Recently, I reached out to a friend and mentor for some solid feedback after providing a social media presentation.
As background, you should know that I love to present on social media for entrepreneurs and small business. Most of my social media presentations are to chambers and business associations, like the Pierce County Professional Photographers Association (PCPPA), the Home Builders Association (HBA), and Alliance of Women Owned Businesses.
Business people such as these are the heart and soul of communities. They are job creators, tax payers, donors to non-profits, and hard working individuals. I am honored to be of service to them.
The vast majority of attendees for my presentations are the actual business owners and key executives. These people have profit and loss responsibility and usually view social media from an opportunity/threat/ROI perspective. They often see social media as potential God-send, especially compared to the old marketing game of David (SMB) and Goliath (giant corporations with unlimited marketing budgets).
This social media presentation was different.
I called my friend and public speaking/training mentor because the audience I had just spoken to contained many lower level corporate staffers, government/public sector employees, and people that had to be there, rather than wanted to be there.
And they didn’t seem to embrace the opportunities that social media offers.
While I had great engagement with the executives and business owners in the room I felt a distinct, almost palpable, barrier between me and some of the non-executives/owners.
For instance, from time to time, one or two of them had their, God forbid, arms crossed as if they were closed to the information!
For others, their attention was elsewhere. Like the ceiling and floor!
I think I even detected the presence of boredom (was that a yawn?)!
I caught myself thinking, “What’s going on here?”
I usually receive top ratings and reviews for my presentations. What’s so different today?
I got to thinking…..Can a social media presentation appeal to everybody in every audience every time?
No way. I am not naive enough to think that. People have diverse interests. Not everybody is excited about this as I am. I get that.
However, and this is the crux of this post, it wasn’t that I wasn’t connecting at all.
I was connecting.
With some of the audience.
Just not with everybody.
I could sense a splintering into groups. Factions.
I looked for a pattern. Who was with me? Who wasn’t?
As I studied the room, I could tell the owners and executives where engaged, asking questions, sitting forward, making eye contact.
So that wasn’t it. They were with me.
What about the non-executives, the non-owners?
They weren’t in the moment! That was what was bothering me.
Now, I needed to know why.
Was it entirely my fault? Did the presentation fail the “So What” test? Or the “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)” test?
No, social media is great for the careers of the employees, not just the business owners and executives. I had clearly shared universal benefits.
Then I entertained the thought that maybe the closed off or inattentive people were to blame.
Yes, that was it. I started feeling like it was almost entirely their fault. I had it in my mind that they were disengaged because they weren’t entrepreneurial! They weren’t team players. They weren’t decision makers. They didn’t have their priorities straight!
Wait a minute. Hold on. I know better.
I had to take ownership here. In the final analysis, this was my social media presentation.
As a professional, and one that takes ownership for my circumstances and audience’s learning, I knew it was my fault and my problem.
But, I didn’t know exactly what to do about it.
I needed to talk with a pro who would understand and have advice and insights. So I called Sheila.
Sheila Sarah Birnbach is a public speaker, consultant, and has been an instructor at the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organization Management (IOM) for over 25 years. She has spoken to and trained tens of thousands of business people, staffers and owners, top executives and new hires, in thousands of venues.
She would understand my frustration and help me to solve this problem.
The remainder of this post contains some of the nuggets of gold that I got out of our consulting call.
Sheila quickly pointed out that what occurred isn’t unusual for trainers and speakers when speaking to diverse audiences.
The fact is that you just aren’t going to reach every person in the audience every time. That’s life.
But she also pointed out that in this particular case, the problem truly was mine.
I made the error of assuming too much about my audience members.
Arms crossed? Maybe she was cold. How do I really know she was closed off to me and my message? I don’t. Can I read minds? Could I have been wrong about her body language? Yes. I jumped to the negative conclusion.
What about the others that seemed not to take the social media presentation seriously enough? Can I say with certainty that they didn’t care? Again, a negative assumption based on limited knowledge.
The fact is, I cannot accurately judge somebody else as not caring about a topic and then assign them a negative character trait, like they aren’t a team player, based on my assumptions (guesses).
As Sheila said, “If somebody walked out of the room, would you take offense? That person may have just needed to use the restroom and the action had nothing to do with you. If you let yourself make assumptions about people’s character, motives, drives, and desires on such flimsy evidence you are going to make a lot of mistakes my friend, and potentially alienate that part of the audience.”
She provided me a wealth of information over the phone and was kind enough to send me her workbook, “Achieve Success In Your Organization…Focus on the Tip of the Iceberg“.
At 18 pages of lessons and exercises it was a relatively quick read with real meat.
By the way, I am not doing this post for a commission or anything like that. I just think you should know about it, and her.
It helped me to clearly differentiate between what I can observe, their actions (the tip), and what is unseen (most of the iceberg). I was making judgments about people based on assumptions.
What about some, as another example, that I thought had a poor attitude (the ones that weren’t sit on the edge of their chairs). The fact is I can’t ascertain who has a great attitude and who has a poor attitude. I can guess. I can make assumptions (BASED ON MY BAGGAGE AND FRAME OF REFERENCE) but I can’t possible KNOW.
To quote directly from the workbook, “When we observe another’s behavior, and make a below-the-water-line value judgement about his/her personality based on that behavior, whose frame of reference is the basis for the value judgement?
Our own, of course.
My future course of action is clear. Do the very best job of teaching I possibly can every time. And don’t make negative assumptions and value judgement about my audience members. Instead, engage my audience in the discussion if I feel I may have lost some. Let them tell me what they are feeling and thinking. Allow the audience to discuss the topic at hand and bring out the collective wisdom of these adult learners.
Thank you Sheila for pointing all of this out. If you, dear readers, would like to know more about Sheila Sarah Birnbach and how she can be of service to you, please check out her website.