Sidestepping the bomb

Here’s a tip for those times when you’re speaking to a potentially hostile audience, or coming dangerously close to a hot, explosive topic:

In your opening sentences, remind the audience you share common ground with them, but also acknowledge the debate.

It’s important to do both.

Remind the audience of your common ground, so they remember you ultimately have the same goals as them. Remind them that you are their friend and ally.

Acknowledge the debate, because often, about half of a person’s hostility comes from simply wanting to be heard. Often, only about half of a person’s hostility comes from the debate topic itself. Acknowledging the debate won’t make it go away, but it will reduce the strength of the hostility in the room. People will know you hear them, even when you don’t agree with them.

Here’s an example of how you can start a speech like that:

“Thank you for inviting me today. Common ground, blah blah blah, paint a picture of the common vision, blah blah blah. Yes, there are debates, debates about whether to A, or B, or C, but in the end we want similar things for our company. That said, today I’d like to stick to… (begin discussing your topic here).”

Sometimes, the purpose of your speech is to try to resolve the debate, and then you probably have no choice but to run towards the bomb and let it explode.

But sometimes the resolution is for another speech, at another time, or maybe for another person, and you just don’t want the bomb to explode in your face while you’re on stage talking about your thing. This technique is for that.

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