Learn more about how the Hero’s Journey applies to your presentation in the multimedia version of Resonate by Nancy Duarte

Refusal of the Call

There’s no doubt about it; most people do not enjoy change and will resist. An audience might understand your plea, and even mentally accept it, but they still might not be moved to action.

In the July 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review, John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger reported, “All people who are affected by change experience some emotional turmoil. Even changes that appear to be ‘positive’ or ‘rational’ involve loss and uncertainty. Nevertheless, for a number of different reasons, individuals, or groups can react very differently to change—from passively resisting it, to aggressively trying to undermine it, to sincerely embracing it.”

Some audience members will oppose your ideas or look for holes in your argument because if they don’t, they’re either forced to live with the contradiction between their old perspective and the new one you’ve “sold” them, or opt to change.

Their resistance can range from subtle skepticism to open revolt, and you must be prepared to deal with it. When you’re sailing into the wind, you can still move towards your destination, but you must adjust your “sails,” modifying your arguments to move audience members from aggressively attacking your message to wholeheartedly embracing it.

Carefully contemplate all the ways in which your audience might resist. What attitudes, fears, and limitations do they use as a tool to oppose implementing the idea? After identifying their reasons for refusal, use those concerns as inoculants. State the opposing points before they get a chance to refute your point.

An inoculation purposefully infects a person to minimize the severity of an infection. The same takes place when you empathetically address an audience’s refusals by stating them openly in your talk. This will help them see that you’ve thought through everything—which will decrease their anxiety.

It is not common for people to resist merely for the sake of resistance (although some do). In general, people resist because you’re asking them to take a risk or make a sacrifice, at least to some degree. For example, if you ask them to buy your company’s product it could make them worry that they’re putting their reputation at risk by committing company money to a product with an uncertain outcome.

Your audience may view what you experience as resistance in an entirely different light. From their perspective, it may seem that your message puts their credibility, reputation, or even their honor at risk. It may be that where you see resistance, they see valor. They feel they are responding appropriately to protect things they value and hold dear. Acknowledge their resistance while at the same time assuring them that with you, their mentor, they are in good hands.

Refusal of the Call

Comfort Zone

What’s their tolerance level 
 for change? Where is their comfort zone? How far out 
 of it are you asking them 
 to go?


What might they 
 misunderstand about the message and/or implications? Why might they believe the change doesn’t make sense
 for them?


What keeps them up at night? What’s their greatest fear? 
 What fears are valid, and 
 which should be dispelled?

What mental or practical barriers are in their way? 
 What obstacles cause 
 friction? What will stop them from adopting and acting on your message?


In which areas are they vulnerable? Any recent changes, errors, or weaknesses?


Where is the balance of power? Who or what has influence over them? 
 Would your idea create a 
 shift in power?

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