In dealing with skeptical audiences and resistance, you need more than the standard "good presentation skills." It's also essential that you know your listeners' needs and expectations. In other words, understanding who your listeners are and what they expect from you is essential to persuading them.
To gain valuable insight for succeeding in the face of listener push-back, read my cheat sheet, "7 Tips for Overcoming Audience Resistance."
Knowing what your listeners hope to hear in your presentation, for instance, will help you choose the right mix of raw information and your perspective on it. All of us have sat through enough "information dumps" for us to bear in mind Voltaire's advice: "The secret of being a bore is to tell everything."
Understanding the Role of Culture
You should also understand to the best of your ability the culture you're dealing with. For many of us, "culture" refers to geographical or national groups. If you're involved in global business, you're probably highly focused on honoring the customs that are inherent in such groupings. That's essential in global communication, especially speaking globally.
But there are many audience cultures that have nothing to do with geography or political boundaries. These sub-cultures can exist as social networks, clubs, and interest groups; but they are also present in companies and organizations. A presentation to the human resources department of a large corporation, for example, requires a different approach than a talk to regional distrbution managers at that same company.
When speaking to cultures that are different from your own, try to undertand as accurately as possible the expectations of your audience. And pay attention to establishing your own credibility, quickly and succinctly. Doing so can have a big payback in terms of an audience's acceptance of you and its openness to your message.
Dealing with Unexpected Resistance
But what about resistance that you can’t anticipate—the kind that rears its fearsome head during your presentation?
The first thing you should realize about challenges from an audience is that you shouldn’t fear them. Salespeople, persuaders par excellence, understand that quibbles—and even clear disagreements—are often the necessary steps toward a successful sale. It’s the same with presentations and the audiences that hear them.
Take questions and objections. They indicate that listeners remain engaged with you and your topic. These people, in other words, haven’t shut themselves off and stopped listening to your argument. That’s a critical point in your favor.
Remember that resistance is a natural element of a thinking, attentive audience. Therefore, you mustn’t resist it too strenuously. You lose some of your persuasiveness when you adopt a “siege mentality,” as though you were dodging flaming arrows hurtling your way. Don't be defensive, in other words.
The instant you shift from reaching out toward our listeners to defensiveness, you lose control of the situation—and it shows. From that point on, you’ve stopped advocating effectively on behalf of your message.
So stay positive and hopeful! Audiences generally respect a speaker who stands up for his or her beliefs in the face of determined resistance. And getting your listeners on a positive wavelength is a much surer path to persuasion and influence.