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Forced Choice

Part of the challenge of interaction is guiding your audience into asking the right question at the right time. While you may be able to anticipate possible questions, based on prior experience with the topic, you really can’t predict which people will ask what, when. But, you can increase your chances if you use a strategy of forced choice

The best way to teach this skill is through a card trick. Of course, after you read this you will try this trick on someone within minutes.

card-from-deckIf you have a deck of cards, just remove one card, look at it, then place it face dowcard-on-papern on table, away from the deck. 

If you don’t have a deck of cards, you can still do the trick by writing down the name of any card on a piece of paper and putting the paper face down.

For this example, we will use the FIVE of DIAMONDS to simulate the game of forced choice.

You ask the person to pick a RANGE of cards from these TWO groupings (choices): either the range of ACE through SEVEN; or, the range of EIGHT through KING. Keep in mind, the target is always the 5 of Diamonds. If they say, “Ace through 7,” then you ACCEPT the choice because that range includes the 5. Then, continue with the next step. But, if they choose the range “8 through KING”, you DISCARD their choice and respond with “Okay, then that leaves the range of ACE through 7″. You have forced the first choice because you already know that the goal is to get the person to select the 5 of Diamonds.

You then ask “From the range of ACE through 7, select four cards. If “5” is mentioned as one of the four choices, you ACCEPT the group and keep narrowing down the choices. If 5 is not mentioned you DISCARD the group of four, and work only from the remaining cards, of which 5 is included. So, let’s play a sample scenario where they do not pick the “5” card as part of the four cards chosen. The person says, “ACE, 3, 4 and 7”.  You discard this group and respond, “Okay, then that leaves 2, 5 and 6”. 

Continue to narrow down, saying, “From 2, 5 and 6, pick two cards”. Let’s say the person says “2 and 6”. You discard these choices and say “Okay, then that leaves 5.” If they had picked ” 2 and 5″, you would have accepted the choices and then asked again for a selection, until you narrowed down the choice to the 5.

Now simply ask the person to select two suits from the possible four suits of Hearts, Diamonds, Spades and Clubs. If Diamonds is one of the choices, you accept, if not, you discard. For example, if they pick, “Hearts and Spades” you would discard that group and respond with, “that leaves Diamonds and Clubs”.  Then, narrow down the next choice to Diamonds.

Conclude the trick by summarizing with this statement, “Out of 52 possible cards, you have chosen the 5 of Diamonds”. Then, turn over the card (or the piece of paper) to reveal what you originally put aside — the FIVE of DIAMONDS!. The person will surely be amazed!

From the trick, you learned to develop a TARGET to which you then focus a line of questions that continually lead to that target. In a presentation, you can interact with a group and ask the types of questions that will inevitably lead to the points you are trying to make. 

The advantage of this process is that you can get audience members to state the points you would have made anyway, but your credibility rises when someone in the group makes a statement that supports your position, before you do. This is similar to the strategy of triggers and handles where a response (triggger) dictates your line of logic (handle), except that in this case, you are forcing the logic to flow in a controlled direction.

Therefore, if there are multiple ways of handling a situation, and you favor a particular choice, you can narrow down audience responses to the one you prefer. For example, if you ask the group for “ways to increase productivity” and you know you want to focus on “developinng time sheets”, you can ask for comments until you get something close to “time sheets” and then make that your discussion point.

Our card trick had limited choices, but your open-ended request from a group may NOT lead to the choice you are targeting. In that case, you have the advantage of using an “imaginary” — another audience from another presentation who once made the suggestion you expect. If you use the phrase, “I had a group last week and one of the responses involved the use of time sheets…”, you will reach your target by justufying a response from a similar group.

Audiences accept evidence from your prior experience, as long as that information is realistic and possible. If the comment is too “out of the ordinary” then people will be skeptical and begin to question your motives. Use an imaginary as a back-up or last resort.

Overall, the concept of forced choice in a presentation is all about knowing the target and then offering your audience a chance to hit that target. The more you practice this skill, the easier it will be to apply this type of planned selectivity to your next presentation! Either it will work or it won’t. If it works, then it proves the point of the whole exercise. But, if it doesn’t work, then you simply need more practice.

As you can see, you don’t really have much of a choice in the matter, now do you?

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