Dear Latimer: More Answers to Your Questions

Hello friends! We recently added a new element to our website, where you can submit your communication questions directly to us. We will collect the questions, and either answer directly back to you, or when appropriate, publish your questions and our answers on our blog. Our goal here is to give you some quick support and answer your most pressing questions about the all-important skill of persuasive communication.

So, fire away with those questions, and we look forward to hearing from you. If you want to submit a question, look for the “Dear Latimer” box on the right side of the screen on our blog page.

Have a great day! ~Dean and Hannah

Dear Latimer,

In my organization, you never get past slide 2 without an interruption, usually from a senior person in the meeting. How do you get through your presentation with an audience that is constantly jumping in and taking the conversation off course?

  • Tonya A., Connecticut

Thanks Tonya. Great question. We hear this one a lot, from inside many companies. We have some advice for you and anyone who presents. We also have some advice for any business leaders who might be reading this, and who might occasionally be guilty of the behavior you are describing.

There are a few things a presenter can do to minimize this behavior from others… but we can’t guarantee that you can ever eliminate it entirely. Your strategies need to start with your own preparation. Here are some three things you can do ahead of time:

  1. Work really hard to get to the point quickly. People flip ahead and/or interrupt because many presenters don’t get to the punch line very quickly. Think about how you could summarize the story in three minutes or less, using a storytelling frame like “problem/solution” where you summarize the problem, its potential or real impact, your suggested solution, and your request/ask to bring that solution to life. The quicker you can get to the punchline, the less reason your audience has to jump ahead of you.
  2. Try to anticipate the questions that might come. If you are presenting to an audience you know really well, think hard about the types of questions that might come up, and see if you can work those issues/answers directly into your story. Or if you don’t know the audience well, think about what someone in their industry, or their functional area, or level of seniority might care about. Put yourself in their shoes.
  3. If possible, try to get with members of your audience ahead of time, and simply ask them what might be valuable to them in the discussion. A five-minute phone call ahead of time, or a quick pop in to someone’s office gives you the opportunity to simply ask “what are you listening for in next week’s meeting?” If you learn anything valuable, work it directly into your message.

And here are some things you can do during the meeting:

  1. Right at the top, you can let everyone know “I have a three-minute summary of our discussion today, and then I will dive into the details and you can take the conversation wherever you want to go.” That’s a nice way of saying “give me three minutes before you interrupt me.” That won’t stop everyone. But it will delay some of this behavior.
  2. If someone interrupts you with an early question, and their question is something you are about to answer, don’t be afraid to respond with “great question, I will address that directly in a moment.”

And the other thing you can do is start a conversation within your team or company about this, and other kinds of interruptive behavior. Try to establish some group norms, where everyone treats everyone with a little patience for the first three to five minutes.

Again, we can’t and won’t guarantee that you will be able to eliminate this behavior. Some people interrupt because they are truly inquisitive. Others do so, as a demonstration of how smart or powerful they are. No matter what we do, some people may always behave this way. But with the correct strategies, we know you can reduce the frequency of this kind of behavior.

Finally, if you are reading this, and think you might commit the kind of behavior that Tonya is talking about, spend a moment and reflect on the impact this behavior might have on others inside your organization. We can say, with confidence, that Tonya’s question comes up a lot, and this sort of interruptive behavior causes a lot of anxiety for many employees in many companies. Is that really the impact you want to have?

We hope this helps!

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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2 responses to “Dear Latimer: More Answers to Your Questions”

  1. Marc R. Parent says:

    This approach works very well and I experienced it for a presemtation during an executive meeting of a company.

    Our team was given 30 min for a persentation by the CEO (present 15 min & questions 15 min). I convinced the team to use this approach that Mr. Brenner shown to me during a training session.

    I started the presentation by telling the Executives that we prepared the presentation anticipating their questions and we would take questions after the 15 min. I started with the recommendation, than shown the why, what, how and when finishing with what the team needed from them to implememt the recommended solution.

    We had only 2 questions to answer after the 15 min presentation and we were done in 20 min vs the 30 min. allocated to us. We got tumbs up from the CEO for that. Even the team was surprised by the results using this process.

    Thank you Dean for sharing your knowledge with us. It changed my thinking process and my life.

    • Dean Brenner says:

      Thanks Marc! Great to hear from you. You and I first met in 2005, I believe… right after The Latimer Group first started working with United Technologies. Hope you are well!
      – Dean

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A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.