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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