As a CIO, I have attended more that my fair share of product demonstrations from well-meaning vendors trying to make me see the value of their product or service, and hopefully buy in. In many cases, the product or service message is fairly clear and informative, and I can make a good decision based on what I hear. But every so often, there is that presentation that goes south, right out of the gate, and I can’t for the life of me understand what they are selling. You’ve likely been there too, whether at work, in the community, or even in your own family. Maybe it’s not a product. Perhaps it’s an idea, or a point of view.
A few years ago, I had a situation much like this. I walked into a conference room, met the sales team, and sat down ready to be impressed by whatever it was they were selling. However, the sales person didn’t take the time to set up the goal of the presentation, or even provide some background. He immediately jumped into a product features demonstration, and went so fast, I couldn’t keep up.
It was obvious he was nervous, and it might have been the nerves that pushed him ahead at breakneck speed. However, only 10 minutes into the presentation, I was lost, and just couldn’t see the value of the product, or what problem it would solve for us. I tried asking some clarifying questions, and even tried to prompt him to focus on some of the issues I was trying to solve. But he got visibly frustrated, and this lead to him being even more disjointed. Finally, I had to stop the meeting and ask him to reschedule some time for us to meet when they could present around a set of needs that we would identify. To say the least, the sales person was flustered since he felt he had given us exactly what we wanted.
On the other hand, perhaps you’ve been the person in the unfortunate position of trying to sell an idea to an audience, and for some reason, what you were saying just didn’t resonate. You begin to sweat, your pace goes up with every question, glance or facial expression from the audience, and you can feel the life of the presentation draining away. Then, you begin to tell yourself that they just don’t “get it”, and it must be their lack of understanding or intelligence. “It’s so simple. Why can’t they see what you see?” Their lack of ability to hear your message, or buy in to your idea just makes you more frustrated. Don’t let the curse of knowledge make you look stupid!
If you find yourself in this situation, what can you do?
- Slow down and take the time to educate. If you are in the middle of a presentation, there’s nothing wrong with stopping your message and asking if further explanation might be needed. The worst thing you can do is just drive on, assuming they will “get it” eventually. If this is a longer set of discussions over a period of time, ask for a reset with the people you are trying to influence. What you find out from that reset might be all you need to adjust your message.
- Review your message and make sure it’s telling the right story. It’s easy to be so knowledgeable on a topic that you lose sight of the difficulty you might have had learning about it early on. You can’t expect people to absorb information that might have taken you years to master. Ask someone not involved if they can understand the message, presentation, or concept. If it’s not clear to them, it’s likely not clear to other people as well.
- Check your attitude. Have you let your frustration cloud your attitude? Could you be viewing the audience as incompetent or inept? If you’ve lost — or don’t have — respect for those you are trying to influence, you can quickly come across as arrogant or aloof, and this will impact the audience response. First and foremost, your job is to inform and educate. Best-selling author Simon Sinek put together a great presentation that said, “If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” All business is ultimately about people, and you have to try and understand others before you can expect them to understand you.
- Find an honest critic. If you really want to know how you come across, and if what you are saying could be the problem, you have to have an honest critic who will tell you the truth. You don’t need someone to tell you what you want to hear, you need someone who will tell you what you need to hear.
- Reevaluate yourself to see if you are the problem. One of my favorite quotes is by General Bruce Clarke, a key leader during the first Gulf War in 1991, who says that before you try and blame others, you need to start with yourself. It just might be you! His quote was, “When things go wrong in your command, start searching for the reason in increasingly large circles around your own two feet.” If you find yourself in this situation on multiple occasions, it might be time to start looking close to home first.
To influence, you have to be able to sell. To be able to sell, you have to be able to communicate. Your message needs to be clear, and has to be adapted to the audience. If you aren’t connecting, make sure it’s not you. More than likely it is!
Have you ever found yourself feeling like people just don’t get it? How did you regroup and get the message across?