Don’t push – make them pull

November 18, 2010

This week I’ve been giving a training course with Ideas on Stage, and we’ve had a fantastic group which has participated very actively. It’s been a great exchange.

When you attend a presentation, lecture or course, how often is it really an exchange? Most times, it’s just a question of the lecturer / presenter / speaker broadcasting something to the audience, and hoping that they will take some of it in. Yet we don’t usually internalize very much when we merely hear something, particularly when it is pushed at us.

Communication is a two-way street. Connecting with your audience and making your presentation a real communication in which they play an active role can enhance the experience immeasurably. Here’s why.

  • People take in more when they are truly attentive. This doesn’t happen much when you are bombarding them with boring bullets. However, when they are actively participating in an exchange, they are far more likely to be paying attention.
  • ‘Pull’ communication is far more effective than ‘push’. That is to say, when people actively listen for information, they are more likely to take it in than if you push something on them. It’s the difference between selling on the telephone to somebody who called you, and trying to sell to somebody whom you cold-called. You have to make your audience want to pull the information from you. For example, raise questions in their minds which they will want answered, and then they will listen for the answers.
  • Furthermore, when your audience is in ‘pull’ mode, they are preparing a suitable hole in their minds into which you can slot your message; and when they participate in the discussion by asking clarifying questions or directing a conversation in a particular direction, it is so they are sure to receive the answers they need to allow your message to fit into their reality tunnel.

This last part takes quite some understanding, but to simplify it, imagine that each person’s mind is like a jigsaw puzzle made up of all their beliefs and memories. Anything new needs to fit in with the rest of the puzzle, otherwise it will be rejected – or distorted into something which does fit. To get your message to slot in, you need to find a piece of their puzzle, and shape your message so that it fits next to this existing piece.

That’s very hard for any presenter, particularly when you have a large audience, although you can increase your chances by putting things in terms they are more able to relate to – for example when Steve Jobs launched the iPod and talked about “1,000 songs in your pocket” rather than the number of gigabytes which aren’t especially meaningful to most people. We can all relate to songs and pockets – just as you can most likely relate to a jigsaw.

Nonetheless it is far easier if your audience can do that hard work for you. All you have to do is to involve them as equal partners in an exchange so they want to pull your messages. Far better than throwing jigsaw pieces at them in the wishful hope that one of them might stick.


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