How to Successfully Change the Minds of Your Audience when Speaking and Presenting

by Marcus Sheridan

You can yell and even scream from stage, but if you truly want to change the minds of your audience, it's going to start with your ability to ask amazing questions that force them to think, reflect, and challenge what they currently believe.

You can yell and even scream from stage, but if you truly want to change the minds of your audience, it’s going to start with your ability to ask amazing questions that force them to think, reflect, and challenge what they currently believe.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to give a content marketing workshop to about 20 entrepreneurs in the Fort Lauderdale area. Of these 20, the majority will strongly disagree(at first) with most of what I’m getting ready to teach them about a very “different” way of doing sales and marketing in the digital age, a fact that I’ve become very accustomed to while presenting so much on this subject over the past 3 years.

But here is the catch—by the time this workshop is over, I would expect 100% of the people in the room to make a simple statement that sounds like this:

“This makes total sense… and we should have been doing it a long time ago.”

At the risk of sounding rather braggadocios, over the last few years I’ve managed to build a very successful reputation of helping business owners, CEOs, and management teams “see the light” when it comes to this critical subject of content marketing buy-in. And even though I’ve written a lot about this subject here and here, today I want to shed light on an underlying principle of great communication and persuasion that has helped me tremendously on stage and in board rooms—one that YOU could apply in a multiplicity of settings, but certainly whenever you present to a group of 1, 100, or 1000. Here’s how it works:

Don’t Tell Me What You Want to Tell Me, Allow Me to Figure It Out Myself

Humans are a stubborn bunch.

We’re prideful too.

This is good, and this is bad.

When it comes to learning new information, and embracing that information, it’s usually the brightest and most successful of us that are actually the most resistant.

The reason for this is actually pretty simple:

We want to discover truths for ourselves.

And we certainly don’t want others shoving supposed truths down our throats.

Communicators (especially world class speakers and presenters) understand this fact often times better than anyone else.

Not only do they understand this fact, but they know how to use it for their benefit and certainly the benefit of the audience.

The Magic is in the Questions

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, let’s go back to a subject I’ve talked about again and again—addressing pricing on your company website.

If I walked into a room of successful business owners and told them, right out the gate, that they should address pricing on their company website, they would immediately put up walls and disregard everything I said from that point on.

Understanding this reality, in order for my audience to “make this discovery” themselves, the process starts with 3 simple yet profoundly important questions, which look like this:

Question #1: How many of you have ever researched how much something costs online before? (100% of the room raises their hand)

Question #2: When you are researching this information on a particular website, and they don’t address the subject at all, what’s the emotion you experience?

(Again, 100% of the room responds with a negative emotion—“Frustrated!!”—after which we discuss the real reason they feel so frustrated: because they feel the company is *hiding* something from them, which ends up hindering their ability to trust said company.)

Now that everyone has proclaimed their mutual frustration for companies that bury their head in the sand on this pricing subject we’re able to ask the most important question of all:

Question #3: How many of YOU, right now, discuss cost and pricing information on YOUR website?

(At this point, most people in the room have a pensive, even frustrated look on their face, mainly because they are now caught in a snare, and are trying to deal with feeling like a hypocrite while at the same time justifying in their mind the way they do what they do and why they do what they do.)

Obviously, I could give a whole lot more detail about this line of questioning and the success it eventually leads to, but hopefully you’re seeing the essence of the dialogue, which is this:

Great questions make an audience first look into the mirror and analyze their wants, preferences, and behaviors.

And once they’ve gone through this process of self-analysis, only then can they discover—on their own terms—that their current set of beliefs are potentially misguided.

I truly hope you’re able to see where I’m coming from with this post.

If you truly want to be a great speaker, presenter, or teacher—online or off—you must become a master at asking questions, questions that will make your points for you long before you actually have to state them for yourself.

If you can do this, and do it well, you’ll facilitate personal discoveries from others you never dreamed possible.

Your Turn

I’d love to know your thoughts on this subject? How have you successfully changed the minds of those that are “set in their ways?” Have you used this skill of asking “self-discovery questions” in the past? What were the results?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Kohl March 14, 2014 at

Wow Marcus…this really nails it. People do want to ‘own’ their insights and discoveries. You can help them learn by telling stories with a point and asking great questions. Thanks for the info on how to ask questions which move your audience to their own conclusions.

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Paul Hajek March 14, 2014 at

Marcus – the missing link I fear in my presentation to law firms around England in the last few weeks.

My focus on pricing could have done with a few questions to warm them up as 90% of the audience had no online conveyancing calculator to help budget for the customer/clients’ move.

There’ll be more questions in my next presentations

Many thanks for the epiphany

Paul

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

Thrilled to help Paul, stay at it!

Best,

Marcus

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Jeremy Abel March 14, 2014 at

Hi Marcus,

I’m blown away by the way you incorporate questions into presentations; even more impressed by your confidence in knowing how people will respond to the questions and arrive at the intended conclusion.

