How to Really Craft Audience-Centric Presentations
By Alexa Harrison
There’s a saying, “people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.”
That’s excellent life-advice, and it can also help you when you’re trying to write an audience-centric presentation.
If you put the effort into considering your audience (a.k.a. “care”) you can give people information that truly matters to them. If it matters and it helps, they’ll be engaged. Basic human interaction principles, right?
It’s the same whether you’re talking to your partner, your boss, the seven people who came to your meeting, or the crowd you’re addressing at a conference.
There is one simple guiding principle that you should keep in mind as you’re creating your presentation. Your audience is not you. Once you accept this, you’ll find many new possible ways to position your content.
I find it helpful to print out this “Audience Needs Map” as I’m writing a presentation. It poses seven questions that I like to answer before I start writing and then glance at occasionally, especially if I’m stuck. These answers help shape and guide my content and presentation style. Better yet, these questions help me prepare for objections.
In this blog post, I’ll dig a little deeper and show you ways to think about how to answer each question.
1. What is Your Audience Like?
Statistics are a great place to begin exploring the make-up of your audience. Where did they go to school? What departments do they work in and at what levels? How old are they?
But, your audience isn’t going to be moved solely because they’re from the West Coast or work in HR; demographics are only part of the story. It’s important to get personal (like business-personal).
For example, imagine you’re a marketing executive tasked with presenting an advertising campaign to the data-driven accounting department. Instead of diving right into a flashy, cinematic pitch, you might want to sit down with someone on their team. Find out about their learning and communication styles, and how much they already know about you, your goals, and what you’re presenting on. You might find they’re skeptical of cinematic presentations, or they like to discuss ideas as they come up, or they’re sticklers for statistics.
That simple information can help you shape your content in a way that’s more likely to resonate with them.
Move away from what they do for work and acquaint yourself with who they are as people. Look for similarities, even if they’re unexpected!
2. Why is Your Audience Here?
We’ve all been forced to go to meetings we’d rather not attend, and we’ve also all paid good money to listen to lectures on topics we care about. So, what’s the case with your audience? Are they mandatory attendees or willing participants?
When you understand the “why” behind their attendance—even if it’s simply to “appease their boss”—you can leverage that information. What do they think they are going to get out of this presentation? Why did they come to hear you? Did they have a choice?
A unique example of this is Virgin America’s in-flight safety video. The information presented is crucial to the safety of the passengers but can be tedious to explain and listen to. Recognizing the audience (passengers) are effectively captive to their seats, and they’ve seen similar presentations many times, the Virgin team realized they’d need to work harder to hold their attention. The safety video is peppered with humor, music, pop-culture references, and is downright entertaining! Seriously, it might be the first in-flight safety presentation you’ll want to watch more than once
3. What Keeps Your Audience Up At Night?
This question builds upon the first one, “what are they like?” but takes a more in-depth view of specific pain points.
For starters, do your due diligence – are you speaking to a group of millennials saddled with student loan debt? Or an executive team preparing to move across the country for a corporate relocation? What are the fears associated with those questions?
Even if you’re not addressing their specific issue, it’s essential to realize that presentations, like people, don’t exist in a vacuum. Take the time to understand the nuances of your audience; it can provide context as you develop the tone of your presentation.
4. How Can You Solve Your Audience’s Problem?
What’s in it for your audience? How are you going to make their lives better? How are you uniquely positioned to address their needs?
Provide meaningful, concrete insights and make sure you back them up. In Cheryl Hamilton and Bonnie Creel’s book, “Communicating for Success,” they remind would-be presenters, “no matter how much you already know about your subject, your audience will find your presentation more credible if you can back up your ideas and claims with materials from outside sources.”
5. How Can You Best Reach Your Audience?
What tools can you use to make sure your message is received?
Perhaps you’re not giving an in-person presentation but a virtual one. Presenting remotely comes with unique challenges. In these situations, the best way to reach them might be utilizing slide-docs to provide your key points ahead of time.
If you’re presenting in person, think about how to best set up the room and which materials to provide in advance or after the presentation.
People vary in how they receive information, once you’ve answered the preceding questions and understand how your audience best receives data you’ll be in a position to give the audience what they want, how they want it.
6. What Do You Want Your Audience to Do?
As you’re writing your presentation, consider actual best-case outcomes. Would your audience sign-up for follow-up program? Recommend your product to a friend? Buy your book? Would your boss sign-off on a larger budget?
Offering a “thirty-thousand-feet view” and painting a picture of “what could be” is a great start. However, as motivated as your audience might be, any momentum will quickly fade if they leave without tangible action items.
This is where the art of the call-to-action comes in.
It’s crucial to not overwhelm the crowd with too many action items, but ending your presentation with one or two tangible steps can be a powerful way to ensure forward motion.
7. How Might Your Audience Resist?
Change is hard, no matter the circumstances. So, in this case, the question shouldn’t be “how might they resist?” but rather, “how will you respond when they do?”
Organizational change is inherently difficult. Ask yourself, what will keep them from adopting your message and carrying out your call to action?
The challenges associated with change become especially pronounced in cases of a corporate merger. M&A news can be painful for everyone involved because often the two organizations were competitors with distinct brands, values, and cultures.
However, this resistance can also be an opportunity to leverage empathy and foster unity.
Last year, AT&T announced their intention to acquire Time Warner. Realizing the hurdles both inside (organizational culture, employee morale, etc.) and outside (bureaucratic and regulatory issues) investor Mark Cuban went straight for the emotional appeal. He claimed the merger would both increase consumer choice and allow the consumer’s the freedom to nostalgically enjoy TV the old-fashioned way, “on the couch, cold beverage in one hand and remote in the other.”
By leveraging the power of empathy, Cuban united various stakeholders around the common threads of freedom of choice and nostalgic appeal.
Another strategy that can be especially helpful in situations of resistance is to face the audience’s concerns head-on. If possible, take questions to allow the attendees to address lingering concerns. It can be extremely valuable to give them an opportunity to ask you to clarify anything that might not have been clear.
Ultimately the goal of these questions and this exercise is to figure out what your audience cares about and link it to your idea.
Your role as the mentor is to influence the hero (audience) at critical junctures of their lives. But, it’s tough to influence people you don’t know, which is why utilizing a tool like the “Audience Needs” map can be so helpful.
So take the time to get to honestly know the faces of the crowd! When your audience knows you care about who they are not just what they do or where they’re from, your message will not only be more impactful, but you might find yourself with some new friends along the way.