Playing the room

In my role at MS, I get to see a lot of people talk. present and teach to audiences ranging from a few people to hundreds. I’ve seen all ranges of styles and experiences – I’ve seen exciting presentations and boring presentations. Of everything a presenter can do, there’s one thing I see time after time that just makes me uncomfortable – it’s the blatant failure to recognize the reactions of the people in the room.

For example, I was at a meeting recently where the audience was out of sync with the presenter. They kept asking the equivalent of “it sounds like sugar. We don’t like sugar”. The presenter, meanwhile, kept to the “script” of his presentation even though he later revealed he was talking about flour. If you’re talking about flour, and someone asks if you’re talking about sugar, tell them “no, I’m talking about flour.”

Another example I see often is “the stance” – it’s the same root cause (failure to see what the audience really wants), but the manifestation is slightly different. In this scenario, the presenter in the meeting “sticks to his guns” on a topic – so much so that when the topic changes slightly or different information is needed, they keep asking for the same thing.

If you want to be successful at dealing with people – especially when you’re dealing with multiple factions of people at once, you need to be aware of their interests and motives regarding the topic at hand. You need to recognize that regardless of how much you know something is right, that you need to do more than just convince someone of your prowess – you need to understand why they may or may not support your stance. You don’t have to bend to them, but if you don’t take the time or put in the effort to understand where they’re coming from, you’re only in it for yourself – and that’s the slow path to progress.

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