Does this sound familiar: You’re going through your presentation or demo, you get to a transition point, you pause, and… crickets. So you ask “does anyone have any questions?”. Nothing, or maybe an uncomfortable “not right now”, comes back. So you try that again, this time maybe you don’t wait so long until asking again. Same response. Rinse and repeat this cycle 5 to 7 times and you have a very common affliction that affects many of us.
Before we come back to the underlying cause, let’s get the tactics out of way. Please stop doing this. It makes the customer uncomfortable. It makes you look nervous or not in control. And it waters down your presentation.
Now, there are two reasons we tend to do this. We either want to gauge our audience or we want to see if they are engaged with us. Unfortunately, no measure of questioning is going to fix a boring pitch. If your message is not resonating, you already knew that, or you wouldn’t have begun interrogating your subjects. So here is what I recommend in terms of gauging your audience:
- Segment your talk – Have clear breakpoints that divide it into sections. Make sure the audience always understands where the transitions will be in advance so if you’re going to leave a topic, they know they can/should speak up
- Go slow – The faster you talk, the less interactions there will be. Always pause slightly longer than you think you should between key points. It’s amazing how strong a vacuum a bit of silence creates
- Have plants – Have prepared questions FOR THEM at specific transitions in your talk. They should be relevant, thought provoking, and open ended
- Work as a team – Your rep should be asking some of these questions. Having more than one person speaking naturally induces others to speak
- Don’t wait – The longer someone goes without talking, the less likely they are to break that momentum. Start early with general qualification questions and keep them rolling at regular intervals getting more specific as you go
- Aim at a target – You can direct your questions to specific individuals. It shows greater awareness of the customer’s make-up and it necessarily guarantees a response
- As a last resort, stop – If nothing really is working, just stop the presentation. Communicate that you think you’re missing the mark and that you should back up. Either they’ll be embarrassed and insist you keep going, or they’ll agree and you can reset expectations
The moral of the story here is preparation. Approach audience engagement as a strategy, complete with contingency plans.