Aaron Patience-Davies shares why it’s important both know your audience and know what they want.
It’s one thing having a clear idea of what you want to achieve when you stand up in front of an audience, but you can be Steve Jobs and still be unsuccessful if you don’t know what that audience actually wants.
When you are preparing to deliver a speech, whether a presentation to the board, conference keynote or kicking off a project with a “why are we all here” speech, an essential step is to take some time to understand who your audience is and why they are there. And because you have about 60 seconds before you lose them, it is essential to deliver the information that captures their interest right from the start.
There are two key pieces of information you will need to understand an audience: what are they looking to get out of you, and what sort of people they are. Once you have these, you can use that first 60 seconds to maximum effect.
For example, in that board presentation, are the key decision makers (if you are asking for more budget, it’ll be the CEO and CFO, for example) data driven or more emotive? What will work best to engage your CEO, is she excited by grand ideas or hard-hitting bottom-line data? Knowing this will inform what you deliver when you stand up to speak, and how you use storytelling to influence their decision making in advance.
Is it a big audience or a small audience? If you are doing a Jobsian presentation to acolytes of your business you can use emotive language to whip them into an emotive fervour. If the audience is full of expert forensic accountants who all speak the same in-group language, you can use some of that same jargon to show you know your subject and are worth listening to – they’ll likely be turned off by more generalised topics aimed at a broad audience.
If you don’t already know who your audience is, then how do you find out those two key pieces of information?
First, ask people who do know. I got some very valuable insights into my CTO, CPO and CEO from the head of product at my last job simply by asking. Not only did she give me what excited them (New products! Grand plans!), I also got some advice on what to expect in terms of body language and the types of questions they’d likely ask, which meant I wasn’t thrown off my stride.
Now consider the context, is it a conference full of expert peers? Is it a product development review where you’re asking for more budget? Is it a job interview where you want to be seen to be impressive? Each of these will lead you to structure your story in a different way, and utilise different techniques in the telling of it.
And what happens if you don’t do this prep? Well, you could tell the best story in the world in the wrong way, and lose your audience in the first minute. It’s then an uphill struggle to reengage them, and crucially, even harder to get them interested the next time you are presenting to them.
Regardless of the size of meeting, audience or auditorium, it’s always worth taking the time in advance to consider, and if necessary research, what matters to your audience. Because just as it’s important to be able to express your goals for your speech or presentation, if those goals aren’t appealing or interesting to your audience, you may as well be taking to empty seats.