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2When the interjection doesn’t need verbal attention

2When the interjection doesn’t need verbal attention

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The engaging presenter Part III:

How to handle questions and interjections


Making the method powerful

When the interjection doesn’t need verbal attention

Many interjections are so fleeting, so lightweight, that it would be ludicrous to spend words on them.

But there is one element of the technique you still need. Warmth.

You “So, on Thursday night, Rachel and I aim to get

together to –”

Q “Hah!” (Light hearted.)

You (Continue almost without pause, raising one eyebrow, a

hint of amusement in the eyes, no more than a glance

at the interjector.)

“– to work out how to get everyone involved in…”


You’re taking it in passing, with warm

acceptance. No words are needed at all.

Mirror negative emotions with intensity

First, two don’ts from the extreme ends of the spectrum:

• Don’t respond to aggression with aggression or anger. All you’re demonstrating is your loss

of control. You might as well just throw a tantrum.

Don’t respond to aggression with calm, quiet words.
What? What could possibly be wrong with calm

quiet words? That’s dignified.

The Wake

the only emission we want to leave behind








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The engaging presenter Part III:

How to handle questions and interjections

Making the method powerful

It may well be dignified, but in the face of aggression (and any other strong negative emotion) it just

looks inadequate. No matter how perfect the wording of your answer, the non-verbal messages dominate.

The audience gets the impression that you’re not convinced by your own story, so they go away thinking

you didn’t really answer the question.

That’s disconcerting news for many. If quiet dignity doesn’t cope with strong emotions, what does?

Intensity does.

The more intense the emotion of their question (or

interjection), the more intensely you express your reply.

Intensity is not aggression.


More intensity means more earnestness,

more obvious desire to be understood.

That usually also involves more animation. You lean further forward, your eyes widen, eyebrows rise.

Your voice is more emphatic, more modulated. Often you speak more softly and slow your words. It’s not

a shouting match.

Here’s an example. I won’t spell out basic reply-sharing any more – let’s take that for granted.

You “Okay, that’s the proposal. Your thoughts?“

You’re speaking with your normal level of intensity.

Q “We don’t have the budget.“

Medium level emotion – with intensity higher than

yours has just been

You “You’re right. We don’t, at least not yet. We’re going

to have to fix that before we begin.“

Q “Oh for Pete’s sake! It’s a load of bollocks. Even if

you get the budget, there’s no way we can mobilise

resources in time. The shareholders will howl for

our heads.“ (Others nod in agreement.)

You “I can’t agree.

(look around, first words slow)

This… proposal… will… work…, as long as all of

us here are willing to put aside our differences and

work as a team – and that does mean a great deal

of effort. It does mean more time here away from

home and family.“

Lift level of intensity to match the questioner. More

earnestness, energy, animation. Slightly more body

language, more emphasis in the voice.

Aggression. Sceptical, sarcastic, angry – driven by

high level intensity.

Your intensity now significantly higher to mirror

the intensity behind the aggression from the

questioner. Significantly more earnestness.

Significantly more desire to be understood.


Download free eBooks at bookboon.com

The engaging presenter Part III:

How to handle questions and interjections


Making the method powerful

Open up the hidden agenda

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t

being said.” Peter F. Drucker

The needles of stinging nettle are so small they’re nearly invisible, but they still bring an unpleasant

result, especially when brushed lightly. In an audience, the hidden agenda (or barely-concealed emotion)

is much the same. Often, your first instinct is to brush it off, though the brushing simply injects more

poison into your presentation.

But take a lesson from the goat. In the middle of the nettle patch, you’ll find the goat not only eating

the nettle, but also getting a nourishing meal from it. He knows how to handle stinging nettle: grip it

directly and firmly, then it doesn’t hurt.

Let’s change animal.

Often name the invisible elephant in the room.

Everyone knows the elephant is there (a concern, an objection, an underlying tension), but they’re all

too polite or nervous to mention it. Do you do anything about it? Mostly yes, because hidden does not

mean harmless. If you don’t name it, it’s likely to trample on your garden after you turn your back. What’s

really going on in a presentation is the emotion in the room.

