How to Plant a Seed for Commitment

Many years ago, I remember watching an old Woody Allen move called “Annie Hall.”  It wasn’t my favorite movie, but there was one particular scene I really connected with.  Woody Allen was on a first date with Diane Keaton, and he was nervous about the first kiss that he knew would be coming at the end of the date.  Rather than allow this inescapable moment to hang over the entire evening, which only added anxiety for both of them, Woody Allen took a rather unique approach.  He asked for a kiss at the beginning of the date saying:

“… we’re just gonna go home later, right, and then there’s gonna be all that tension, we’ve never kissed before and I’ll never know when to make the right move or anything. So, we’ll kiss now and get it over with, and then we’ll go eat. We’ll digest our food better.”

I never had the guts to try that on any of my dates, but as crazy as this might sound, I do a version of this in many of the business meeting and presentations I deliver… and you should too.  After all, at the end of most presentations that are delivered, there is usually something required from the audience:

  • Sometimes it’s a commitment to buy a product
  • Sometimes it’s a commitment to accept change
  • Sometimes it’s a commitment to support a new idea
  • Sometimes it’s a commitment to implement new processes

There are plenty more commitments I could offer up here.  It’s not the exception, but rather the norm, for a presentation to require some sort of commitment from the audience.  In those situations, you know it and the audience tends to know it. Much like that kiss on the first date, there is an uncomfortable waiting game that seems to go on for an excruciatingly long period of time.  This discomfort can hang in the air and it distracts your audience, and it can distract you as well. It’s the elephant in the room.

Here’s a unique thought: Rather than hide or delay the commitment you are looking for, why not plant a seed foreshadowing the commitment you seek instead?  When you do this, you aren’t exactly asking for the commitment, but you are certainly getting a head-start!  I tend to do this in the first two minutes of the presentations I deliver, and it’s never an accident.

I won’t deny the most important part of just about any presentation is addressing and presenting a clear W.I.F.M., or “What’s in it for me?” for the audience.  Well, I’m here to tell you about the second most important part of any presentation: It may very well be a W.D.Y.E.F.M., or “What do you expect from me?”  When you begin, you don’t need to go into too much detail, but you just need to stop avoiding what everyone knows is coming. It may sound something like this:

“… we’ll be going over a handful of benefits of working with our firm, as well as going over pricing, and at the end of this presentation, I’ll check back in with you to see if we’ve earned the right to move forward with our proposal.”

Addressing what you expect from your audience, and foreshadowing any commitments, will clear up any misunderstandings, and reduce tension.  However, it will also provide a nice, stress-free transition at the end of your presentation, when you reach back and remind your audience of the request you told them you’d be making.

Finally, this technique will ultimately allow you to be more successful in succeeding with the requests you will be making.  You see, you want your audience to know in advance what you’ll be asking of them. This allows the individuals in the audience to have more time to consider the commitment you are seeking, and they’ll often do that while you are speaking. They may have a few more questions for you than either of you expected, because they know what’s coming at the end.

When you plant a seed for the commitment you seek at the beginning of your presentation, you won’t have to sneak up on your audience with an anxious request at the end. Rather than nervously avoid what some might call the elephant in the room, fearlessly point it out when you begin, and confidently walk right over to it when you close.

Related: That’s EnterTrainment!