Setting: lecture by a professor where the audience was voluntary. I don’t know of a class of people who need less credibility when it comes to the subject matter — this person was clearly the expert. This particular subject matter was of some dispute, and I expect many in the audience did not agree with every point from the Dr., but agreeing with us is certainly not why our audiences attend all the time.This lecture went about a half hour before anyone in the audience so much as grunted. During that time, the professor was clear, authoritative, and confident. Then a bold listener posed a “Do you really think…?” sort of question, indicating a differing view. The change to Dr. Knows-A-Lot was visible and amazing. Acting as if his entire presentation had been upset, he dismissed the question with a rather weak argument. Predictably, others questioned deeper. As his apparent confidence wilted before my eyes, his answers became essentially dogmatic, implying that any opposing view was unthinkable. He called for halftime and the audience went to break.Coming out of the hiatus, he acknowledged there had been multiple questions during the break and tried to explain an answer to one of them. This caused more questioning from some of the audience, and where he had regained his confidence, he again found himself backpeddling and sending a different non-verbal message. As one questioner continued to press, the presenter crossed his arms and backed up. A lady behind me whispered to the person sitting beside her (no doubt unaware that I could hear), “He seems flustered, doesn’t he?” And I believe he was. Before he returned to his presentation, he ended the informal Q&A period by completely ignoring one question and half-heartedly side-stepping another.Towards the end of the 2-hour program, a weak, “Are there any questions?” netted nary a one — the audience had figured out a long time ago they weren’t welcome anyway.Without even addressing the issue of right or wrong (it really doesn’t matter), the delivery techniques and non-verbal communication were the culprits of undermining the message. If we as presenters want to be seen as credible curators of discourse, we mustn’t look as though we’re put out if someone has a different view. Techniques for appearing open (even if we hate the question and even the questioner) include smiling, moving toward the questioner, using neutral posture (always!), and not shaking fists as we answer. Simple, but effective.
Use effective non-verbal cues to support your message.