Updated: Dec 30, 2020
One of the primary reasons so many people fear public speaking is they are uncertain about how the audience will respond to their message. This uncertainty leads to stress. Fortunately, human behavior is fairly predictable and we have tools we can use to reduce uncertainty.
When attempting to persuade others, remember that no proposal is perfect. By addressing downsides to your idea, you will communicate to your audience that they can trust you. Conversely, if you avoid the mention of any downside, your audience may become suspicious.
How Can You Anticipate Objections?
Spend time trying to anticipate the objections your audience might have. The following list includes various information gathering strategies you could use.
Interact with your audience prior to developing your presentation to collect information.
Ask people who know your audience how they think your audience will react to your message.
Run the idea by people you trust and ask them what their objections would be.
Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about your proposal from their perspective. What questions would someone without prior knowledge of your proposal have?
Collect the objections you identify into a list. Then, from the perspective of your audience, rank the objections from the biggest to the smallest.
How Do You Decide Which Objections To Address?
Select the objections you will address during the presentation, and then determine the ones you will wait to address if they are raised during or after the presentation. Generally speaking, you should address an objection during your presentation:
If the objection is so big that you think your audience would stop listening once they think of it.
If the objection is big enough that you expect most people in the audience would be thinking about it.
Consider waiting for your audience to raise the objection during or after the presentation:
If the objection isn’t significant enough to warrant the attention.
If there’s a good chance your audience will not consider the objection.
Types of objections fall between the “big” and “small” I’ve defined above. When deciding which objections to address, consider your time constraint and the trade off between making your argument and addressing potential objections.
Take note of the questions that are raised during and after your presentation. If you choose not to address a particular objection and you are interrupted with a question about it or it’s one of the first questions raised during Q&A, then there is a chance you should have addressed it earlier. And if this is a presentation that you will deliver again to a similar audience, you might consider adjusting your remarks accordingly.
How Should You Address Objections?
Refrain from using the word objections. For example, avoid statements like: “I’ve anticipated some of your objections and will address them now.” While you should make some assumptions about your audience’s objections, most people don’t like being told that you think you know what they are thinking. Instead, weave your response to the anticipated objection into your argument.
Instead of: “You likely think this is going to be too expensive,” try saying, “This is going to increase costs in the first two years, and we’ll see the project pay for itself by year three.” The second statement recognizes an objection - without defining it as such - and addresses it without a debate-like tone.
People prefer transparency and will respect you more for it.
Being prepared to address objections during and after a presentation can shape the persuasiveness of your presentation. I’ve seen highly persuasive presentations end badly when a presenter mishandles questions from the audience. Don’t let this happen to you. If you appear caught off guard, defensive, or scattered in your response, your audience might conclude you haven’t fully thought through the implications of your proposal. However, if it appears you anticipated the question and you deliver a thoughtful response, your audience is likely to deem you more credible.
* * * * *
For more information about behavior uncertainty, see: Berger, C. R., & Calabrese, R. J. (1974). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human communication research, 1(2), 99-112.