Healthy Seeds of Doubt

When you plant your own seeds of doubt, you can strengthen your idea against the strangling weeds of objection.plant

Most PowerPoint presentations show a very happy land where ideas, products and services roam free, unencumbered by pesky doubts or objections. They are usually variations of this story:

“Here’s our company history, here’s our product or service, here’s how it works, here’s a list of benefits and here’s a list of our clients. Do you want a red version or a green one?”

The only problem is that this happy land exists solely in our dreams, where people simply believe things because we tell them to believe them. But in the waking world, people have resistances, doubts and objections to any new ideas. Without these natural defense mechanisms, all of us would be easy prey for anyone trying to make a quick sale of anything, so it’s healthy that we have and keep them.

But if you don’t recognize and prepare for doubt, it will pop up in your audience’s minds like a weed that can quickly suffocate your idea. You can cultivate doubt to make it work for you, instead of against you, by anticipating and addressing it before it grows in your audience’s mind.

For example, let’s say you’re giving a presentation and you know that it’s really important to your audience to save money, since their division’s budget has just been cut. You want to make very clear that your solution can in fact save them money, so you show a real case study where one of your clients used your product. Then you say “This solution now saves them 50% of their overhead costs,” and move on to your next slide that lists all the other benefits.

Instead, your next slide could be a simple dollar sign against a black background, like this example. You say, “I know it sounds unbelievable that overhead costs could drop 50%. That sounds impossible, right? Well, I’ve brought an independent audit that verifies the savings — there are paper copies for everyone that I’ve just passed around. Let’s go through the numbers… So, do you still think it’s impossible?” cost

With this approach, you’ve not only anticipated potential objections by preparing thorough support for your cost-reduction claim, but you’ve also done something simple yet powerful. You’ve asked questions, listened, and opened the floor for a dialogue where you can learn more about your audience’s objections so you can thoroughly address them.

You can apply this technique to a range of possible objections, but as in this case, it’s especially important to prepare for the objections that relate to the most important concerns of your audience.

Some people might think that bringing out the bad news will only strengthen resistance to your idea. But if you handle it properly, bringing up doubt yourself can weaken criticism, increase your credibility, and likely grow you more effective results.

Tip: Take a look at your presentation in Slide Sorter view, and try to think of where people will naturally object to your idea. At that point in the presentation, create a new slide and place on it only a single word, symbol of image that represents the topic of a possible objection. (It’s important that this is a clean and simple slide, because having a busy background or your logo on your slide will distract from the topic and undermine your sense of objectivity.) When you reach this slide during your presentation, confirm that people might naturally doubt your claim, and then provide verbal, visual or paper-based information that counters the doubt. Take the initiative to plant the healthy seeds of doubt first, so you can reap the rewards of successful communication later.

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2 Responses to “Healthy Seeds of Doubt”

  1. lou says:

    The tactic of opening up a question and answer session is a very powerful tactic in PowerPoint presentations. However, one must be very careful in starting this discussion in the middle of a presentation. It’s the presenter’s burden to anticipate and answer questions from the group. The supporting documentation must be accurate and appropriate to the discussion. Beware of those in the audience that want to “derail” your proposal. Also be prepared to resume the PowerPoint presentation while acknowledging (if any) unanswered questions or follow-up actions.

  2. cliff says:

    Great points, Lou. For an excellent exploration of the topic, see the chapter titled “Making Cross Examination Work for You” in Henry Boettinger’s book “Moving Mountains” (it’s out of print, but you can get a used copy from Amazon).

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