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How to handle objections during your presentation

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No matter how thoroughly you've prepared your presentation and how logically you've stated your case, there's normally someone, somewhere, who'll object to something. Which means 'overcoming objections' is a necessary skill for all presenters, not just salespeople. Let's assume you're proposing a course of action that will cost your company $25,000.

Objections

The first thing you should do takes place before the presentation's even begun, i.e. decide in advance what the possible objections could be. I'm amazed at the number of people who are so 'into' their proposal and so confident it'll be accepted/approved that they don't even contemplate opposition to it.

Say to yourself, "I know you think this is the best thing since sliced bread and that no sane or rational person could possibly say 'no' to it, but if they did . . . what would they objecting to?" Occasionally somebody will come up with an objection that was completely unanticipated, but if you do this mental exercise beforehand, this should happen very rarely.

Doing the above isn't as easy as it sounds; it requires you to put yourself in the other person's shoes and really look at it from their point of view (see Why it's so hard to identify your audience's likely objections). As soon as you think of something, you'll dismiss it as being irrelevant or stupid, because you have the information to counter it. But that's the second step. The point of this exercise is to list the objections; remember that the audience mightn't have access to the information you have, so these objections aren't coming from stupidity, but ignorance.

If you can't think of any likely objections, you're not trying hard enough. There are always possible objections. The audience's Lizard Brains' principal raison d'etre is to protect them. Their very role is to identify threats. It's almost as if they're being paid commission for every threat they find. If it's possible to find one, they'll find it (see Getting past the audience's Lizard Brain for more about this).

Once you've got the list of possible objections, now you can think of the best way of dealing with them. Most sales trainers talk of 'overcoming' objections, but I think that's often the wrong term. Many objections can't be overcome. For example, the objection 'half a million dollars is a lot of money' can't be 'overcome', because it's true! It is a lot of money. Even if what you're spending it on is worth it . . . it's still a lot of money. What you're trying to do here is minimize them and put them into perspective. Think of it like minimizing a document on your PC screen. It’s still there, but now it’s in the background.

I suggest 4 ways of doing this later in the article.

Prevention Is Better Than A Cure

With each possible objection, you're now faced with the choice: do I include this in the presentation, or leave it and see if anyone raises it? My view is, if it's a minor objection or very unlikely to be raised, then leave it and see. If it's a major or likely one, include it as part of the presentation.

Once someone's verbally objected to something, it's much harder to make her change her mind, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Many people just don’t like backing down, and will maintain their stance even when they know they’re wrong in order to save face. So you don’t want people to have to state their objection. Once they’ve done so, it’s as if they’ve physically built a wall between you, which you’ll now have to dismantle brick by brick.

But if you know (or even suspect) they have an objection to your proposal, you can’t just ignore it. So you should bring it into the open and address it, e.g. by saying, “I guess there are probably some people here today who are thinking, 'That's all well and good Nick, but $25,000 is a lot of cash. Where are we going to find the money?' So let's have a look at that.”

This demonstrates empathy and reassures the audience that you understand their concerns, and if they haven’t actually had to make their stance explicit, they can back away from it without losing face.

Another way to preempt objections is to create a threat or problem that your proposal solves that is so big, the objection becomes irrelevant (see Deliberately creating a threat for details on how to do this). As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “If you have a strong enough ‘why’ you can bear almost any ‘how’” . $25,000 may be a lot of cash, but if spending it saved your life, I don't think you'd quibble over spending it.

KLAM

When you receive an objection, deal with it by using the mnemonic K.L.A.M.

1. Keelp calm: Many people go to pieces when they hear an unexpected objection. They go into panic mode, thinking, "Oh my God, he's going to say 'no'! And I was so sure he wouldn't. What'll I do? I'm going to fail. He's going to say 'No', I just know it. I was convinced he'd agree. What'll my boss say?"

Just remember: an objection is NOT a 'no'. Think of it as merely as a request for more information. If someone says, "We can't afford it," what are they really saying? If they didn't want to do whatever you're proposing, they'd say so. By saying 'we can't afford it' they're saying they think your proposal is worthwhile/worth considering, but they're worried about the price. So instead of thinking, "Oh no . . . she said 'no'," think, "Great . . . I've sold her on the proposal. All I have to do is persuade her it's worth the cost/negotiate a compromise."

