Earlier this year, Greg Owen-Boger posted a blog entry here called “TRUST: It’s Yours to Lose.” In it, he talked about what a senior executive needed to do to keep the trust of the people in his organization. Greg’s point was about being genuine, transparent, and respecting the needs and views of others.
Today I’d like to talk a little more about this topic. When you think about it, the beginning of every presentation is always sort of a standoff. Not a hostile standoff like fighting teenagers or governments, but more of a waiting game sort of standoff. Both presenter and audience are waiting to see how things are going to play out. Neither fully trusts the other.
When you’re the presenter, you’re wondering if the audience is going to be cooperative, if they’ll listen and contribute.
If you’re in the audience, you’re waiting to see how this presentation is going to go. Is it going to be a painful waste of time? Is it going to require a lot of effort to listen and think?
Sometimes this standoff continues for a while, and sometimes it never really goes away. When that happens, neither side ever reached the point where they fully committed to the process. The audience held back because they didn’t trust the presenter, and the presenter held back because he or she never fully trusted the audience or the conversation that needed to take place.
Just as it is with any standoff, someone has to make the first move. And that person has to be the presenter. When you begin your presentation—and even during the preparation process—you need to focus on the conversation you want to have. You need to assume that you cannot succeed without your audience’s commitment and input. In other words, you need to trust them to help you accomplish the task you’re there to accomplish.
This always involves risk, of course. Presenting is an unpredictable process, and you can never know exactly what’s going to happen. But if you don’t take the risk, if you don’t give them the power to influence the conversation, they will never commit. It’s your move to make.