The stakes for presentations vary. Traditional investor, management, and marketing ones are important to the players, but rarely earth-shattering. Getting a company’s Board or employees to adopt an innovation or restructuring, involves much larger stakes. But the highest stakes belong to those focused on creating a social or other critical revolution. Think of the presentation skills that the founders of the United States used to mobilize public opinion to gain support for a revolution!
While the key skills we’ve highlight when applying the ADAP (Audience-Driven Authentic Presentations) formula apply to virtually all presentations, fomenting a revolution requires going beyond influencing the audience you’re trying to mobilize. It requires taking into account the future actions of the people who will oppose the desired action or even stay “neutral”.
Greg Satell, in How to Prepare Your Organization for Transformation in a Post-Covid World, shares many observations about the need to take into account the first of these parties. For years, he has shared his insights based on experience with the revolutionary movement designed to overthrow the brutal Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milošević, and later people involved with the rise (and fall) of the Arab Spring. More recently, he’s extended his insights to corporate settings.
Based on his experience and expertise, he shares with us that the traditional approach to launching a new initiative with a bang can be counterproductive. Lining up the “right people” for a big “kick-off” meeting to move fast and gain scale and generate some quick wins, can create urgency and inevitability. Yet the “shock and awe” approach can backfire because it might inspire an insurgency that bogs things down. “For any significant change, there will always be some who will oppose the idea and they will resist it in ways that are often insidious and not immediately obvious. The dangers of resistance are especially acute when…you need to drive transformation on multiple fronts.”
Thus, his ADAP solution is to start with small groups of enthusiasts that you can empower to succeed, rather than try to push an initiative on the masses that you’ll struggle to convince. Second, focus on instilling shared values and shared purpose so your audience stays dedicated. This allows the enthusiasts to spread the word and help recruit more people to your cause.
In “Those Who Forget: My Family’s story in Nazi Europe”, Geraldine Schwarz focuses on the larger “middle” group between change activists and the insurgency. Her family “did not participate more than nominally in National Socialism”; but the Nazi leaders took them into account so that they eventually were neutralized by ignoring their prior values regarding human dignity and life. Little by little, they did nothing to oppose Nazis when they entered towns to round up Jews and put them in cattle carts which took them to death camps.
In sum, depending on the stakes, define the audience you need to influence to include your future change audience, those who might oppose change and those caught in the middle.
Do you have any life or business experiences with such issues? If so, share them with us!