My technique for changing minds when it comes to using the web to attract and convert prospects is by incorporating analogies. Specifically, I show how consumers shop for things offline, describe how the internet fits into the shopping process for today’s consumers (e.g. they use search engines to find answers to questions, websites to find businesses that meet their needs, review sites and social media to express their satisfaction, etc.), and let the audience see for themselves the massive opportunities in using the web to better align their marketing efforts with the way people shop today. At the end of the presentation they end up asking themselves “why weren’t we doing this all along?”

Again, excellent post Marcus- appreciate the tips and will definitely be improving the way I use questions in my presentations to help guide the audience into new realizations.

Keep changing lives my friend.

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

Jeremy, I literally can’t wait to watch you present at some point bud. Seriously, that’s one thing I’d like to make happen in the coming months.

Best to you bud,

Marcus

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joe arrigo March 14, 2014 at

Having been in sales for 30 years and written a sales book, questions are indeed key to influencing people, followed by skilled listening. If I say something to you, it can be true or not true, but if I can get you to say it, it’s true. That is the psychology, and questions can do that. Telling is not selling.

Questions are a powerful conversational mechanism. They engage the mind far more than statements, because now that person needs to respond lucidly, therefore, forcing he or she to ponder what was asked, rather than passively listening.

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

GREAT points Joe. I can tell you’ve got a rich history in this field sir.

Thanks so much for dropping by,

Marcus

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Amy Dunn Moscoso March 14, 2014 at

Hi Marcus,

I love this – no one likes to be preached too, (& especially not CEOs/senior execs/entrepreneurs). I really find casting the client as a customer with a problem first, as you mention in the pricing example, and then asking what they do in their business. It reduces the defensive reaction and allows people to start thinking.

Perhaps I’ll add pricing to my webpage…

Thanks for this.

Amy

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

Amy, thanks so much for stopping by and adding your thoughts :)

And regarding the pricing thing on your website, just remember– you’re in control of what you do and do not say. If the answer is “it depends,” but you do a great job of explaining why, then that is certainly better than most businesses.

Best to you!!

Marcvus

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Craig McBreen March 14, 2014 at

Marcus,

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for years and you are still the most persuasive speaker I’ve seen.

I like how you get up in the grills of certain audience members. It’s kinda scary (at least it was for me ;)) but very effective.

Have a great weekend, Sir!

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

Hahaha, thanks Craig, appreciate you making me smile my man and the kind words. Really, thank you!

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Walter Pollard March 14, 2014 at

Marcus – I love this process. What a masterful method of having your audience come to the pricing conclusion themselves.

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

Thanks brother :)

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Stepan March 14, 2014 at

Its very hard to overestimate the importance of teachers. I’m not the first time he attended seminars and workshops including public speaking and noticed that if a teacher infects me “drive”, the classes are much more efficient.
I think this guy is a great teacher!

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Scott P. Dailey March 15, 2014 at

Herb Cohen, a revered master of negotiation, always says, “care, but not that much.” When I am trying to persuade someone to see things my way or take an action I want them to take, I remind myself to care, but be ready, be willing to press on. I love your commitment to helping escort the most skeptical and as a fellow skeptic myself, I enjoy the strong case. My 9 year old likes change as much as he does eating snails. Adults are the same. Another book I read called, Selling the Invisible also speaks to this. Sometimes the decision is made to do nothing different. To take comfort in the predictability of the status quo. Marcus I’m thrilled you continue to be a torchbearer for new and progressive ways to market and sell in a digital marketplace. I really enjoy your brand of disruption on the subject. Change nothing.

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kim March 17, 2014 at

This couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as I am presenting to some bright and successful folks. To make an impact, I’m going to have to dig deep and not just state the obvious, but challenge and present the puzzle pieces. Masters, like you, get us to work and rework the rubix cube and experience that “ah-ha” moment. Thanks, Marcus!

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

Too kind Kim!! Good luck with your presentation, I’d love to know how it ends up going for you!!!

Marcus

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Davina K. Brewer March 18, 2014 at

We’ve discussed this before. Though I don’t speak often, I always roll in w/ a mindset to deliver what they need, to make it more than they could get via a blog post or email. That means replacing the boring, talking-head segment with engagement, interaction. By asking them questions and letting them set the agenda, you guide them to where they want (need) to go. Only instead of kicking and screaming, they go willingly as it was ‘their’ idea all along. Sneakily passive-aggressive; we’ve all had to try those tricks a time or twenty, a little reverse psych sometimes easier. :-)

The other part of this Marcus that’s brill, is by guiding them this way you’re also connecting with them on a human level. B2B is Person to Person; so you put them in the right state of mind with a scenario that’s common, realistic, human, relatable. That’s how you hit on those personal discoveries.. the relationship-building PR in me says Rock On, Dude! FWIW.

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Marcus Sheridan March 18, 2014 at

I love the way you think Davina, and would love even more to see you in action with a company to watch you do your thing as well.

Really appreciate your thoughts here :)

Marcus

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Monterey carpet cleaning April 1, 2014 at

I was looking for such a great post. Thanks to the writer. Need more post like this.

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