Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good Morning as Manipulation: Establishing Certainty Before Noon

Over my next posts, I will address how the brain's predictable need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (embodied in the SCARF model) affects its reactions to sales and marketing communications.

Can you guess what is the most commonly used opening line for presentations occurring before noon?
“Good morning,” of course, delivered with varying levels of energy and inflection.

It is perhaps the safest opening line we can use, instead of risking an interesting, attention-grabbing, riveting opening, we often fall back to a hallway greeting to launch our presentations for multimillion-dollar projects.

But why?
Expressing a common greeting, which is generally followed by introduction of the presenters' names and credentials, plays to a predictable human need, the need for certainty.

“Good morning” is a safe opening because, unless it is said after noon, it is true. It is neutral. It provides a high level of certainty that, in a presentation, we are not getting off on the wrong foot. But whose certainty benefits the most by this?

The speaker's.
The speaker is all nerves and worried about how their presentation makes or breaks the deal. Saying “good morning” is a small form of manipulation that pretends at friendliness, stalls for time, tries to develop accord with the audience on a fleeting reference to the socially accepted way of time telling.

In short, good morning plays it safe.

A professor in one of my early communications course made a strong statement. “All communication is manipulation.”
I remember being very uncomfortable with that supposition, in part because the word “manipulation” is laden with negative connotations: brainwashing, coercion, selfishness. I've come to realize, however, that even my hallway “good morning” greetings to coworkers are, in fact, manipulation.
While not an effort at some Machiavellian power play, even a simple greeting is meant to cultivate an awareness of my presence. It provides a gauge of my temperament. It encourages a like response. Further, the absence of a verbal greeting itself can communicate a statement: I'm in a foul mood; I'm very busy; I'm not feeling well. The unexpressed greeting is also a communication meant to manipulate, whether it's “stay away” or “ask me how I'm doing.”
When an audience of purchasing decision makers hears six groups of presenters, each vying for an important project, each qualified to deliver the contract, each acknowledging that is sometime after midnight but before noon, and that is “good,” none of the groups has differentiated itself out of the chute. Immediately the decision makers in the audience must decide which team wished them a good morning most sincerely, most enthusiastically.
I'm being facetious, of course.
Would your audience be offended if you didn't wish them a good morning? Would they crumple up their score sheets if you, instead, used your very first words to hook their attention?
Of course not. Delivering a great presentation instead of playing it safe proves to your audience that you've done your homework, that you're passionate about your topic, and that you care about your audience.
Now that is a good morning they'll remember.

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