by Rob Biesenbach
It’s inevitable that when I sit down with an executive to map out a speech, the first thing he says is, “This is what I want to tell them” or “This is what they need to know.”
The problem with that all-too-common approach is that it’s me-centered. Your presentation is not about you; it’s about your audience. If you don’t focus on their needs and concerns, your words will fall on deaf ears.
So whether you’re pitching business to a prospect, seeking approval for a program or speaking at a conference, here are seven important things you need to do to gain the support of your audience.
1. Don’t Start by Talking About Yourself
Too many speakers kick things off by recounting their credentials and experience.
Your audience doesn’t care about that. At least not right off the bat. They want to know how you’re going to solve their problems.
So save the lengthy bio for the conference program or your LinkedIn profile and get straight to the business of how you’re going to help them.
2. Find Out Who They Are
If you’re talking to a small group, research them online. If it’s a larger audience, check out the attendees list or talk to the event’s organizer.
If they’re customers or employees, review any survey data that’s available. You might even want to interview a few audience members in advance.
Find out about their experience, interests, expectations and the other issues outlined here.
3. Figure Out What They Want
Everybody wants something, whether they know it or not.
It might be something tangible, like tools or information. Or it might be more esoteric things like reassurance, security or confidence that you’re the right person for the job.
So do your research.
4. Determine Their Knowledge Level
Don’t make assumptions about your audience. Find out what they know. Are they already familiar with your topic and just looking for a different perspective? Or is this an issue that’s not on their radar at all?
If they’re novices, strip out the jargon and give them the necessary background. If they’re experts, offer a strong point of view and be prepared to defend it. If you end up talking down to them or over their heads, you’ll lose them.
5. Find Out What You Have in Common
Think about the things that connect you. If you’re talking to employees, it might be pride in the company’s heritage. For customers, maybe it’s love for the product or brand. For any audience, it could be a mutual frustration. It could even be as simple as a favorite sport, hobby, or where you’re from.
6. Gauge Their Mood
How are they feeling? Are they anxious? Frustrated? Dejected? Skeptical? If you come out in “cheerleader” mode, they could write you off as out of touch.
Or are they confident, hopeful, motivated? How can you harness that energy?
Understanding their mood will help you shape the tone of what you communicate, which is critical to connecting.
7. Anticipate Their Doubts and Misperceptions
Finally, find out what they think about you, your ideas, your products or services, and the organization you represent. If they have any negative impressions, you may have to dispel them up front.
By acknowledging people’s concerns, you show that you’re in touch and living in the real world. By ignoring them, you show that you’re either clueless or insensitive.
Make a Connection
It’s a balance, of course. You can’t simply pander to their needs. That won’t accomplish anything.
But if you make it all about you, they’ll quickly tune out. Ideally, you want to locate that happy intersection where your goals and their desires meet.
Rob Biesenbach is a veteran speechwriter, public speaker, actor and author of the book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins: A Path to Redemption for Public Speakers. You can follow Rob on Twitter and on his blog.