Here’s an example with intense passions. Suppose you’re talking to psychologists about the dangers of

letting a badly-behaved child talk to anyone who believes that most men are potential child-abusers. As

you speak, you notice sour expressions, sidelong glances. The audience is disturbed by something you’re

not party to. A hidden agenda.

You (Stop speaking, pause, look around.)

“Am I missing something?”

Asking the audience to name the elephant.

Other ways: “There’s something you want to tell

me?” or “Some of you don’t seem happy about

this.” or “What’s happening?”

Q1 (With anger)

“I resent your implication that innocent men get convicted

as a result of psychologists’ beliefs.”

(A buzz of support.)

You (Look around questioningly.)

“Looks like you’re not the only one who feels that strongly.”

You’re listening with warmth and interest. This

interjection would normally sting, but when you

welcome it as a gift, there’s no sting.

Accepting and reflecting the feelings.

Q2 (Even angrier than the first one.)

“Every time we’ve called in the police, we’ve got a

conviction. Our methods are well proven!”

You “So you feel that psychologists can successfully stand back

from their own beliefs?”

Specifically checking and reflecting feelings.

Q2 “Objectivity is part of our training and methodology.”

(Nod again, looking round expectantly.)

“Other opinions?”

Inviting cross-fire.


Download free eBooks at bookboon.com

The engaging presenter Part III:

How to handle questions and interjections

Making the method powerful

Yes, naming the elephant can lead to open confrontation. But look at the alternative. If you pretend

that the elephant isn’t there, your presentation may be no more than clothing on a corpse. If you want

respect, deal with real.


How to handle audience anger when you deserve it

You’re accused unexpectedly and realize that the accusation is right. Remember, for this example, that

you must never compound a mistake with embarrassment, nor by flogging yourself in public. (See The

Engaging Presenter Part II. How to apologize or admit a mistake)

You “…so I’ve arranged for Hans to go to the Berlin


(There’s an immediate buzz. Heads turn. People

look at each other in surprise and anger.)

(Pause. Look around)

“…A problem?”

Checking with the audience.

Q (Accusing tone.) “I’ll say. The new protocol says all

district managers go to the Berlin conference.

We’ve all re-arranged our schedules.

You “Really?”

You’re puzzled.

Q “You handed us the protocol yourself, two days

ago. You asked us to read it carefully.”

You (Turn to audience.)

“Anyone got a copy here?”

(One audience member hands a page to you and

points to the fine print. You read, nod, hand it back,

and turn to audience.)

“Right. My apologies, everyone – I asked you to

read it carefully, and I didn’t do so myself. You’ll

need that resolved right away… please help

yourselves to coffee while I talk to head office.”

You’re concerned.

It’s a normal nod, this time, not an incline of the

head. You’re agreeing with the facts presented to


Regret, yes. But no humility, no embarrassment, no

indignity. You are much bigger than any one mistake.

With this kind of apology, respect for you will increase.

The same is true for parents apologising to children. I remember apologising to my six-year-old son (a

mistaken accusation about a broken flower vase – it was the cat). A huge, warm smile broke out on his

face. He looked as if he was going to hug me; instead he raced off to inform his brother. “Hey Andrew,

Dad stuffed up!”

Loss of dignity? None. Gain in trust? Plenty.

Incidentally, an audience of children can see through you even faster than an audience of adults.


Download free eBooks at bookboon.com

The engaging presenter Part III:

How to handle questions and interjections


Making the method powerful

How to answer closed, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions

Look at this classic way to get a howl of derision from the audience.

Interjector “Minister, did you or did you not promise that the schedule

would be announced in March?”

Minister “Well, when you take into consideration the complexity of

the operation, and the fact that we had to go to two select

committees… and then we had to go to every local authority

in the South Island, who had to consult with their rate payers

before we could come up with a clear picture… It was very time

consuming. It’s absolutely vital that we don’t rush this if we’re

going to do a competent –”

Interjector (after hoots “Minister, was that a yes or a no?”

and catcalls)

Sounds deceptive and defensive, doesn’t it? Like an admission of guilt. Most politicians and many senior

executives have been media-trained to avoid a straight yes or no, to avoid having it thrown back at them

at some later date. That advice ignores the obvious, immediate loss of credibility. It’s not a whodunit

novel with the answer on the last page.

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