We will probably all have moments when we have to share information that isn’t popular or address something that is controversial. How do we function during those tough presentations? The authors of Public Speaking: Finding Your Voice outline a strategy that can help in situations like these. They encourage using what is called a co-active approach made up of 6 specific steps that can help you talk about tough topics with people who may disagree with you.
Unless you are in some kind of combat, it’s best not to come out swinging. When you have to address a tough topic, your goal as a speaker is to keep the doors of communication open. Any signs of aggression or posturing, and your audience will probably shut you down. So start by reminding the audience that you have their best interest in mind. Tell them that you value difference of opinion and freedom of speech. Remind them that we move forward as society not when we all agree, but when we challenge and inspire each other even in our differences. For a great example of how to establish goodwill, check out John F. Kennedy’s famous “I am a Berliner” speech.
Once you’ve fostered goodwill, move on to talk about areas of agreement. You might call upon the help of universal values like truth or justice or equality. You can check out a theory of 10 universal values here. Use these common values to remind the audience that you are just on two different paths to the same end.
The first two steps of the co-active approach are aimed at building a foundation and foothold with the audience. This third step is where you start to dig into the issue. But instead of arguing, it’s better to explain. Try saying things like, “I know my position differs from some of yours. Let me explain how I got to where I am.” Or you might try, “I know this issue is controversial. I hope you’ll allow me to explain my viewpoint.” When you explain rather than argue, your audience wont’ feel threatened or belittled.
When you are giving a presentation to people who might disagree with you and you cite research, you have to ask this: Does this source count for this audience? While you might see someone as a valuable expert on a subject, someone with an opposing view might discredit everything that person says. So use impartial sources whom the entire audience would see as credible.
The truth is, persuasion happens slowly. You shouldn’t expect to change someone’s mind with just one message. In Business Insider, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom Jayson DeMers speaks to this. He reminds us to be patient but persistent. He says, “Your persuasive messages will linger in his or her subconscious, and the next time you bring up the argument, you have a chance to seem more reasonable (and more persuasive). Don’t abandon your goal, but do leave plenty of time between attempts.” The chances are that your audience will need time to think about your message, and how they might integrate it with their own opinions. So be modest in what you hope to accomplish with your presentation. Things like fostering conversation, helping the audience see another view, or raising awareness are all valid goals.
The final step in the co-active approach is a crucial one. In your last move, you should demonstrate that you understand other viewpoints. You can’t possibly know the best strategy for communicating controversial issues if you don’t know all the sides of that issue. So take time to research other viewpoints. And then include some of that research in your presentation. The audience will respect you more if you show that you understand their perspective. In addition, it’s okay at this point to highlight the things that you believe make your position a better choice. You’ve worked hard to connect with the audience up to this point, so you can explain in this last step why you truly believe your position or viewpoint is the most desirable.
It’s not fun to have to present controversial topics. But it’s possible to do it well. With the 6-step co-active approach, you can give a respectful and moving presentation even when your audience might not see eye-to-eye with you.
We love helping people just like you master the art of presenting. Ready to learn more?
Still need more help with your presentation?We've got the solutions. Talk to Us