2. Listen: If you've got a panic monologue running through your head, you'll miss half of what's being said. So make sure you listen to the objection. If you're not a good listener, simply repeat every sentence they say in your head. It'll make you listen, and stop you thinking about what you're going to say next. And do NOT interrupt; it's rude.

Make sure you understand what's being said. If she says, "It's too expensive," that could actually mean several things. For example:

  • "We don't have $25,000 in the budget."
  • "We do have $25,000 in the budget, I just don't want to spend it on your product/proposal."
  • "I can't afford it right now. But maybe in 3 months . . ."
  • "I don't have the authority to authorize $25,000 (but I'm not admitting that to you)."
  • "I want to do it; isn't there a cheaper way?"
  • "I'm using cost as a smokescreen for another (real) objection that I don't want to admit to, for some reason"

Your job is to identify which meaning is correct. If you're not sure which of the above is meant, just ask! Simply say, "When you say 'It's too expensive', what exactly do you mean?" Now it's up to them to clarify their statement.

Or you could say, "I see . . . it's a budget issue," to which you might get the reply, "No . . . we've got the money in the budget, I just think $25,000 is too much to spend." Your response would now be, "So it's not the product/course of action that's the problem, you're happy with that. It's what you get in return for the $25,000." If they agree, you now know you haven't sold the benefits strongly enough. You need to put the cost into perspective by further explaining exactly what they'll get for spending the money.

Obama chin stroke Obama finger to mouth

NB: When listening, make sure to avoid negative body language. You want to come across as open, receptive and non-defensive. So make sure your body language nice and open (no folded arms - see The Power of Posture) and that you don't touch your face, which indicates negativity or discomfort. The only acceptable hand-to-face gesture is a chin stroke as in the first photo of President Obama to the right, which indicates that you're thinking about what's being said. But do NOT put your fingers across the mouth like the second photo. This makes it look as though you want to interrupt and are physically holding your response in ( see Non-verbal leakage to learn more about hand-to-face gestures). Can you see the difference?

3. Agree with them. I realize this sounds a little strange, and you might be thinking, "What? Agree with the objection? I'm trying to get them to change their minds!" You do this by using one of 2 techniques explained below, but first . . . PAUSE.

If you respond to their objection the second they've stopped speaking (or even worse, before they have) you'll come across as a smartass who thinks they know all the answers. Pause for a couple of seconds, nod your head as you look at them. this looks like you're weighing up what they've said. THEN use one of the following:

3.1 The first is known as the '3Fs'. You say something like, “I understand why you feel that way. In fact, I used to feel the same way. Until I found that ......”

Now you don't have to use the specific words feel/felt/found. It's called the 3 Fs simply to give the technique a name. Alternative ways of saying the same thing might be:

  • “I completely understand why you think that, Mike. I thought exactly the same way, until I discovered . . ..”
  • “I know exactly what you mean, Jim. Several of my customers felt exactly the same way, but then they realized that . . .”
  • "Yes, that's a fair point Jane. A member of my team said the same thing to me only the other day. But when we examined it, we realized that . . . "

Too many presenters allow disagreements to turn into arguments. NEVER say "You're wrong"; nothing is more calculated to turn an objection into an argument. Nobody likes to hear they’re wrong or admit they’ve made a mistake. People like to be able to blame someone else. By using the 3 Fs’ you're pointing out they're wrong without using those words. You're effectively saying, “The only reason you believed this was you didn’t have all the available evidence to hand. If you’d had that evidence, you would never have believed that.” In other words, they aren’t to blame. You’ve just allowed them to save face.

3.2 The second technique is great if you're facing what you think is an emotional reaction. If you try to combat this with logic, you'll fail. You're speaking two different languages. It's like you're speaking Afghan and they're speaking Mandarin Chinese. So start off by actually using the words, "I agree . . ." As soon as you say this, it confuses the listener's Lizard Brain. It thought it had found a threat and was expecting you to argue back, but instead you agreed. This confusion switches the thinking part of their brain - the Neocortex - on and you have a window of opportunity where a logical argument might just work.

