One way to get to know your audience is through a process called segmentation.  By partitioning a large audience into smaller sub-segments, you can target the segment that will bring the most additional supporters.  Determine which group is most likely to adopt your perspective—the group where you can make the greatest impact with the least effort.  It’s tricky to appeal to the broader audience and simultaneously connect deeply with the subset that will play a key role in helping you—but it’s worth the effort.

The most commonly used segmentation method is to segment by demographics.  Most conference organizers can provide only limited information about the audience:  where they work, their title, geographical location, and company.  You can make some assumptions from this information, but it’s limited to just that—assumptions.

When I presented to top executives from a national beer manufacturer, I needed to spend time thinking about how to connect with them, because based on demographics alone, we did not have much in common in this arena.

I’m a middle-aged female who drinks fruity cocktails because I imagine that beer might taste like fizzy pee.  That’s a pretty big gap.

I didn’t receive enough information from the event organizers to feel like I really knew what’s important to them.

Beer Executive Nancy Duarte
Gender 34 Males, 14 Females Female
Job Title Executives with titles like director, vice president, and CMO Entrepreneur and CEO
Geography They flew in from 11 countries I drove 3.6 miles up the road

Collecting their gender and country of origin isn’t enough information to communicate with them meaningfully.  Audiences aren’t moved solely because they are old or young, from Kansas or California.  Their demographics are only part of the story.

Truly communicating effectively takes research.  That can ean sending out your own survey that will help you gain insights or—if you’re targeting a broader industry group—going online and finding popular blogs by industry icons to see what’s on their minds.  You minght take note of what they chat about on social media sites until you reach a point where you feel you know them personally.

Don’t segment the audience in a clichéd or generalized way.  Difining your audience too broadly can make you seem impersonal or unprepared.  It can cause your audience to feel like a statistic, or like they are being narrowly stereotyped, which can be offensive.  The main idea is that you need to define the audience in a way that’s accurate and appropriate for the kind of presentation you will deliver.

Several things helped me to prepare for the presentation to the beer executives.  I bought subscriptions to a couple of key marketing publications to see what was being said about their brands, solicited feedback from my social network, searched for articles about them, reviewed their conversations in the top beer blogs, found their own presentations on the web, read their press releases, and read their company’s latest annual report.  I even had my company do a bit of market research to surface the nuances among the various products.

The research helped me understand their challenches.  Even though I only used a portion of the insights in the actual presentation, I felt like I knew them and had empathy for what was on their minds.  Those insights helped me feel connected to them. Next time you have a high-stakes presentation, take the time to segment and understand your audience.

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