the leader was determined to get his or her point across regardless of comments and questions coming from the group. Sometimes it’s imperative to drive action and get to the finish line, but more often than not, slowing down to listen to what others have to contribute will give you a better solution with more buy-in.

If you find your carefully crafted presentation turning into a conversation, use these three tips to switch gears and start listening differently.

  1. Take your foot off the accelerator. When your audience asks a question stop driving towards your point! Sometimes a question or comment can seem like an interruption. That’s when your rapidly nodding head tells everyone that you’re not really listening but impatiently waiting for them to shut up.Instead, take a breath, pause your flow, push your agenda to one side and listen with an ear to learn.
  1. Ditch the rebuttal. When responding to the comments of your audience, watch out for the subtle make-wrong phrases such as, “Do you really think that will work?” (which means, “You’ve got to be kidding!”), or “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” (“I totally disagree!”) and the classic, “As I said earlier…” (“If you had been listening…”).Make room for diverse opinions and redundant questions by delivering answers that foster trust rather than dissention. Subtley expressing your disagreement with a preamble such as “Do you really think that will work?” puts people on the defensive. Instead foster collaboration by asking, “ I don’t see it that way, tell me more.”
  1. Negotiate next steps. When a presentation turns into a conversation things change. Keeping with the sports analogy, the goal posts move. So don’t hang on to your original ask or your hoped-for outcome. Instead, acknowledge your common ground. “We all want to find a solution to this situation,” is a great phrase to use here. Then, move into action by asking the group, “What can we do to take the next step forward?”

Remember that conversation can spark innovation. So don’t let your presentation overtake the opportunity.

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