After you've said , "I agree . . ." NEVER use the word 'but . . .' This merely says you don't really agree, and the Neocortex will stay switched off. Say 'and' instead. For example:

  • “You’re right Jane, and what I’d add is that now customers’ expectations have changed, we have to change too.”
  • “I agree that it’s expensive, and that’s because the benefits are so huge.”
  • “I agree that it’s not cheap, and that’s because the quality is so high.”
  • “I’d agree with almost all of that, and what I’d add is …….”

The last one is good if someone's voiced several objections. By saying 'almost all . . .' but not specifying which bits you do or don't agree with, their Neocortex has to be switched on in order to find out.

4. Minimize/Overcome the objection.

Following your seeming agreement, you now minimize the objection so it doesn't seem important when put into context of the benefits. Let's go back to the objection, "It's too expensive." One way of dealing with this is to 'concede' to a less expensive alternative. See 'Relativity': Making Your Requests Or Proposals Seem Reasonable for how to plan this in advance and end up with the result you wanted all along.

4.1 Gap Minimizer: If the objection (after probing) "It's too expensive" turns out to mean "I don't have $25,000 in the budget" or "I'm not prepared to spend that much," you try to find out how much is in the budget or they are prepared to spend. Let's say the answer to both is $20,000.

Don't try to justify the $25,000, because you don't need to. They've already conceded $20,000, so mentally 'pocket' that and don't mention it again. Concentrate instead on the $5,000 'gap' between what you've asked for and what they claim to have. Say "What we're talking about here is $5,000. Over a 12-month period, that's only just over $400 per month / less than $100 per week / only $13 a day. $13? That's less than 3 cappuccinos from Starbucks. Let's look again at the benefits we get and see if we think they're worth 3 cups of coffee."

4.2 Boomerang Minimizer: This called the 'boomerang' because it turns the objection back on the audience. Say, "You may say we can't afford it Bob, but I'd ask, can we afford to risk X,Y. Z?" where 'X,Y,Z' is the terrible, awful, four-horsemen-of-the apocalypse, doom-laden thing that would happen if you don't spend the $25,000. Stressing the negative things that will happen if you don't do something can be much more effective than stressing the positive things that will happen if you do. See Why pain outweighs gain in persuasion for more on this.

4.3 Reframing Minimizer: Similar to the 'Boomerang' Minimizer, 'Reframing' is something most politicians do very effectively. When asked a tricky question, they simply 'reframe' the question and answer a different one. Say "The real question here is not whether we can afford to do it, is whether we can afford not to do it" or, "The real question is not whether we can afford it, but whether we're prepared to surrender the market share," or ". . . whether we want the company to be seen as an unattractive employer by potential employees," etc., etc.

4.4 Elimination Minimizer: This is used when you get a "Let me think about it" objection, something that's often a smokescreen for something else. Smile, and say "My granny / uncle Buck / high school football coach used to say that when people say 'I'll think about it,' it usually means they're unsure about something. So just for my benefit, so I know where you're coming from, can I ask: Are you happy with the course of action itself? Are you happy with the time it'll take? Are you OK about the cost? . . . " and so on.

One of two things might happen. She might say, "Well . . . actually, yes . . . it's the cost. I just don't think we have that much in the budget," in which case you've now identified the real objection. Or, if she says she's happy with everything on your list, you can say, "Well if you're happy with A, B, C, D, E and F, what do you need to think about?" At this point some objectors say, "You're right, I guess I was just being over cautious" and agree.

NOTE: Phrase the questions in a positive way, that gets the answer 'yes' not 'no.' So ask "Are you happy with the cost?" rather than "Is it the cost you're unhappy with?" If someone has said 'yes' in response to 6 questions, they're more likely to say it to the seventh.

Final point

If you can identify where the objection's going to come from - i.e. the person who's likely to raise it - ask that person for their opinion last. Most people have a psychological aversion to being the only one in a group holding a minority opinion, so if you get everybody else to say 'yes' they're more likely to go along with the crowd. See How (and why) to 'Isolate' the dissenters in your audience for more on why this is so and how to take advantage of it.

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