Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dealing With Dangerous Audiences

On very rare occasions a group presentation will turn ugly. No matter what happens, keep your cool. If you get a hostile question or comment, thank the person for sharing their thoughts with you, then deal with it just like you would handle an objection. If the whole room starts twitching in their seats, stop your pitch and ask them if you’ve said something wrong, then correct your misstatement.

The most common problem you’ll face with groups, though, isn’t hostility, it’s keeping them on the track you want them to follow. It seems like every group has a leader or a loud-mouth (sometimes it’s the same person) who wants to comment on every point you make, and everything everyone else says, too. Don’t take it personally, though, because this person probably acts the same way every time this group gets together. In fact, you can usually identify this guy before he opens his mouth because the rest of the crowd will start rolling their eyes when they see his hand go up the first time.

I wish I had a magic incantation for you to use in this situation, but I don’t. All you can do is stay pleasant and polite, not hesitating to change the subject back to your presentation before the loud-mouth can ask a follow-up question. Try to resist the temptation to put them in their place the way a stand-up comic deals with a heckler in a nightclub. Just grin and bear it and try not to lose your place in your pitch. Actually, the sympathy the rest of the group feels for you might well work in your favor

Another unpleasant situation is when the meeting degenerates into the dreaded “I Can Top That” routine. When the war stories start, everyone in the room seems to have a primal urge to contribute one. Each one has to be more horrible than the last one, of course, and the negative energy in the room just builds and builds. If it goes unchecked, you end up with an ugly mob on your hands.

Once again, the best tactic is to jump in before the momentum builds. The best rule of thumb is to interrupt after the second story is told. Don’t let the third one even get started. Give them a polite “That’s very interesting” and get back into your presentation. If you’re really good, you’ll be able to relate the benefits of your proposal to the problem that sparked the first story.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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