Presentations: How to Handle the “Stone Wall of Silence”

We’ve all been there. Your meeting seems to be humming along smoothly. Then you notice. No questions. No chat. No interesting responses to survey questions. Even online, you can sense the uncomfortable silence. What went wrong? Well, you probably skipped a small but vital step. Once you’re aware of its importance, it’s surprisingly easy to fix.


The strength of live meetings is that you get instant visual feedback. People smile. Or nod in agreement. Or glare at you with their arms folded. Or actually shake their head in disagreement.

Even in an online meeting, you can get a sense that your message is falling on deaf ears.

Sometimes silence means indifference: you’re talking to the wrong audience about the wrong topic. But more often it means your audience has heard something they disagree with. They’re not inclined to speak up, so they give you the Stone Wall of Silence.

If you have a sales background, you probably recognize this as a sign of unspoken objections. If you’re a writer, you may think of it as conflict. Either way, it means the same thing: your audience is resisting your message.

Objections usually appear in one of these four forms:


1. Automatic objections

bulbIntelligent people listen with a healthy touch of skepticism. Their brain automatically thinks of reasons why they might disagree — and I emphasize the word might. They want to make sure you’ve thought through your message carefully and that you’re presenting a solid argument.


2. Intellectual objections

These are like automatic objections, except they have sharper teeth. The audience has spotted something that doesn’t quite make sense. Maybe there’s an error in your reasoning. Or perhaps they’ve heard someone else present a different take on the same subject and are trying to decide who’s right.


3. Emotional objections

dv1923028Some subjects are emotionally loaded. For example, a discussion of divorce with an audience of parents will cause strong feelings to erupt. Or among business people, the subject of tax increases will cause anxiety to spike. These objections may or may not have an intellectual basis, but they are every bit as real.


4. Practical objections

If verbalized, these objections might sound like this: “We can’t do X because of Z.” This is neither agreement nor disagreement. The listener has simply raced ahead into the future and foreseen a problem.


How to handle objections

Smart salespeople don’t treat objections as obstacles; they use them as steppingstones to agreement — or at least to resolution.

Objections cannot be ignored; they will never just go away.

Here are some of the most basic tactics for handling them.


Unplugging objections

audienceThis is a great technique whether you are presenting face to face to one person, to a group online, or even preparing a written presentation. It simply means that you anticipate objections and answer them in advance.

I know what you’re thinking. You can’t possibly know what’s going on in the mind of every meeting participant. True, but you can pick out the juiciest, most common objection and prepare a good answer. Then during the meeting, you can bring up the question and answer it on the spot. Voilà! Objection unplugged.

Did you catch that? The previous paragraph demonstrates how to bring up an objection and “unplug” it instantly. Try it; it works.


Soliciting feedback

languagesYou can’t anticipate every objection. Your audience of pompous jerks diligent thinkers will inevitably come up with an off-the-wall objection you didn’t foresee. You encounter a Stone Wall of Silence and have no idea what it means.

At times like that, you gotta ask. “I’m not getting warm, fuzzy feelings of agreement,” you might say. “Somebody tell me what you’re thinking. Please!”

And what if they come up with a creative objection you’ve never heard before? (Trust me, they will.) You simply have to trust your instincts and formulate the best answer you can — don’t worry, you can handle it.


Answering in kind

Should you give an emotional answer to an intellectual objection? That’s probably a bad idea. How about an intellectual answer to an emotional objection? Worse!

Instead, use an emotional objection as an opportunity to touch the audience’s heartstrings. And use intellectual objections to demonstrate subject mastery.

Likewise, a practical objection should be met with an acknowledgment of the obstacle and a common-sense way to address it.

thankyouAnd what of the automatic objection? It’s a mistake to answer an automatic objection with a two-hour answer including charts, and diagrams, and … it’s just too much. Instead, answer with a quick response. “Oh, you say we’ve never done it this way before? Well, maybe this is a good time to try something new.” If your audience isn’t happy with your answer, they’ll come up with an objection worthy of a more thoughtful reply.


Preparation is the key

Here’s something surprising. Once you dive into the common objections surrounding your topic, you’ll enjoy coming up with creative ways to handle them. Each one is like a little puzzle you can use to sharpen your wits and deepen your understanding.

Better yet, the process of answering objections is a way to help you think like your audience — a very useful skill. Behind that Stone Wall of Silence you may find a richer understanding of your topic and a deeper relationship with your audience.

Any objections? Let’s hear them in the comment section.

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