I was recently talking to the CEO of a large, global professional services company that had run a massive event for its clients. At the end of the PowerPoint central presentation, they asked members of the audience for feedback and received lots of polite positives.
The CEO, however, confided in us, saying: ‘We could detect a lack of sincerity in their voices.’ He was sensing the undercurrent of a conflicting private discourse. Private discourse is what people are really thinking but don’t say. Often private discourse can be masked by a very polite public discourse that conceals the truth.
The CEO was right! An anonymous online survey afterwards showed that attendees were less than impressed with the event. The CEO and his team listened to the feedback and substantially altered the next event. It was much more successful.
What happens when you become aware of the private discourse & it’s contrary to the public discourse? You can choose to step into a moment of authenticity and create a deep connection with your audience.
One of our clients Jack—was presenting at a roadshow. He told us employee attendance was compulsory, though he knew they would all be thinking but not saying: ‘Oh no, not another road show.’
Jack, as a senior leader, decided to step into the private discourse and opened by saying: ‘I know a
lot of you might be thinking: “Not another bloody roadshow!”
It was both unexpected and refreshing. His audience immediately burst into laughter. They’d been outed, but here was a leader who understood what they were thinking and feeling. They leaned in and listened.
Articulating the private discourse helps you show empathy and understanding for your audience, creating powerful connections and demonstrating courage.