Know Thy Audience!


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The other day, I wrote about how even the best of us are seduced into pitching–perhaps when something else might be more appropriate.  At the same time, the pitch–or presentation of your solution is important.  Too often, however, we don’t have the impact we should in our presentations.  It’s odd–this should be where we shine, after all we get to talk about what we want to talk about, what we know, what we have been waiting so long to tell our customers and prospects.

No, this isn’t an article about effective presentation techniques.  I’m not the one to be talking about that, somehow, I manage to abuse PowerPoint.  My charts tend to be in 8 point font–afterall, I can cram more words into one page.  For a 10 minute presentation, 10 charts at 8 point fonts seems reasonable???

This article is about something different, it’s about connecting with your audience–even more specific, it’s about the upfront work you must do to connect and communicate persuasively.  It seems obvious, but we have to know our audience.  But too often, even the best of us fail to do this.

Let me use a real experience–but one that is typical of what I see too often.  I was sitting in a presentation a week ago.  The presenter had been invited to present an idea, his objective was to get us “enrolled” in his idea and support him in moving it forward into action.  He was an acknowledged expert in this area and I had a keen interest in what he had to say.  If anything, I came into the meeting prepared to commit to the next step, without knowing what that next step was.

There were about a dozen of us in the meeting.  All of us had relatively high “social media” profiles.  The presenter knew who was participating in the meeting at least a day in advance.  He got up, his charts were great, he was polished in his presentation and clearly knowledgeable.  But he failed to achieve his objective—in fact I left the meeting disinclined to have any further involvement.  How did this happen, what could he have done to change the circumstance?

First and fundamental, his presentation was really focused on what was in it for he and his company.  I had a problem understanding what was in it for me, probably because he didn’t know what was in it for me and how he could have captured my interest.

There were a couple of things he could have done that would have made a dramatic impact.  First, he knew who was participating in the meeting, he could have researched us–a simple LinkedIn query could have given tremendous insight.  Since I–and the other participants–had high social media presence, he might have lo0ked at our blog posts or tweets to get some insight into what we were interested in.  There are many powerful tools available to everyone to leverage to better understand their audience.  You don’t have to restrict these to preparing your presentation.  When I am calling someone I don’t know, when someone calls me, I  Google them, look them up in LinkedIn and visit their company’s website.  Knowing who I’m talking to gives me better insight into how I might connect with them.

Last week, I had a presentation to a small audience–about 7 people.  I had been working with several of them and knew that I would be hitting on their top concerns, but there were 4 people who had not been involved in the project, but who were participating in the presentation.  I sent them an email, introducing myself, and asking them 3 questions that would help me make sure I was covering the issues most important to them.  The questions were very focused on the attainment of the objectives of the meeting and getting their perspectives beforehand.  3 of the 4 people responded, the 4th caught me at the beginning of the meeting and apologized and responded quickly before we started.  While my presentation was already “locked and loaded,” these responses helped me tailor the words I said to make sure I was hitting on their concerns.

Sometimes that isn’t possible, you may not know who the audience is, or the audience may be too big to research all of them.  How do you become more knowledgeable and connect more effectively with them?  First, whoever is sponsoring or hosting the meeting can give you tremendous insight.   Who’s coming?  What are their expectations?  What is their level of knowledge?  What is motivating them to participate in the meeting/presentation?   There are a few questions that can help better understand the audience and how you might connect with them.

There’s one final way to more effectively connect with your audience.  Last week, I also spoke to a group of 175 people.  The sponsor of the meeting had answered all my questions about the issues, their interests, motivations, and so forth.  However, I wanted to find a way to get to know 175 people better and connect with them more effectively.  Before I went into autopilot and presented, I asked the audience to tell me a little about themselves.  I posed 4 questions, that would allow me to better profile them–asking for a show of hands on each question.  Clearly, I didn’t know what each individual wanted, but that simple profile enabled me to shape my presentation a little more closely to their interests.

We look forward to pitching, we love to talk and present our products and services.  We spend lots of time preparing and polishing our pitches.  But going into a presentation blind is a waste of time–both for the customer and you.  As important as what you say, is how you connect with your audience.  Even if you know the participants well, before any pitch, make sure you know how to connect with them most effectively.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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