Presupposition is one of the most powerful, yet underutilised tools you can use to make your speaking and writing even better. Some people use it without realising what or how it can work for us, but when you use it intentionally you will have a greater ability to say things that your audience may find difficult to accept.
For those of you who are serious about having an impact as a speaker, as opposed to those people who are happy just to be popular, you will know how important it is to raise issues that your audience may not want to or be comfortable hearing. Presupposition can be the ideal tool to frame this well, but not using it well can leave you disconnected from your audience.
How does presupposition work to frame something the audience does not want to hear?
Do it well and presupposition:
- Positively frames things that could be offensive, or may make something offensive that may not otherwise be;
- Sets the tone for your next point more quickly than if you’re not already using presupposition; and
- Allows you to say things to your audience who will accept without them even realising what they have agreed to, even perhaps something they would never have agreed to.
Let’s break each of these points down using examples.
- Positively frames things that could be offensive or may make something offensive that may not otherwise be
Let’s say you have a client, and you know of something they could do that would improve their presentations. We have all had that client that is overcritical of themselves, and when we do, we can either pull back from providing constructive feedback and just be positive, or we can carefully frame the feedback. To keep it relevant let us pretend the suggestion is ‘your presentation needs to include better use of presupposition’. As it is, that suggestion could be received as quite harsh and a criticism.
If we were to frame the feedback with carefully crafted presupposition, the suggestion would likely be received quite positively. Suggesting that ‘your presentation could be even better when you make more use of presupposition’ makes a key assumption that automatically makes the presentation positive. Using the phrase ‘even better’ presupposes that the presentation is already good.
- Sets the tone for your next point more quickly than if you’re not already using presupposition
If we look at the previous example in one sentence, we have positively framed and delivered the feedback in broad terms. You have also done it in a constructive, concise way.
The alternative is you could start with all of the positives then deliver the but, say it was really good but….., it’s only a minor thing but……, you did so well but….
But when you deliver a but, it is not likely to came across entirely positively.
- Allows you to say things to your audience who will accept without them even realising what they have agreed to, even perhaps something they would never have agreed to
Probably the best example of this has been recycled in recent years. Many Americans would never hear or accept that their country is anything but the greatest country in the world, or so you think. Say “America is not great” and you will likely receive resistance, objections or even worse. However, standing up on front of some of the most patriotic Americans and saying, “Let’s Make America Great Again” and we have seen the crowd cheer like you are at a rock concert. The first time it was use was by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980’s and recycled by Trump in recent years. Let’s break down what is really being said.
“Let’s Make America Great Again” presupposes 3 things:
- America is NOT great at this point in time;
- America was great at some time in the past; and
- America can be made great in the future.
Thinking about it objectively, by accepting the phrase “Let’s Make America Great Again” you must be accepting America is NOT great at this point in time, but how it is received is completely different.
Perhaps looking at this example, you are starting to see how something disagreeable and negative can be framed positively, inspirational and aspirational using presupposition.
To explore the differences using presupposition well will make to your next presentation, make some notes about all the things that could be difficult to say or difficult for your audience to receive and bring it along to your next coaching session. In the meantime re read this blog and see how many examples of presupposition you pick up on.