Just Don’t Do It!

I’ve no doubt you’re familiar with Nike’s famous slogan Just Do It! As someone who spends most of his time communicating through keynote presentations, training, coaching and consulting, sometimes the best advice is Just Don’t Do It!

When I attend conferences and workshops, in addition to learning new information, I pay close attention to the presenters. I do so because I’m always looking for ways to improve my communication skills. The better job I do as a presenter, the more likely audience members are to walk away with ideas to help them professionally and personally. Sometimes what I learn while watching other presenters is what not to do.

I was at a training event recently where it was apparent the presenter knew the material. Unfortunately, he was an awful presenter. Here are a handful of phrases he uttered that caught my attention:

  • “Thanks for coming to listen to me drone on.” Really, that’s what you’re going to do for three hours?
  • “Contrary to popular demand I won’t cover…” If people want it, why not cover it? At least don’t mention it if you’re not because it causes disappointment.
  • “If you’ve zoned out for some of this presentation I don’t blame you.” Then why should we have even come?
  • “In order to break up the monotony I’ll show a video.” How about trying to make it less monotonous?
  • He used example that wasn’t directly related to his subject and told us not only did it fail, he “went down in flames.” Why highlight your failure with an irrelevant example? Instead, how about telling us what you did that worked?

I texted my wife and said I was about ready to gouge my eyes out with my pen. She suggested I handle it like a bad blind date – go to the restroom and don’t go back. I took her advice and slipped out during a break.

Words Matter

In his NY Times bester-seller, Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary New Way to Influence and Persuade, Robert Cialdini builds the case the setting the stage can make a big difference when it comes to influence. Maybe you occasionally lead meetings, facilitate training or perhaps you’re a fulltime teacher. In each case you’re influencing people as you teach them.

I’ve heard professional educators, people in corporate training, open workshops saying, “I know some of you are here because you have to be,” or “I know some of you are here because your boss made you come.” No, no, no!

Approaches like those just noted either implant negative thoughts or reinforce a negative perceptions attendees might already have. Your job as a facilitator is to help them learn and one step in that direction is to put them in a state of mind that’s conducive to learning. To do this, early on in my workshops I typically ask three questions:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
  3. Why are you excited to be here?

The first question is a nice way for people to connect because oftentimes attendees find out they’re from the same geographic area as others in the workshop. It’s a natural conversation starter.

Question 2 begins to change people’s thinking. Some people don’t enjoy their jobs but getting them focused on activities apart from work that they do enjoy puts them in a better frame of mind.

The final question is geared towards changing their mindsets about learning. When I ask why they’re excited the vast majority of people come up with at least one reason and respond with, “I’m excited to be here because…”

If a person can’t come up with something I might ask, “If I can help you get your kid to empty the dishwasher more often would that make our time together worthwhile?” That usually gets a laugh and positive response. Then I make sure to address that for the individual.

When it comes to learning, subtle shifts in the following mindsets can make a big difference:

  • Closed minded to open minded
  • Bored to curious
  • Uninterested to interested
  • Apathetic to excited

Using a little pre-suasion can make that happen. You can accomplish that using the right questions, certain types of music or the right imagery. I think of this as setting the stage. When your session starts off well it becomes much easier to keep people engaged and learning.


Your words matter because they set a tone. At all costs avoid the kinds of phrases I described near the beginning of this post. But don’t settle for avoidance. Whether you call it pre-suasion, setting the stage or creating the right atmosphere, don’t leave it to chance. Think about frame of mind you want people in as your event starts and do what you can to create an environment that’s conducive.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker and trainer, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini. Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses, Persuasive Selling and Persuasive Coaching have been viewed by more than 60,000 people! His latest course, Creating a Coaching Culture, will be online in the second quarter. Have you watched them yet? Click a link to see what you’ve been missing.

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