Why do so many people set new goals and new resolutions every time there’s a new year? I’m going to tell you something new about that.
But first, why don’t we set new goals and new resolutions as often in the middle of the year?
Are Independence-day resolutions just too pretentious?
Did you eat so much crap during December that you’ll lose weight just by default after the holidays?
Is January magic?
No. It’s all just an excuse.
Because the new year is NEW, we give ourselves an “excuse” to start something new. Then sometime next week, we’ll find a new excuse to stop.
You can use this part of human nature to become a better teacher, a better public speaker, and take your presentation skills to the next level.
Just because I call it an “excuse,” that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Find an “excuse” to do something good. Find an excuse to smile. Find an excuse to donate money. Find an excuse to take a nap. I promise, the “excuse” will make it easier for you to succeed.
A few weeks ago, my teenage daughter needed to explain to her teacher why something was not done the “way he (the teacher) wanted.” I was not willing to do “what he wanted” and my daughter was uncomfortable talking to her teacher or even letting her peers see that she didn’t conform.
I solved the dilemma with one sentence. “Tell him you’re dad told you to do it that way.” By giving my daughter an “excuse”–to blame it on her dad–it became much easier for her to act.
Whether you are public speaking to a group, or talking to someone one-on-one, understanding the human need for justification will make you a more persuasive communicator.
The psychological principle at work is simple. We humans must be able to “excuse” our actions, and until we find an acceptable justification, we don’t act.
When someone asks you why you’re turning down a piece of double-chunk chocolate decadence, in January it’s easy to say “…because I made a new year’s resolution to lose weight” — and you know everyone will accept that excuse.
When someone asks you why you’re turning down a strawberry cream calorie-cake in April, it’s harder, because you need a NEW excuse–new year’s just won’t work anymore. You can’t blame it on new years, you have to actually take the responsibility yourself.
In other words, people need “justification” to act (or not), and if you provide a ready made “excuse,” they are more likely to do what you want.
Hostile Audiences Need an Excuse
If you want to persuade others, or even just keep them attentive, you therefore have to give them that “excuse” that let’s them rationalize and justify how they won.
How would your public speaking skills fare in a hostile audience? You’ve been asked to deliver the bad news to a crowd of customers, or clients, or competition — and they hate your guts! No matter what you say, they will argue and contradict–if they even listen at all.
Let’s be honest, in a hostile public speaking situation, you have very little chance of converting the majority to your way of thinking. BUT, you might be able to nudge one or two listeners in the right direction.
And if you want any hope of influencing that ONE, then you have to give that ONE, something NEW! No one will change their mind without new information that they can blame for changing their mind!
You have to give an excuse. You have to give that one person, a justification that allows them to explain why they changed their mind.
Without that excuse you’ll influence no one. With that excuse you at least have a fighting chance of affecting someone.
A master presenter or public speaker will give the audience a way to save face: a pretext, a rationalization, justification, a cover–an excuse.
Friendly Audiences Need an Excuse
You’re trying to sell your product to a person that already wants it, OR you’re delivering a million dollar check to the lottery winner, OR you’re preaching to the I-get-paid-to-be-hear-so-I-have-to-smile-and-listen choir.
The choir still needs an excuse to shout “amen!”
The buyer still has to excuse the purchase to his or her spouse / boss / mother-in-law.
The happy lottery winner still needs an excuse to believe its real, and not doubt you’re sincerity.
The Listener’s (Buyer’s) Perspective
I was shopping online for a new stove last week. It took me an hour to decide between two different models and click the “Pay now” button. Why did it take me so long to commit?
BECAUSE I COULDN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE!
I was going to buy a new stove one way or another, all I needed was a good excuse to buy the more expensive one–and I couldn’t find it!
All they had to say on the web page was:
“This model is newer and less likely to break on you.”
“This model is more compact and will fit in your space better.”
“This model eliminates gray hair.”
Any excuse would do. The actual excuse isn’t important (or even necessarily true). What matters is that I psychologically need justification. And if the seller gave it to me, I would have bought the more expensive model much faster!
I don’t need a list of dozens of features that I have to read. That sounds like work. I only need ONE SINGLE excuse.
As a public speaker, your audience needs an excuse to listen, an excuse to agree, and an excuse to comply.
NEW Year’s Resolutions
Which brings us back to new years. The reason we motivate ourselves so much better this time of year is because we have a fall-back excuse. This time of year is NEW: new budget, new toys, new resolutions.
That is the secret!
You don’t have to think of a whiz-bang stop-em-dead excuse. All you have to do is give them something NEW!
Most presenters, salespeople, and wanna-be persuaders make the mistake of presenting all their “reasons” up front. How many presentations have you seen with a slide titled “Features.” Without exception, that title is followed by a long bulleted list of “features.”
Gag, gag, gag, gag, gag!
Psychologically, when you present a group of features as one list, that group of features is seen as ONE reason to act. Every listener will either decide based on that ONE list whether or not the “features” justify action or not.
All you have to do is split those features up into multiple individual reasons to act. Even better, save ONE piece of information for later.
In my SpeechDeck public speaking techniques product, this is called “Empowering the Individual” with “Ownership.”
If you save just one feature to be presented later, you’ll vastly increase your chance at persuasion.
Once the listener has that NEW information later on, it instantly gives the hostile listener an excuse to change his or her mind, and it gives the friendly listener an excuse to push them off the fence.
The reason they double your order absolutely free, interrupt the infomercial for late breaking information, drop the price at the last minute, and throw in a free wham-wow, bacteria-resistant, oversize, eco-friendly, non-abrasive, “miracle (polyester) cloth”–is because excuses work.
” … oh honey baby dearest love … but, but, but … this stove comes with SIX FREE steak knives!”
I wish you the best on your new year’s