Your Audience’s Audience

Written by

Jared Bloom

In 2006, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stood in front of an audience of software developers and thanked them for building applications that run on Windows. He really, REALLY wanted them to know that he recognized how important they were to the future of Microsoft and that he personally appreciated all of their efforts. And so he did this:

At the time, Ballmer probably had no idea that a video of his talk would end up on YouTube—or that somebody would turn it into one of the most frightening dance remixes of all time. As far as he knew, he was only speaking to three kinds of people—developers, developers, and developers.

Fast forward to June 18 of this year, when Ballmer stood in front of an audience of reporters and bloggers to announce the launch of Surface, Microsoft’s new tablet PC. This time he knew that his audience was larger than just the people in the room—his presentation was likely to be viewed by millions of consumers who are curious about how this new device will be different from that other tablet.

There has already been plenty written about the content and style of Ballmer’s keynote, but what interested us the most was how he used the presentation to speak to two audiences at once—the bloggers in the room and the consumers at home.

When you watch the presentation, you’ll notice that the entire production—from the messaging to the staging—was choreographed with both audiences in mind. His slides featured large images, simple fonts that can easily be read in a YouTube-sized video window, and a clutter-free template that keeps the viewer focused on the speaker and the product during video close-ups.

Of course, most of us don’t have the luxury of recording our presentations and distributing them to millions of people. But there’s an important lesson here about how to give presentations a life beyond the boardroom. It’s not enough to think about how your presentations will be received by your audience—because they might not be the only people you want to influence. In many cases, it’s your audience’s audience that needs to hear your message.

And so it’s worth asking yourself: Once your audience leaves the room, how can you be sure that they are both willing and able to share your idea with others? Will you design your presentation so that others can deliver it, as well? Will you support your presentation with multimedia or follow-up communications that extend the life of your message? And, most importantly, will you give your audience a clear call to action that inspires them to spread your idea?

As for Microsoft, we’ll be watching to see whether their consumer-focused communications strategy pays off. That said, the real key to the success of Surface might very well be Ballmer’s pitch to application developers. Can’t wait for that one.