To understand how your presentations may trigger a prospect’s fight or flight response, you must first understand how the brain processes information.
There is an intellectual (rational) part of the brain and a primitive (emotional) part of the brain. The subconscious primitive part of the brain is its most basic part. It’s the part that initially filters information, looking for signs of danger. Its function is to ensure our survival. It’s been there since “caveman” days and houses our fight or flight responses. It stores templates of how we survived dangerous situations—running from a hungry bear in the forest for instance—and refers back to them to indicate how to respond in similar future situations.
The primitive brain is not inventive. It doesn’t have time to stop and think creatively or rationally—to determine if the aforementioned bear, for instance, has already eaten. By the time it did that, it would be too late. Instead, in a split second, the primitive brain sets into motion a series of events in our bodies—adrenaline rush, increased heartbeat, etc.—that enable us to act and flee to safety.
While you are not a hungry bear and your prospects are not in danger of being devoured, your presentations may cause your prospects to feel uncomfortable, confused, or overwhelmed. Even if those feelings are slight or temporary, the brain perceives them as a form of stress which it interprets as danger. Not perhaps as severe a danger as facing a hungry bear, but danger nevertheless. And it takes over—automatically triggering the fight or flight responses.
Do the prospects bolt from the room or pick up a chair to shield themselves from your imminent attack? No. They don’t physically flee, but they are likely to mentally “flee.” The attentive prospect, for instance, becomes distracted, fidgety, and stops paying close attention. The cooperative prospect becomes less so. The reactions may be subtle, but they are present nonetheless.
Because the prospect’s fight or flight reactions are physiologically generated, they tend to last longer than would actions dictated by logical decision making. Consequently, salvaging the presentation once those reactions have been triggered will be difficult, if not impossible. Obviously, the best strategy is to structure your presentations so they don’t trigger those reactions in the first place.
Here are five things to avoid when structuring and delivering presentations:
- Presenting too much information. Including too many concepts, details, explanations, and examples is confusing…and causes stress. The prospect needs to be able to focus on one meaningful concept, relevant to his or her situation, at a time. You can back up or illustrate the concept with a few facts or examples, but don’t go overboard. If you have more than one concept to present, make sure the prospect is 100% comfortable with the first before moving on to the next.
- Presenting too little or too vague information. Presenting a big picture view with few or vague supporting facts is as detrimental as presenting too much information. There must be enough information for the prospect to “connect the dots” and make sense of what you are presenting. And, there must be sufficient dots to connect, and the connections must be clear. Otherwise, the prospect will be confused and he or she will doubt your assertions and abilities. Establishing trust will be difficult. The prospect will have more reasons to “flee” than to remain mentally present.
- Not framing your presentation in the proper context. A presentation with too much, too little, or even just the right amount of information is confusing and ineffective if it’s not framed in a context relevant, specific, and meaningful to the prospect’s situation—goals, challenges, needs, etc. Prospects view presentations from a “What’s in it for me?” perspective. If you don’t answer that question specifically and quickly, they become anxious…and eager to “check out.”
- Pushing too hard. Pushing too hard, regardless if it’s the result of enthusiasm or last-ditch desperation to make a sale, is interpreted by the prospect as DANGER. Both the primitive brain and the intellectual brain wonder, “If this is good for me, why is he pushing so hard?” And both come to the same conclusion—it must not be so good.
- Not getting to the point quickly. Presentations that drag on or wander seemingly without direction, even if they contain relevant information, framed in the proper context, create tension for the primitive brain. The easiest way for your prospect to relieve that tension is to eliminate its source—YOU.
To get your presentation through the prospect’s primitive brain filter without creating stress or tension that triggers fight or flight responses, make sure the message is to the point, relevant to the prospect’s situation, backed by easy to understand information, and delivered in an efficient straight-forward manner. It may take more effort to structure your presentation, but the outcomes will be more rewarding.