Establish Common Ground

March 10, 2021

You’re ten seconds into an important presentation.  You kicked it off by genuinely thanking your audience – the first of six steps we recommend in the opening 90 seconds.  Remember, the clock is ticking, and your audience is quickly sizing you up and deciding whether or not to pay attention to what you have to say.

The next step our training team at Wixted & Company recommends is to establish common ground with your audience.  Common ground is not, “Hey we all work for the same company!”  Instead, common ground is about determining how your audience is feeling about the issue you will be discussing – and acknowledging the importance of that emotion.

Here’s what I mean:  You’re presenting to your company’s management team about creating a new full-time position.  It sounds great – but how does your audience (in this case the management team) feel about this issue?  They’re probably cautious about paying a new salary and benefits, and likely a little worried about how a new employee would affect the company’s culture.

So how should you proceed?  By acknowledging those feelings.  “I recognize that you might be feeling cautious about the cost of a new employee, or perhaps you’re worried about how a new hire would fit in with the rest of us.”

Establishing common ground might seem like you’re bringing up the elephant in the room, but that’s only because you’re bringing up the elephant in the room!  It says to your audience members that you’ve taken the time to think about them first, which helps to create a better environment for listening.

Two cautions with regard to common ground.  It’s not intended to be a laundry list of what your audience might be thinking.  Narrow it down to a couple of the most prominent feelings and move on.  And never phrase it this way:  “I know how you feel.”  Those words can do more to close the door than open it.

What’s next?  It’s time to share what matters most.  We will discuss that in an upcoming post.  In the meantime, let the team at Wixted & Company help you prepare for your next important presentation.


By Jeff Johnson: 

Jeff is a former television anchor and reporter for CBS and ABC affiliates in the Midwest.  In those roles, Jeff has covered state and national events, including the World Series and the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  He has interviewed former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, football great Walter Payton, and baseball legend Bob Feller. Jeff has produced and directed for the Kansas City Royals, Iowa State University, and the PGA Tour.  Jeff earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State University, and he minored in Psychology.