(This article about how to pre-handle objections – including 3 powerful techniques – is the third in my series on Persuasion Tips.)

It’s all about reducing risk

Imagine you’re happily presenting away, and suddenly you feel the audience going cold. They slump back in their seats. Maybe some start checking their phones. What happened? What can turn an audience against you like that?

This has happened to me, and it can happen to anyone. It happens when you say something that causes your audience to perceive a risk – even if subconsciously. This unconscious perception of risk is one important – and manageable! – contributor to objections. And if you don’t do or say anything to relieve that perception of risk, you may lose them for the rest of the presentation.

The audience members might not even know what happened. They might feel “Hmmm, he lost me there.”

The techniques below help you “pre-handle objections” to prevent this from happening.

Empathy for your audience

Pre-handling objections works because it shows your audience you have empathy for them and you have their best interests at heart.

As your prepare your presentation, you put yourself in your audience’s shoes. You figure out what they’re going to be worried about, and make sure you have answers to some of those worries.

Pre-handle objections: Put yourself in your audience’s shoes, figure out what they’re going to be worried about, and make sure you address those worries. #persuasion #prodmgmt Click To Tweet

If you’re lucky, these worries surface as questions if you don’t address them proactively. Unfortunately, often the audience just sits there silent but festering if you don’t put their minds at ease.

That leads to bad outcomes for you.

Let’s fix that!

How to pre-handle objections effectively

Good persuaders know what the objections will be in advance. And then, instead of waiting for them to come up via questions, or not come up, and just remain in peoples’ heads, you address them head-on in your presentation.

In a recent presentation I was demoing the latest version of a new product that was still in development. Because I’d practiced my demo (another key persuasion tip – practice!), I knew what didn’t work well, and where errant error messages might appear.

Before I even started the demo, I mentioned that there were known issues that were being addressed “as we spoke.” When I got to that point in the demo, I reiterated the statement as well as showing the workaround. By doing this, I avoided later questions about “all the bugs” and also ensured that the audience understood completely where we were in the development process and what we were doing to finish up.

1. Finding the objections

How do you know what their objections are going to be in advance?

  • As I said above, put yourself in their shoes. Literally say to yourself, “What is George’s biggest concern going to be about this?” Or “What will Nancy think about the cost I’m proposing?” (Answer the question, of course! And then make the question and/or answer part of your presentation.)
  • Listen to your own internal voice. As I work on my presentations I often find myself thinking “I hope they accept this point” or “Maybe if I rush past this no one will notice.” Or, to give myself credit, “That section leaves a lot of questions open… I better do something about that.” Those are important warning signs! If you’ve ever presented before, you already know this – the questions you don’t want them to ask are the ones they’ll ask. (Or not ask, and just simmer on.) Do yourself a favor and prepare and present answers.
  • Ask other people on the team, your colleagues, or a mentor or partner to help find holes in your argument, or questions that you raise – even if not explicitly – that you need to answer in the presentation.
  • If you’ve given the presentation before, or if you’re selling a product, think about all the objections you’ve heard in the past, and incorporate answers for those.

“OK, I know what the objections are going to be, or at least some of them. Now what?”

2. Address objections proactively

You’ll already know the answers to some of the objections that you found in the previous step. That’s awesome. But there are some for which you won’t know the answer yet. So that’s job #1: You need to come up with an answer.

During the presentation, you can pre-handle (and handle) the objections in several ways. Depending on the situation, you have different options, including the following:

  • An “Open Issues” or “Risks” slide. It not only sets the audience’s mind at ease, it shows that you’ve done your homework. You list the objections on the slide, and then talk through them. Your script might be something along the lines of:
    • “We’ve considered this issue but don’t have a final answer yet. Our intuition/reasoning/the evidence (whatever) suggests that it won’t be a significant problem, but we have more research to do. Resolving this question is high on our to-do list.”
  • List or talk about objections in the stream of the presentation. Instead of putting them all on a single slide or in a single section, handle them in context. “Here are all the reasons we think this is a good idea. There are still two open questions you might be asking yourself – A and B. We don’t think A is significant, because of X, Y, and Z. But we have more research to do on B – it’s probably the biggest risk we know of right now.”

3. Handling objections that you haven’t anticipated

What about situations where the audience asks questions for which you haven’t prepared? Or, perhaps you notice that someone’s attention is wandering, and you are able to persuade them to share their concern. Often this will be in the form of a question or a statement about a missing piece of information. Or in some way, a topic that you haven’t prepared for either because it’s unexpected or you didn’t have time. What do you do in this case?

The best approach is to answer honestly and openly.

  • “You know, that’s a good question that I have (or have not, depending) considered. We don’t have a final answer for it yet. So far, my intuition/reasoning/the evidence (whatever) suggests that it won’t be a significant problem, but I have more research to do along those lines. Getting a better answer for you is high on my to-do list.”

This answer, or something like this answer, works even if the objection is completely new to you. Of course, in that case you’ll want to say that you don’t know the answer, but also take a moment to make a gut check on which direction you think the answer will lead? Is this objection going to completely derail the project? Is it fairly minor, in the scheme of things? Chances are that you are the expert in the room, and so your intuition – educated intuition – is worth something. Then you can use something like the previous answer as well – citing your intuition, but stating that more research is needed and when you’ll get back with an answer.

Persuasion is pre-handling objections

This is a quick overview of the need to pre-handle objections, and three concrete steps you can take to be prepared for objections ahead of time. The best presenters (and persuaders) know what questions will come up in their audience’s mind, they know the answers, and usually answer before they are asked.

The best presenters (and persuaders) know what questions will come up in their audience’s mind, they know the answers, and usually answer before they are asked. #persuasion #prodmgmt Click To Tweet


About the author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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