Tag Archives: target audience

A Presentation is like a Love Letter

Doing a presentation without thinking of your audience is like starting a love letter with “To whom it may concern”.

Even if you’re trying to convey the same messages to different audiences, you will be much more effective if your presentation is personalized to the people you are trying to engage.

Whenever I’m asked to speak, I ask a lot of questions about the audience; what’s the age range, the gender makeup, experience, background and more. I want to be able to form a mental picture of the people I’ll be speaking to so that I can bring stories and examples they will understand and enjoy.

Then, I start at the end of my presentation. I think about the audience and decide what I want them to be thinking or doing when my talk is over. I set a goal. I imagine their acceptance of a concept or an idea that they hadn’t considered before. Everything in my presentation must lead to that conclusion and the more my material is relevant to my audience, the more persuasive I will be.

If I’m speaking to employees of a specific company or organization I try to understand its work and look for recent examples either directly from the group or from their field of interest. If the company works in aviation for example I will illustrate my points with examples taken from that industry.

Even including recent events of significance to the audience is useful. Right after an election or a major news event, I might make reference to it where appropriate to my audience.

If I can’t find out much about my audience, I will often start my talk by asking them a few short questions. Someone will likely tell me of a key event or situation that I can reference back to throughout my talk.

So to go back to my imaginary love letter, imagine how effective it would be if you waxed on about your partner’s beautiful brown eyes . . . and they were blue.


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Plan Your Next Event Like the Academy Awards

The Academy Awards last night tried (with limited success) to eliminate the laundry list style of acceptance speeches where the winners rattle off dozens of names of people we’ve never heard of including their hair-dresser and dog-walker.

Hearing someone recite a list is boring, even if your name appears somewhere on it. Much more memorable was Sandra Bullock’s story about her mom who wouldn’t let her ride in cars with boys and made her practice acting every day.

Yet, event planners and corporate communicators are still designing events that have more to do with letting people talk than they do with communicating to an audience.

For your next corporate event, why not take two lessons from the Oscars to design something more engaging.

First, use video. The short clips of films interspersed throughout the awards show kept people’s interest and reminded the audience what it was that they were there to celebrate. But don’t think you need the special effects of Avatar for your event. Overreaching on a limited budget will end up looking cheesy.

Instead, follow television’s example. Reality shows are flooding the airwaves because they are cheap to make and so is a short documentary-style video about your company’s operations. Have it produced by someone with network TV experience and it will look like it was on last night’s news.

Secondly, develop a corporate narrative and teach your spokesperson to tell stories. A long list of corporate achievements will not have anywhere near the impact as a personal story of accomplishment. Yes, there are people to be thanked but that’s what banners and brochures are for,

Telling stories is a way to connect with people. It provides a memorable and jargon-free way to let an audience know what you do. And a good story will be remembered long after your so-called “world-class achievements” are forgotten.

In a nutshell, you can make your event more memorable if you treat it like a television show rather than a corporate soapbox.

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PT Barnum Was Right About One Thing

Phineus Taylor Barnum, better known as PT, was one of the first to understand the power of media and how to use it to his own advantage. He was of the opinion that any press was good press because it would get people talking about his circus. If people were talking about it, they would pay to see it and find out what all the fuss was about.

Barnum even went so far as to write letters under fake names to local papers (to protest the event) before his circus came to town. By creating controversy, he created public interest. His goal was not to discuss the merits of his circus but to “get ‘em into the tent” and make money.

Nowadays bad press can cost you a lot of money – just ask Tiger Woods, who has seen millions of dollars in sponsorships disappear because of negative publicity over his extramarital affairs.

The controversy that Barnum created would probably draw protests from animal rights groups these days and end up keeping people out of the tents. But he was right about one thing. He had an objective when he sought media coverage. He wanted to sell tickets and everything he did or said to the press was designed to meet that one simple objective.

Media opportunities are wasted if there is no clear goal in mind. People talk to reporters with no idea about how they would like the story to turn out and that means they have no way to control the outcome of the story.

It doesn’t matter whether you are involved in a crisis or just trying to publicize your circus, before you speak to the media you must have a clear objective.

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Learning From a Painful Press Release

As I’ve been recovering from a self-inflicted accident, I have started to marvel at the human body’s ability to carry out crisis communication.

Instead of a news wire, the body uses an intricate telegraph system comprised of the nerves that run throughout our bodies. When a crisis happens, a key message is immediately sent to our main target audience – the brain – indicating a strong opinion about what happened and suggesting immediate further action. Of course, that message is usually one of disapproval but more subtle messages are also sent.

I recently cut one of my fingers quite badly while I was cooking. The immediate message to my brain was to stop what I was doing and the body used pain to send a clear signal that further cutting of fingers would not be tolerated. As I was being rushed to the emergency ward, the body approved what the brain had decided to do and showed empathy with endorphins which dulled the pain.

Similar things happened during treatment. The body and the brain often had differences of opinion. The body felt it had the crisis under control and responded negatively to any attempt by the brain to treat the area. When the finger was properly bandaged however the body conceded that treatment was improving the situation.

From time to time, a “pain press release” was sent out to remind the brain that the initial action is still considered intolerable and that all treatment is being monitored by a watch dog committee. If that committee doesn’t like what it sees, the body warns, more pain or even infection could be used to force the brain to modify treatment.

The lessons we can take as communicators are obvious. In a crisis an immediate, clear response directed toward a target audience is essential. We need to be empathetic when it is appropriate but not alter our interpretation of events. And even as the crisis comes under control we need to be vigilant and respond quickly and clearly to any new developments.

As our bodies and our brains do, we must work closely together with our audiences to communicate clearly even when we don’t agree.

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